Neonatology

Charlotte's Story: Encouraging Bonding Through Breastfeeding

Thinking back on her daughter Charlotte’s three-month stay in the Harriet and Ronald Lassin Newborn/Infant Intensive Care Unit (N/IICU), Lindsay Groff recalls how powerless she felt.Charlotte

“You feel like the doctors and nurses are helping to heal her, but you’re just sitting there, helplessly looking at your sick baby,” she remembers.

A routine ultrasound before birth diagnosed Charlotte with giant omphalocele, a life-threatening condition in which her abdominal organs were outside of her body.

The team at CHOP’s Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment prepared Lindsay for what the diagnosis meant: Immediately after birth, Charlotte would quickly be whisked away to undergo the first of many surgeries, and she would be in the N/IICU for weeks, until all of her surgical wounds healed.

The news was devastating. But the team gave her hope and worked to involve her in Charlotte’s care.

Helping infant daughter with breastmilk

From the start, the nurses, doctors and lactation consultants encouraged Lindsay to breastfeed as a way to help Charlotte grow stronger.

“Breast milk is optimal nutrition for the baby, especially babies with gastrointestinal problems,” says Rosario Wessner, RNC, N/IICU nurse and Breastfeeding Committee chair, who leads a breast pumping support group at CHOP. “We use breast milk as a kind of medical intervention, and at the same time it allows families to contribute to their baby’s care and recovery.”

Immediately after Charlotte was delivered in CHOP’s Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit, Lindsay began pumping her breast milk as instructed.

Over the next few weeks, as Charlotte underwent a total of seven surgeries to repair her birth defect, the N/IICU team encouraged Lindsay to clean Charlotte’s mouth with a cotton swab dipped in breast milk, which carries antibodies that would absorb through the baby’s oral cavity and make her stronger.

After three weeks in the N/IICU, when Charlotte was finally stable enough to be held, the N/IICU team taught Lindsay “kangaroo care,” which promotes mother-child bonding through skin-to-skin contact.

When Charlotte finally breastfed for the first time, N/IICU team members cheered and high-fived to celebrate such an important milestone.

“They were genuinely as excited about Charlotte’s eating as our family was,” Lindsay says, holding back tears. “I’ll never forget that.”

Thriving toddler today

Now almost 2, Charlotte is a healthy toddler, and Lindsay credits the neonatal team that supported her with her incredible recovery.

"Most people don’t realize that she was ever sick,” says her mom. “The support of the N/IICU staff during the process was so critical, and I know that it helped her thrive. We are forever grateful to CHOP.”

Date: June 2012

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