Breastfeeding Baby As a Blind or Visually Impaired Mother

Editor’s note: This post is part of the new Blind Parenting series created to provide visually impaired parents with first-hand accounts of how you can raise a child safely and independently. Today’s post is the first segment on your options of feeding your baby as a parent with vision loss.

Blind Parenting: Breastfeeding Baby

By Mary Hiland and her daughter, Kara Fay

Soon after I was married, my ophthalmologist told me that as a person with retinitis pigmentosa, RP, I should not take any kind of birth control pills, because it could cause hemorrhaging in my eyes. Keep in mind that this was in 1965, so this information may no longer be valid. Anyway, I was devastated, because I did not want to get pregnant, at least for a few years. Two kids and five grandchildren later, I’m glad I changed my mind. Or rather, God changed my mind when I became pregnant with my son about three years later.

baby surrounded by blanket

How to Handle Being a Mother of an Infant

As I contemplated all the duties of a mother of an infant, my anxiety level rose. I did not have younger siblings or even babies in my extended family. I had never been a babysitter. I knew nothing about caring for an infant. In fact, it was my husband who changed the first diaper when we brought our baby boy home. He had lots of practice as the oldest of 12. Then there was the matter of getting baby food from the jar to the baby’s mouth without smearing it all over his face and my clothes. I soon learned that this was a hurdle I would not have to jump for several months. At that time, we were advised not to introduce cereal until about three months and other foods at six, so I had some time to get myself prepared for the task. Again, it was my husband who spooned in the first bite of cereal, because he was so eager to be part of the feeding time. Up until then, it was my job, and more importantly, my pleasure and joy to do the feeding alone with my baby or with his dad nearby, marveling at how this miracle of producing the perfect food could happen.

The Perfect Food for an Infant

While I was pregnant, I had already made the decision to breastfeed. It made sense to me. No bottles to prepare, no wondering if the nipple was in his mouth or up his nose or dribbling down his cheek. No smelly spit-up. No nipples to boil. No expense of buying food when I already had it, ready anytime at just the right temperature with the bonus of a good excuse to sit and cuddle with my baby boy, and later with my baby girl. In fact, feeding time was cuddle time for everybody. I would sit on the loveseat and nurse my baby girl with my arm around my little boy, while we told stories or sang songs.

Learning How to Breastfeed

I was watching a TV show one day when the guest was a representative of an organization called La Leche League. This woman described how efficient breastfeeding was and how nutritious it was for your baby. She talked about some potential problems, such as soreness, engorgement, and modesty at feeding times. There were answers for all of these issues and even reading material, which of course is now available on their website. They also have a toll free number:1-877-452-5324.

The representative said that there were local support groups of nursing women who got together to talk about any problems they were having and to share, okay brag, about their babies’ progress. I immediately picked up the phone and talked to the leader of this group and went to my first La Leche League meeting. The women were all kind and supportive and full of experience and advice. So when I did finally have my baby, I was ready. In a few months, I became a La Leche League leader.

No Assembly Required

Breastfeeding for me was as easy as snuggling my baby to my chest and letting him find the place that magically produced sweet warm milk, just by suckling. By the way, the substance that comes out for the first couple of days is called colostrum. It’s a clear liquid that doesn’t look like milk, but it is packed with nutrients for a newborn, including protection against many diseases. By the time the milk comes in, the baby’s system is ready for it. I realize that I was very lucky, because it’s not always that easy. Sometimes babies have a hard time latching on, and some need a little help figuring out what they are supposed to do. But a little gentle pressure on his cheek with the nipple, automatically makes him turn his head to find the "faucet".

Pumping or Expressing

These days, it seems that mothers are encouraged to buy a pump for expressing milk into clean containers for when it is necessary to be away from the baby at a feeding time. I don’t even know what a pump looks like, and I’m glad I never needed to find out. Hand expressing was so easy that I often nursed my baby on one side and hand expressed on the other side into a cup at the same time. When the baby begins to suck, milk lets down in both breasts, so this is easy to do. I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging, but my point is that it doesn’t have to be a complicated and expensive project.

The Best Things in Life Are Free

Not everyone can breastfeed for a variety of reasons. However, for women who are living on lower incomes and can breastfeed, breastfeeding is affordable and often better for the baby. Formula is expensive and sometimes not as digestible as good old mother’s milk. Bottle feeding became popular back in the depression when it was thought to be a sign of wealth if you could afford to buy formula. Then in the 50’s, the movement to breastfeed returned, except for women who felt that breastfeeding was a sign that they couldn’t afford to buy milk. By the time I became a mother in 1969, La Leche League, which was founded in 1956, showed mothers that breastfeeding was the perfect food for their babies right along with Lamaze breathing techniques for childbirth. Even though I wound up having two C-sections, I regret that I didn’t use the Lamaze breathing techniques during my labor for my first child.

What to Buy

There are only a few material objects you will need. Pure anhydrous lanolin that comes in a small jar from your pharmacist is the best remedy for soothing sore nipples. It is tasteless and odorless and does not harm the baby. Just apply it right after feeding to prevent cracking of the skin every time you nurse for a few weeks. Even if your nipples are cracked, it will not bother the baby, although it will be a little uncomfortable for you. But persevering through any discomfort will pay off in the end. Wear tops that button down or zip for easy access at feeding times. Use a shawl or light blanket to drape across any exposed part of your breast for modesty. Finally, a nursing bra is a must. You may find that at first, you will need to wear them even to sleep in, as your breasts will become engorged with milk between feedings. Of course you will need a soft cloth to put over your shoulder for burping the baby. Even breast-fed babies spit up, but it isn’t as smelly as formula.

Not Always This Easy

Nowadays, there are lactation specialists who assist brand new mamas in the art of breastfeeding. Having a lactation specialist visit you in the hospital for the first feeding is commonplace. When I first heard of this, I was incredulous. All you have to do is put the baby to your breast and away you go. Not so for all babies. And not so for all new mamas who don’t know how it works, especially if the baby takes a while to catch on to her part in this activity.

Quote from My Daughter Kara

My daughter Kara was as firm a believer in the benefits of breastfeeding as I was. Here’s what she said:

"I remember well being in the hospital the first time, when my mother learned about lactation consultants, and ‘incredulous’ is a good description. For many, it’s probably just a formality or a reassurance. I had no problem with baby number one or with baby number two. But, it was my third baby that I really struggled with. We had a rough start with complications during delivery resulting in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit stay for my sweet girl. She had both pacifiers and bottles there and while that may have been the cause of some of our challenges, I really don’t think so. I just think that as all deliveries are different, so are all babies. We consulted with her pediatrician, a pediatric dentist (who corrected both a lip tie and a tongue tie), so many books, numerous friends, my mother, and about five different lactation consultants. My mom did give me some great advice. She said, ‘back in the 70’s, we would tell you to go have a glass of wine, but I know you’re not going to do that. So how about having someone make you a cup of tea.’ Yes, relaxing actually does make a big difference. A lactation consultant finally helped us find the right combination that helped us take off in the right direction. It was a rough time and definitely not the easy start that it had been with my other two. But there have been so very many times when I was so glad that I persevered and nursed my baby.

Posts from the Blind Parenting Series

Introduction to Blind Parenting Series

Preparing for Pregnancy: A Blind Mother’s Checklist Part 1, Am I Ready?

Blindness and Infertility: A Mother’s Story

How Congenital Vision Loss Affects Motherhood