The act of feeding…the purest, simplest form of living. Providing nourishment to yourself and also to your offspring so you can lead full and healthful lives. But sometimes feeding babies is everything but natural…
As female mammals, we have a distinct ability to create nourishment for our children within our own bodies. It’s a wonderfully beautiful time of bonding between mother and child and it’s also a miracle of sustaining life solely from your own body. It’s natural, it’s an automatic response to the birth of a child, it’s even easy, some would say…
Until it’s not easy.
I’ve grown and birthed two beautiful babies and had the privilege of being able to breastfeed both of them. But I never quite understood, before having kids, just how hard breastfeeding could be. Producing milk was never the hard part for me, but finding the proper latch, stressful feeding schedules (hello cluster feeding) to pumping and supplementing, it’s far from easy. It’s downright difficult, grueling and panic attack-inducing. But it’s still beautiful, every moment and requires intense patience and dedication.
And then it got harder…
You see, both of my children have food allergies and breastfeeding became a war we’d fight together until we reached an amicable resolution for all parties. It’s not something I’d ever describe as natural or easy.
I breastfed my daughter from birth until 14 months. We struggled with cluster feeding in her first weeks of life and eventually supplemented to help keep up, which just made things worse, but we weren’t sure why…”it’s just a stage,” people would say…”your supply will catch up,” they’d say…and eventually, it did, but with it came severe eczema by about one month of age. As far nursing goes, we were connected, we both calmed immediately when it came to nursing sessions. It worked wonders for my postpartum mental state and it helped my daughter calm down.
I had made the decision to try and wean her around six months of age. As a full-time working mom, the pumping and scheduling of breast milk production was wearing on me, and though I didn’t want to quit, I decided to start supplementing formula to sort of ease us into the process. One bottle, one bottle is all it took. She drank it right up, in the baby clothing section of Target while on one of our fun mommy-daughter shopping trips. Within minutes she swelled to unrecognizable proportions, broke out in blistery hives over her entire body and began projectile vomiting in the snack aisle while several passers-by watched in disgust, rather than help us in a dire emergency. It was traumatic, but deep down I knew what was happening…at 6 months of age, she was officially diagnosed with life-threatening allergies and because I ate her offending foods regularly, my breast milk was also the enemy and the ill effects had just been building.
We were faced with a variety of decisions regarding her health, one of them being how we would feed her. That simple, natural act of breastfeeding suddenly became the scariest thing I’d ever experience. My milk could kill her, formula could kill her and I thought she’d starve. But under the care of a wonderful allergist, my confidence was recovered and I made a new commitment to my child. I modified my own diet quite drastically to cut out the foods she couldn’t consume and continued breastfeeding despite pressure to stop from doctors and even family members. “Well she’s 6 months old, you might as well quit anyway, she’s too old to keep nursing.”…”it’s impossible for her allergens to cross the bloodstream into mother’s milk, you can try to cut foods, but it won’t matter.”…and my own mind trying to talk myself out of it. But in the end, we kept going. I avoided dairy, eggs and nuts for 8 months and was able to breastfeed until 14 months, when she self-weaned. I also supplemented throughout those months with a homemade baby formula that did wonders for her health. These methods are not accepted by traditional doctors and if you walk into a doctor’s office and inform them of this plan you researched solely on your terms, be prepared for some push back. But we did it and she was healthy and thriving. It didn’t come easy in the least, but when something can benefit your child so greatly, the dedication does come easy and you do what you have to do…we overcame great difficulties and I was convinced that if I could breastfeed, anyone could breastfeed, if they dedicated themselves enough to it…
And then I got pregnant with my son. With that came worries of more food allergies and the panic of “what if.” I was quick to bring myself back off of the ledge though, by remembering the battles I won when it came to my daughter and I knew I could do it. I was prepared.
Until I wasn’t prepared.
My son was born healthy as a horse, immediately trying to root and ravenously hungry. But he wouldn’t latch, couldn’t latch, even…and it was painstaking, literally. Eventually we figured out a method, but it was painful and he couldn’t eat for more than 10-15 minutes at a time and would be hungry again in about 20 minutes. Again I thought there was problems with my supply, because that’s what advice is given to women if it’s difficult…drink fenugreek tea, buy these miracle cookies…but my supply was overflowing…cluster feeding, I thought, a growth spurt, I thought…but again, I had a sinking feeling that more was going on. He was uncomfortable, would scream in pain. Not just normal newborn crying, but screaming and turning blue. He was horribly gassy and had trouble going to the bathroom in general. I took him to the doctor several times insisting something was wrong, they just told me to keep breastfeeding him and it would go away. I had to research on my own, once again, to find answers and support. Silent reflux kept coming up time and time again, back to the doctor we went. After my c-section I wasn’t supposed to be lifting, but there I was, hauling my 2-year-old and my newborn in and out of doctor appointments with sore incisions and bleeding, bruised breasts. They considered the reflux, offered a couple of solutions like changing feeding position or letting him sleep upright, which helped some. Then we were referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor, where they snipped his tongue-tie, which we knew was there at birth, but the doctors considered it a mild case so it wasn’t addressed further. The procedure helped me immensely. My pain diminished and I wasn’t in constant pain anymore, but he still was. This was all by 3 weeks of age. It was agonizing, stressful and just plain hard.
I made a difficult decision and put too much pressure on myself to provide for him in the way I did for my daughter. I knew he was hurting and I wasn’t sure why, but my gut would tell me he had a problem with food. His skin began changing, just like my daughter’s, and I was awaiting the moment he’d start swelling, vomiting and stop breathing from a food reaction, but he never did. He just continually cried out in pain. Out of desperation, the doctor agreed to give me a sample of special formula and in the meantime, I cut dairy from my diet, once again. It helped a bit, but not completely. But on the formula, he was a different baby. He would sleep, he wasn’t hungry all the time and he was wasn’t crying as much. Once again, I was pleading with doctors to help us, insisting he had some sort of allergy, and they just didn’t think it was the case. His skin was written off as baby acne and I was told they could call in a prescription for reflux medication if it continued.
In the end, I quit breastfeeding. It was painful, physically and emotionally, and I felt like I had failed my son in the worst way. I knew he had to be allergic to something, but I didn’t know what. I felt guilty that I didn’t dedicate my time and energy into making his formula and modifying my own diet. But I couldn’t do it. I had a toddler AND a newborn and it was all too much. Between 6 and 8 weeks, we switched him to formula, exclusively. Very expensive, “hypo-allergenic” formula. It was breaking us financially, but he was happier. I cried countless times over everything, and you can read more about it in another post by clicking here.
Being the valiant and defensive mother I am, I bypassed the pediatrician and took him to an allergist anyway. He was doing better, but still wasn’t 100%. The allergist questioned me initially, because my son “looked” healthy, but I pushed for testing anyway, especially since the formula was now causing problems. A couple of skin scratches later and he was covered in a head to toe rash, causing the allergist and nurse to end the test early and wash the allergens off of his skin….I was correct. He had food allergies. Dairy and soy were his culprits, both very common allergies, and his expensive, “hypo-allergenic” formula contained soy. Enough to continue causing problems. He was switched, immediately, to the homemade formula I had used with my daughter. This was also around the age of 6 months. You might ask why I didn’t just switch him to it initially as a newborn, but that’s because I was afraid. He was much younger than my daughter and I was convinced by doctors and medical research that he wouldn’t be healthy if not breastfed, and if he wasn’t breastfed, he wouldn’t grown properly if not on formula. But guess what?! We switched him and again had another healthy, growing baby with the help of homemade baby formula.
I had two ENTIRELY different feeding experiences with my kids and both taught me so much about mothering and adapting to caring for these tiny beings. You just have to feed your kids, that’s the simple part…do what’s best for your children and don’t let others stand in your why. If you child is healthy and happy, you’re doing everything right. Society will tell you that you’re doing nothing right…hell, you might even be telling yourself you’re doing nothing right, I know I did. I’m so thankful for the many resources I’ve come across in my struggles, like The Honest Company Blog, which shares stories from all sorts of different avenues and passes no judgments. Moms need help, we need a village and The Honest Company is one I look to for advice, different ideas and just seeing how others do things. You can check out their awesome blog here, complete with a section entirely dedicated to feeding! Check out their feeding section as well, they offer lots of great products to help with your own feeding journey, from vitamins and supplements to organic baby formula.
Feeding my kids is still challenging, even though we’re past the newborn phase, but we are in it together…
In life, we are dealt a hand, it’s ours to play and yeah, there’s always risk involved, but you’ll make the right choice for you. Play the risky card and go rogue, like me, feeding my kids everything the medical field advises against, or play the safe card and formula feed or breastfeed….it doesn’t even matter, because it’s no one else’s life to live. You have to take care of yourself in order to fully be present for your children, and if you’re too stressed out about what society thinks you’re doing or NOT doing with your breasts and children, you’re likely not being fully available to your kids. Cut the stress, feed your babies and live happy.
Mama, you got this, and I’m cheering you on.