It was back in late 2015 when I first came across Bridget Burke-Purdy’s unique breastfeeding story on the Facebook page Supply Line Breastfeeding Awareness Project. The page showcases mothers who are unable to breastfeed the traditional way because of low milk supply or other breastfeeding difficulties, and instead use a supplemental nursing device to feed their babies.
For those unfamiliar with supplemental nursing devices, they are simply thin flexible tubes that are connected to a bottle or bag of milk, and then placed over a mother’s nipple so that a baby can latch onto the breast and receive the supplementary breast milk or formula. They’re a great way for moms to maintain a breastfeeding bond with their baby and increase their milk supply, even if full breastfeeding isn’t in the cards for whatever reason.
But the way that Bridget used the feeding tube with her son was a bit different: Bridget, who was unable to nurse her third baby Rowan due to cancer treatments, ended up feeding him with the tube taped right to her finger. The method, while relatively unknown, is not actually that rare: It’s called “finger feeding,” and it’s used when a newborn is having trouble latching onto the breast.
Traditional finger feeding, however, is usually only used for a day or two in order to transition a baby back to full breastfeeding. In Bridget’s case, she ended up finger feeding her son long-term — and for her and her son, this way of feeding was everything beautiful, intimate, and satisfying that breastfeeding can be for so many moms.
Bridget, who lives in Ontario, Canada, is the mom of four children, ranging in age from 9 years to five months. But it was shortly before her third son Rowan was born that she was first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Her cancer treatments meant that she would not be able to breastfeed baby Rowan, which broke her heart since breastfeeding had been such an important experience for her as a mother. She’d happily breastfed her previous babies successfully, and into their toddler years.
“Not being able to nurse Rowan was the only thing that cancer stole from me,” Bridget shares with Babble.
Luckily, she was able to secure donated breast milk, and had a few other mothers lined up who were more than happy to pitch in and nurse him for her. But Rowan was born early and never took to feeding or nursing easily. He even had trouble feeding from a bottle, and he refused the wet nurses.
It was only then, after growing desperate for a way to feed him successfully with breast milk, that Bridget and her husband stumbled upon finger feeding. And it worked. Not only did they find that Rowan took to finger feeding more easily than any other feeding method they tried, but it turned out to be a very special way for Bridget and her husband to bond with Rowan. It also gave Bridget that intimacy she was missing from not being able to breastfeed him directly.
As Bridget describes to Babble:
“With finger feeding we could cuddle up close with nothing between us, it was skin to skin; it made me feel like I was necessary to the equation. Because of this skin-to-skin contact, coupled with suckling action on my finger, it caused a release of oxytocin in my body that helped us bond since I hadn’t been able to care for him when he was first born.”
It truly never ceases to amaze me how incredible mothers are — how they can take a difficult situation with their children, and somehow make it OK, often coming out stronger than ever in the end. And the way Bridget fed and bonded with her son — though unconventional and unfamiliar to some — was all her own. It also sounds like an incredibly natural and intuitive way to feed a baby, when you think about it.
Bridget shares that she ended up feeding Rowan for 2½ years this way (she was able to use her own pumped milk once her cancer treatments ended). And as Bridget shared in a more recent post on the Supply Line Breastfeeding Awareness Project page, Rowan never took to breastfeeding, even when it was safe for him to nurse directly from Bridget.
At a certain point, Rowan ended up refusing to be finger fed by his father, and only fed from Bridget. (At which point, Bridget says she suffered through teething just like many nursing moms do — except on her fingers!) And for a while, Bridget even tandem fed Rowan and her newest baby, Everly. As Bridget explains, Everly was able to nurse directly at the breast because Bridget’s cancer treatments were long over.
The photos, which were also shared on Supply Line Breastfeeding Awareness Project, have since gone viral.
When Rowan eventually weaned at 2½, Bridget tells Babble that she had many of the same bittersweet feelings moms of nursing toddlers do.
Since her story has gone viral, Bridget says that many moms have felt personally touched by it in a really profound way.
“They commend me for my dedication to my child,” Bridget tells Babble, “which frankly is something we should be doing more often for all women.”
Amen to that! Bridget is a true warrior mom as far as I’m concerned, and her story of feeding, nurturing, listening to her gut, and forging a unique and intimate bond with her son is truly inspiring.
As for how Bridget’s health is now, she shares with Babble that she had her last scan in January, which was clear, and she will be celebrating two years of being in remission this May.
Here’s to continued health and well being for Bridget, and I hope she knows that her amazing story truly has inspired many mothers, myself included.