A cancer diagnosis is a devastating blow for any woman, but for new mothers, the implications can be even more heartbreaking. While it’s widely accepted that breastfeeding provides babies with a number of essential health benefits, it’s also an opportunity for mother and child to establish a long lasting bond. Thankfully, an inability to breastfeed doesn’t need to spell disaster for you and your newborn. When cancer treatments or post-surgical complications interfere with your ability to breastfeed, there are still ways to create an unbreakable connection with your child.
Nursing: Breasts Not Included
First, we need to make a very important distinction: nursing and breastfeeding aren’t necessarily the same thing. As explained by Dr. Linda Folden Palmer, author of The Baby Bond, while nursing your child can include the act of breastfeeding, it’s much more about recreating the closeness you and your baby had when he or she was in the womb. As you snuggle together, you’re comforting your baby with your scent, your heartbeat, and the reassuring presence of your entire existence. Simply by being there and holding your child, you’re giving them the familiar surroundings and sense of security they need not just survive, but to flourish.
Sing Loud, Sing Proud
Not all of us were born with a pair of Grammy-worthy lungs, but your baby doesn’t care if you’re on pitch or not. Your voice is a comfort, and the more you use it – be it humming, singing, reading stories, or simple conversation – the more in tune to it they become. When hearing your voice calms your fussy baby or makes them smile, the resulting glow is incomparable.[Tweet “When hearing your voice calms your fussy baby, the resulting glow is incomparable.”]
Keep Them Close
Aside from feeding time, there are many other opportunities to have actual physical closeness with your baby, continually forming that bond you began while nursing. Seek out sling-style wraps that keep your little one close to your heart as you do housework, cook, or run errands, and consider purchasing a bedside bassinet. Parenting.com also has several resources that detail the pros and cons of crib-sleeping versus co-sleeping.
Even dedicated play time, where you make eye contact with baby and play games together that build hand-eye coordination and work towards other developmental milestones, will give you much needed one-on-one time that will benefit you both.
Free Yourself from the Idea of Failure
As pro-breastfeeding factions gain traction and more and more educational programs are put in place to encourage and facilitate breastfeeding, so grows the stigma attached to women who either can’t or choose not to breastfeed. When a medical condition or other unavoidable difficulty prevents you from breastfeeding, it’s easy to feel like you’ve failed or somehow come up deficient in the parenting department, but that couldn’t further from the truth. While the old saying “breast is best” may be catchy, the truth is that what’s best for your child is being raised in a loving environment by parents who are devoted to his or her health, happiness, and future. Your dedication is not in question, and stressing over something you can’t change will only negatively affect your child, who – believe it or not – is already so bonded to you that they can sense your unhappiness.
Allow yourself to grieve the loss, then move on and revel in all the things you do right. Enjoy the closeness you have when you cradle and nourish your child. After all, you’re an amazing mother, and your baby knows it.