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Why I chose not to breastfeed my baby with congenital heart disease – Gemma

I was 19 when Osh was born and I flat out refused to breastfeed him. I mean, how could I breastfeed in front of family and friends - or even worse, in front of strangers when we go out for the day?

Isabella came along 5 years later, I was married by this point and I felt a lot more mature so I gave it a try in the hospital. Then a midwife commented that if she wasn't doing it properly then they wouldn't let me go home, I really wanted to go home...so I asked for a bottle of formula and that was the end of that.

 

We knew that when Martha was born she would be immediately started on an drip of Prostin to buy her time before Open Heart Surgery and that this can affect a baby's ability to breathe and feed, so breastfeeding had never entered my mind as a possibility for us.

 

When they began trophic feeding a few days after surgery a nurse asked if I had been expressing. I hadn't. Martha was put on a High Energy formula - she needed the higher calorific content because of how much energy her body would burn through just to breathe.

 

Hospital G has an expressing room equipped with a pump on both the Cardiac Intensive Care and Cardiac High Dependency Wards. I would see fellow Heart Mammi's go in there and leave with the sterile bottles containing their milk (some full to the brim, others with a tiny amount) I would watch as they stuck on their baby's ID stickers and hand them over to their nurse. The milk would then be sent down to the labs and fortified with whatever their child needed (like Potassium if their child's level was particularly low that day).

 

Most of our babies on that ward couldn't physically breastfeed because they were tube fed, also because we needed to keep track of our babies' fluid intake. During the days when our babies are too sick to be held and we had to leave caring for them to the Nurses, Doctors and Consultants - expressing was probably the only act that the mother could do for her child. Something that only she could do.

 

This should have spurred me on. This should have encouraged me to do the same for Martha Grace. But there was something stopping me. Something nagging at the back of my mind that I couldn't help but put before my newborn daughter. What if I lost her? What If she didn't make it?

 

What if I programmed my body to produce milk for a baby, and then that baby died? Would my body understand and cease milk production painlessly? Or would my body continue and I'd be left with a painful physical reminder that my baby would never again benefit from my milk.

 

Breastfeeding is such a personal choice and I never felt judged by anyone in our family or our community that I didn't breastfeed Martha Grace.

 

It wasn't that I didn't want to breastfeed Martha... I was too scared that I'd be leaving that hospital without a baby, with a top soaked in breastmilk.