Breastfeeding is a unique journey for all mothers and their children. There is no cut an dry way for a mother to breastfeed, contrary to what society may tell you. Mother Bridget Burke-Purdy knows all too well the alternative options for breastfeeding. When she was pregnant with her third child, a son named Rowan, Burke-Purdy was diagnosed with cancer. Because of her cancer treatment, she knew that she would be unable to breastfeed Rowan and sought out wet nurses and milk donations. Breastfeeding was hugely important to her; she nursed her first two children into toddlerhood and was determined to do the same this time around, cancer be damned.
However, “He never nursed well. He was born a month early due to doctor’s demands, and was too sleepy to nurse. He didn’t seem to ever take to a bottle well either, not to mention that with two previous children that I nursed into their toddler years, his dad and I didn’t take to the bottle well either.” As Rowan began to reject the wet nurses, they had to think quickly. That’s when they tried finger feeding. Finger feeding, which is using the finger to feed with a supplemental line device (a thin tube connected to a bottle or bag of milk) is usually used a last ditch effort to lead a baby back to the breast. That was not the case with Rowan. After days of finger feeding, he abandoned the wet nurses’ breast and the bottle and only wanted to be finger fed by his mother and father.
Brooks-Purdy explained all of this in a story via the Facebook page for the Supply Line Breast Feeding Awareness Project. While this was an extreme alternative to the traditional way of breastfeeding, she soon realized that it wasn’t as off base as she had thought. Soon she discovered that the suckling Rowan did to her finger was similar enough to the suckling he would have done to the nipple and therefore it released the same feel good hormones that traditional breastfeeding did and was still able to bond with her baby through feeding.
Finger feeding is typically just a stop gap way of feeding, not as a long term option. But soon that was the only way that Rowan would feed. Once Bridget’s chemotherapy was over and she was cleared to breastfeed again, she began giving Rowan her milk through his supply line. Rowan continued to finger feed past his first year of life, and Bridget powered on through all of the things that breastfeeding mothers face, including teething (her poor fingers!) Rowan nursed (still via finger feeding) through Bridget’s next pregnancy, and she was able to tandem feed them, the new baby at the breast since she is well past her cancer treatments.
While Rowan’s journey is completely unconventional, it is certainly a testament to the power of the mother/child bond. Bridget could have very easily given up on nursing, but she persevered; because it was important to her as a mother. It is a lesson to all of us to stick to our convictions.