Monday, February 22, 2010

Who you gonna call?

I read this article in the Times yesterday about one this amazing Brooklyn lactation consultant, who I’ve interviewed countless times for articles I’ve written on breastfeeding and who I have actually referred to in said articles as “lactation superstar,” The woman is a genius, a breast whisperer for certain – the kind of person who is doing just exactly what she was called to do, rescuing new mothers from bleeding nipples, panic and self-flagellation. I know because she rescued me.

In his first days, Primo was a terrible nurser. So was I. Neither of us had a clue what we were doing and I swear I produced more liquid out of my eyes, crying, than I did out of my breasts. When he was about five days old, I called the pediatrician for help, and he gave me a phone number for a woman named Freda Rosenfeld.

“Freda gets results,” he said.

Since I couldn’t get an appointment with Freda 'til the next day, I opted to go with another lactation consultant who did not, even remotely, get results. After an hour of palpating me and watching Primo flail at the breast, she told me she didn’t know what was wrong and to give him formula.

“I could have saved the $100 and given myself the same advice,” I told David when she left.

Being stubborn as a mule, however, I did not give up, didn’t give the baby formula, and after a few weeks, we’d worked out the kinks and I breastfed him, happily, til he was a year and a half.

Looking back, though, I wish I had held out for Freda because I know she would have made nursing infinitely easier and more enjoyable for me and Primo. I know this because I did have occasion to meet her, two years later, when Seconda was three months old and Freda single-handedly saved my breastfeeding from certain doom.

Sec was a good little sucker, and I wasn’t so shabby a feeder myself so we didn’t have any real problems nursing at all, for the first few months of her life. But when she turned three months old, she suddenly refused to nurse. I mean totally refused. She would scream like it was a cat o nine tails I was asking her suck on, rather than my perfectly nice breast stuffed with manna milk. I’d spend 20, 30 minutes, battling with her, desperately trying to coax her back onto the breast that she’s been happily feeding from for months, and in the end, I’d have to give her a bottle of frozen breastmilk. She cried, I cried. I was shocked, rejected and terribly sad that I’d have to stop breastfeeding. Then, as a last-ditch effort – after taking her to the pediatrician, and asking parkslopeparents, and researching online – I called Freda Gets-Results. I figured there wasn’t much she could do, but it was worth a shot anyway. She told me she could see me that afternoon and Sec and I got on the Q train headed to Ditmas Park.

Freda ushered me right in and proceeded to ask a ton of very odd, very mysterious questions. I told her my theory, which was that Sec just preferred the bottle. This didn’t seem convincing to her. Then she took the baby, cooed and gurgled at her while checking out her mouth and tongue in an enigmatic way. Finally she watched me nurse – or try to nurse, since Seconda wouldn’t suffer the nipple even for a second. She listened intently to the way Seconda screamed, and she concluded: “This is not a fussy baby. There’s something going on here.”

So she rolled up her sleeves and coached me through different position, switching sides, taking breaks, asking questions. I managed to get Sec on to the breast for half a minute, but then she started screaming like a banshee again.

“She burped! She burped and then she cried!” Freda exclaimed

“I guess,” I replied, “But she’s always crying when I try to feed her.”

“But after she burped is when she really started screaming”: she said, “Let me ask you something: did you have any tomato sauce or orange juice today?’

“Yeah,“ I said, “I had both.”

“This baby has acid reflux,” she said.

“But she never spits up,” I countered, “I thought babies with reflux spit up all the time.”

“Not if they have silent acid reflux,” she replied, “And that’s what Seconda has.”

She instructed me to sit the baby up to nurse, and miraculously Sec stopped crying and started sucking. It was like magic and I literally cried tears of joy and relief. She told me to cut acidic foods out of my diet and keep with the sitting-up nursing. And after I left her office, I never had another problem with Sec refusing the breast.

It’s not always as simple as that, but everyone I know who’s had a visit Freda has offered a glowing review (you can read my friend and fellow writer, Debra Nussbaum-Cohen's story about Freda here). So if you’re in Kings County and have a lactation tribulation, you know who to call.