Celebrating August

August 3rd, 2015 by Live Well Omaha Kids

By Rachel Sazama

This blog was originally published on the Live Well Omaha Kids Blog on August 4, 2014. 

August is always a busy month for me, you wonder why? I am celebrating my second child’s second birthday and yes, I celebrate breastfeeding month. It is a great time to reflect on my breastfeeding experiences with my two children, both being very successful yet completely different. My first child, Lily, was born and placed on my chest right away just as my birthing plan had instructed. She did fabulous, latching on immediately and creating an irreversible bond between the two of us. We went on to exclusively breastfeed until she was 13 months of age – what more could you ask for?

Well, about five years later we found ourselves pregnant with child #2. As we approached our local hospital for a 20-week anatomy scan, we were filled with excitement. Would our baby be a Girl or Boy? With great surprise, it’s a Boy! I cried with excitement. But then the mood suddenly changed as the radiology tech remarked, “I am having a hard time seeing all of his heart”. We didn’t really think much about it at the time, as the tech was new. A couple days later we got a call from my doctor explaining she would like me to come back in for a second ultrasound. This is when it was confirmed there was something wrong with our baby boy’s heart.

The next week we traveled to Omaha to see a specialist at UNMC, which is where they confirmed our son had a condition called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). HLHS happens when the left ventricle is severely underdeveloped. We were sent to Children’s Hospital to meet with a pediatric cardiologist and develop a plan of action. The next few months were filled with a variety of emotions. Would my baby boy survive the 3-stage palliative surgery that was designed to correct the blood flow through his heart? What about things like breastfeeding? As I read articles from various websites, I found that many of these babies were unable to breastfeed because of various factors such as separation, increase caloric needs, and inability to feed due to oral complications after being intubated during surgeries.

This is when I decided that I was going to do everything I could to provide my son with breast milk. I knew how important breast milk was for a healthy child but think of the benefits that it could provide a sick child; so many antibodies, hormones, anti-virus properties – my son deserved to have these. So as his birth plan was laid out for us I asked the cardiologist, “Is it possible to breastfeed?” He remarked that it depends. I was encouraged by this news and did what I could to prepare.

I had an electric breast pump given to me by my co-workers when my daughter was born, as I worked part time. I never had any problems pumping for her so I wondered if I would be able to exclusively pump for my son.

On August 8, 2012, as I sat on the couch drinking my decaf coffee before heading to work for the day, I felt a weird sensation, “Wow, I think my water just broke”. I panicked! Our son was to be born in Omaha, two and a half hours away and not for another few weeks. My husband and I proceeded to head to our local hospital to see if this was really time, breast pump in hand! My specialists had informed me to be very careful and call the doctors with any concerns, as our son would need to be transferred to Children’s Hospital in Omaha immediately after birth. So, I got my first ambulance ride to Omaha and Elliot was born at UNMC about 12 hours after arrival.

Rachel SazamaElliot was whisked away as soon as he was delivered, only getting a peek at him. The Children’s transport team then assessed him and he was off. My husband followed him to the hospital where he was placed in the NICU awaiting his first open-heart surgery. This left me without my baby and a flood of emotions. My mother and sister who were present for Elliot’s birth cried at how perfect he seemed, breathing on his own. Being it was the middle of the night, everyone proceeded to leave and try to rest. My nurse was surprised when she returned to my room finding me pumping. I knew I had to mimic the normal feeding pattern of a newborn baby, but using a pump, which was hard. I proceeded to set my alarm and pump every couple hours stimulating my milk supply. Next door, another baby had been born. Throughout the night I listened to this strange baby crying and wondered, “How was my son?”

I was released the next day and preceded straight to Children’s Hospital to reunite with my son. With my pump in hand, I entered the NICU. I will never forget that feeling of helplessness as I saw my son laying there connected to so many IVs, there was even one in his head. I just cried. Nurses greeted me and started explaining things to me; it was very overwhelming.

I was then introduced to a lactation consultant. She had a breast pump kit and asked me if I had thought about pumping to provide my son with breast milk and I told her I had already started. She then took me to a private room in the NICU hallway, which contained a hospital grade breast pump. She then proceeded to show me how to use it and praised me when I showed her the one and a half ounces of breast milk I was able to collect during our conversation. She was such a great support; I thought to myself, I can do this! I continued to pump every 2 to 3 hours, developing quite a stock of breast milk for my son. He was able to eat on the second day from a bottle, which I had the privilege of sharing with him. I savored every moment we were “skin-to-skin”, knowing that would only help our bond and my milk supply.

Elliot went on to have his first open-heart surgery at 5-days-old and a second at 6 months of age. He recovered remarkably well, only requiring a 3-week stay following each surgery. I was able to feed him at the breast once or twice a day for the first six months but after suffering some vocal damage in the second surgery, he developed an oral aversion and was never able to latch properly after.

I was discouraged from feeding Elliot at the breast because all of his intakes had to be recorded and of course, with breastfeeding, it hard to calculate exact amounts at the breast. Even though that was hard, I continued to pump every three to four hours for the next 12 months, no matter what. My husband and I formed a process at night where he would feed Elliot while I pumped, this was tough at times but we never gave up!

I returned to work when Elliot was 3 months old and was encouraged to continue pumping by my coworkers. I work for the Nebraska WIC Program; this is where I learned firsthand about the benefits of breastfeeding. Through WIC I was able to obtain my certified lactation counselor certificate and help other moms just like me. I always encourage mothers that I see to breastfeed even if the odds are not in their favor.

SAZAMA3709SMAfter his first birthday, Elliot subsequently went into heart failure and ended up having to have a heart transplant on January 14, 2014. He is doing amazingly well and is now able to the same things a typical toddler would. So as we celebrate his second birthday, we have so many things so be thankful for. I know in my heart by providing my son with breast milk he was given the best support possible in his first year of life and as he continues to fight through his congenital heart disease.

You can read more on the facts about breastfeeding at www.reallyreally.org.

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