“My daughter was born in August, and it was the happiest day of my life. From that moment on, everything has been a learning process, with many worries and questions but also with many joys, surprises, and new discoveries. Breastfeeding has gone well from the start, and at night, I really can’t complain, she only asks to breastfeed twice, and then we continue to sleep together.
But then there was my health, which according to my midwife, has suffered due to hormonal changes, the fatigue of the first weeks, and emotional stress. So I went from a huge herpes sore on the lip to a urinary tract infection to nasal vestibulitis due to bacterial infection.
And it is this last episode that I would like to share with you since what was supposed to be a small infection ended up in an emergency room admission due to a serious bacterial infection. Let me explain:
For three days, half of my face was swollen and in a lot of pain; I had a lump inside my nose and what looked like a stye in my eye. I went to the local hospital in my town (a Public Hospital in a town very close to Barcelona) with my baby (6 weeks old) and registered in the emergency room. I was alone, later my parents and my husband arrived. I waited in the special waiting room for babies 0-3 months, and I think it is very good that they have this space separated from the waiting room for adults and children. “How nice that they have prepared this space for the smallest babies,” I said to myself.
They call me over the loudspeaker, and I enter with the stroller, the ergonomic backpack, and holding my baby. The doctor’s first comment as soon as he sees me “What are you doing with this baby in the emergency room? This is crazy, don’t you see?” I was petrified, I told him that I was alone, that my relatives would be here in an hour, and that I was a nursing mother, but I couldn’t react more. The examination was done, and on a medical level, I have no complaints, as he called an ENT specialist urgently, and I didn’t have to wait for long.
I went back to the waiting room and breastfed my daughter. My parents arrived, and I explained the situation to them; they were very worried. They called me back in, and I went in with my little one latched onto my breast; again, I heard very similar comments from the doctor who saw me, as well as from other doctors and ER staff. They scared me by saying that my baby could catch something serious and commented that I wouldn’t understand that! I was already very nervous, and I didn’t know what was the best thing to do, so I even thought about going back home.
When the ENT doctor saw me, he confirmed a serious infection due to nasal vestibulitis (possible eye and/or brain involvement) and that I had to stay in the hospital with antibiotics and other intravenous medication until further notice. But, above all, I had to stay in the hospital without my daughter. I couldn’t take it anymore and I started crying, thinking about how I was going to leave my daughter alone, she was exclusively breastfeeding (no bottles, no pacifiers, no matter how much the doctor insisted). My husband arrived and, seeing me so nervous, he also got upset; he talked to the doctors, but the answer was the same: the baby cannot stay in the emergency room (because the admission is in the emergency room). We were already in the middle of a crying and nervous attack, thinking about bringing the breast pump, how she would take the bottle, asking if the medication and the tests I was going to have were compatible with breastfeeding because if not, I would run to buy formula milk, how the little one would sleep (because she slept with me)?
Then, I do not know how, I had an idea and asked to speak to a gynecologist to assess a possible admission with my daughter in the obstetrics ward (all this between crying and a real nervous breakdown). The doctor called her and a few minutes later, she saw me, reassuring me only with her way of treating me and confirming that I would be admitted to the pediatric ward for the necessary time with my daughter. At that point, I was already crying inconsolably, and all the accumulated pressure came out with my husband. I never thought it would be so hard to be separated from your daughter; such anxious hours!
My husband took the opportunity to call the midwife at my outpatient clinic to explain the situation. We were surprised by her response: that the hospital needs to provide the most appropriate spaces for the admission of nursing mothers. I was very surprised as well, because this was an active hospital protocol, and the doctors who attended me did not know about it. I understand that the emergency professionals were either not informed or, if they were, they ignored it; only the emergency gynecologist did know about it.
I looked for information on the internet, and I found that there was a protocol of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics for the admission of breastfeeding mothers with their children (not only for scheduled cases, but also in emergency cases), and where it was emphasized that the benefits of admitting both mother and breastfeeding child together were always greater than the risks (there are exceptions, of course).
And I would like to thank LaptApp and www.e-lactancia.org, where I was able to get information about tests, medication, breast milk pumping because the emergency staff did not have much of an idea.
And I was lucky to have a staff member that was my ally in this situation, who called my husband to bring me the baby and breastfeed her and closed the door to provide us with intimacy, who reassured me and made me laugh with his little stories, and who at all times ensured that the tests I had to undergo were done as quickly as possible, so I did not have to leave my baby girl longer than necessary. This person also took me to the ward by himself, as no other carers were present.
Thanks to my midwife for agreeing to the call and for worrying about the situation throughout the hospital stay.
And thanks to the staff of the pediatric ward (where I was admitted), who accompanied me and made the situation easier for everyone (me, my husband, and my baby): providing me with a crib (I did not use it, as my baby slept with me, just like at home), keeping breastmilk that I expressed in a fridge and labeled (in case they had to change my medication and I could not give her more of my milk) and offering me the possibility of preparing bottles of formula milk if, finally, I could not breastfeed her. Apart from the warmth of their care, being informed about exclusive breastfeeding and their flexibility in adapting to my situation (as the admission was for the mother, not for the baby).
And, above all, thanks to my family, because they also had a terrible time and tried to find so many things to help in this situation.
The MRI scan revealed that there was no brain damage and that the medication took effect quickly, so after two days of being admitted to the hospital, I was discharged (following medication, of course), and today I am already recovered. The doctors told me that I had been lucky because this was much more serious than one could imagine at first. So now I am making the most of every day and every moment with my little girl and my family.
This is the protocol of the Spanish Association of Paediatrics; for me, finding this document has been quite a discovery; I did not know it. (The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine also has a protocol regarding the hospitalization of a breastfeeding mother or child, and there is more information for healthcare professionals here).
So, what has gone wrong? Shouldn’t all healthcare professionals be informed that such guidelines exist? Or, at least, shouldn’t they have asked another professional about the possibility of being able to admit an exclusively breastfed baby with the mother? And why did most of the emergency room staff think it was the right thing to do to separate a breastfeeding mother from her 6-week-old daughter? Why did they dare to judge a mother so aggressively? Who gave them the right to pressure and scare me? I will file a complaint with the hospital, which I plan to write up soon now that I have recovered.
I have decided to share my experience with you because, in a medical emergency situation, we don’t always know how to react. It must be hard enough to organize and separate yourself from your baby in case of planned hospital admission. But it is even harder if this is an unexpected admission because you do not expect it, and sometimes the initial shock does not allow you to think clearly. I hope that what has happened to me will not happen to any other mother and if, unfortunately, it does happen to you, that you can have truthful information to defend your exclusive breastfeeding situation and be able to be admitted with your baby in a calm and safe way.
On the other hand, we need to demand that hospitals, outpatient clinics, and other medical centers inform all their employees of the existence of these protocols and that they put them into practice. If the professionals who attended to me would have been informed, I would have been spared those two hours of tremendous agony, not knowing what to do with my daughter. If the professionals who attended to me had been more empathetic and polite, they would never have told me and treated me the way they did, making me feel so bad and unable to react to their comments.
All the best.