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Ten years ago when my son was born, the doctors and specialists told me several times that he wasn’t physically prepared to breastfeed and they asked me to not to feel sad about not being able to nurse him. I believed it was a possibility and I didn’t want to deny us both the opportunity for this loving connection because of a disability.
After I insisted, they took him off the oxygen machine and placed him in my arms. The weak baby started nursing right away and after his doses of liquid love, straight from Mommy, he started breathing by himself. That was the first lesson my son taught to me: to never believe someone else just because of his college degrees or experience. I learned my child is unique and he’s the only one who should set limits for himself.
I know the story is not the same for everyone, and many parents face the distress of learning that their child has a disability, while mom faces the emotional hit of not being able to breastfeed the child, but breastfeeding should never be a forced emotional obligation, but an invitation to bond and embrace motherhood.
These are four things you should know about breastfeeding a child with special needs:
- Breastfeeding is not all about milk. Even your child may not have the ability to nurse, he will benefit from feeling mom’s breast and getting motivated to do his best by smelling and recognizing your milk. That special time of connection is irreplaceable and strengthens the bond between mom and baby.
- Nursing is not an all or nothing deal. Don’t put pressure on yourself if things are not working as expected. If the baby is not doing a great job breastfeeding, keep the door open and try again later if you want, but do what’s needed in order to relax and keep your child healthy. Use the bottle if needed, pump or offer formula to your child. Never forget that the main goal here it to help your child feel loved, secure and happy. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
- If your baby doesn’t want to nurse, it’s ok, it’s not your fault and it’s not the only way to connect. Having two kids with Down syndrome I can tell there’s always a big difference between siblings, even when they share the same genetic condition. My son was born with medical complications and really low muscle tone, and even then, he did his best with breastfeeding until he mastered it and kept going until he was 2 years old! My daughter was born healthy with high muscle tone and strong lungs but never liked my milk. By the age of 6 months, I gave up breastfeeding her. She drank formula like a champ, and stopping early didn’t keep us from becoming connected and enjoying the very special times between mommy and baby.
- Doctors and Specialists don’t know everything. Of course, they have the technical knowledge, logic answers, and statistics, but they can’t determine the strength and power that is hidden in love. Your child is unique, and no one knows him better than you do. Let your heart guide, you’ll be surprised!
Raising children with special needs teaches us to believe in our kids’ abilities over their disabilities, and also to believe in ourselves and the power of our love for them. It’s exciting to exceed the expectations of others and to be constantly beating prejudices. What we never should do, however, is put unnecessary pressure on ourselves solely to demonstrate to others what our kids can do. The magic starts when we accept and celebrate the unique ways of living and loving while raising a child with special needs.