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Breastfeeding Through Clubfoot Treatment

Heather nursing her son, standing in front of photographs on a wall of nursing mothers. Heather's son is wearing his Boots and Bar.Heather Iverson, West Michigan

It is overwhelming to find out your baby has clubfoot. When our son was born and we found out he had unilateral clubfoot, I didn’t give a second thought about how it would impact our breastfeeding journey.

To explain the challenges, I will briefly go over how clubfoot is corrected. Within a few days to a few weeks after birth, an orthopedic doctor will put the baby’s leg or legs in full leg casts. The casts are removed once a week and the foot is stretched slightly to a more corrected position, then a new cast is applied. About 80% of babies with clubfoot will need a minor surgery called a tenotomy. This involves snipping the Achillies tendon before the last cast is applied. That cast then stays on for three weeks while the tendon re-attaches in the corrected position.

Typically, the foot/feet can be corrected with five to seven casts. After that, whether unilateral (one foot) or bilateral (both feet), foot or feet are put into a brace called Boots and Bar (BnB) that holds the feet at a 70-degree angle to help prevent relapse. The BnB is worn 23 hours a day for three months and then 12 hours at night until the age of four or five years.

As you can imagine, casts and the BnB added a challenge I couldn’t have prepared for. It’s an adjustment even just holding the baby when he’s wearing casts or the BnB, so breastfeeding with them on adds another obstacle.

Heather's son sitting in front of his casts, smilingThe football hold is helpful during casting. You can use a pillow or rolled receiving blanket to prop their legs to prevent strain on their hips from the casts. The cradle hold is awkward at first, but once you get the hang of it, that position is not too challenging. Just use a rolled receiving blanket or your arm between baby’s legs — again to ease the stress put on the hips from the casts. I bed share and during casting found side lying to be the most comfortable for me. We were able to comfortably nurse lying tummy to tummy with a blanket rolled between his legs.

The BnB phase brought different challenges. The cradle hold was the easiest, as I could just put my arm rather than a blanket between his legs while holding him to nurse. Side lying became more challenging. It left one leg up in the air because of the bar if he would lie on his side. I found it worked quite well turning the BnB towards me and resting his legs up against my body.

Breastfeeding through clubfoot correction takes trial and error. It’s uncomfortable at times, but it can be done. If you are the mother of a baby with a clubfoot diagnosis, don’t let the diagnosis scare you off from giving breastfeeding a try if that was part of your plan. If somebody you know is breastfeeding a clubfoot baby (or any baby), be sure to remind them that they are doing great!

I am currently nursing my 20-month-old clubfoot cutie. He wears the BnB at night for 12 hours. Now I barely even remember the bar is there most times (aside from when he decides to lift his legs and have it come crashing down on me).


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