During this period of spreading breastfeeding awareness, I want to share how breastfeeding while experiencing chronic illness has affected me; I guess you could say I’m not the average mom. Depending on who I asked, I was told that breastfeeding was either easy or difficult. When I gave birth to my first daughter on the 20th of June 2017, I thought I’d take to breastfeeding with ease since I had watched a ton of videos and attended breastfeeding classes. This, however, was not the case.
After my daughter R was born, I struggled with getting her to latch on and instantly felt like a failure. I decided to consult a lactation consultant to come in because I did not want to give up. When she came in, we had to discuss what was going on. We discussed that R was a “lazy baby” and sucked on her wrist throughout my whole pregnancy. We had to
My Experience Adjusting to Breastfeeding
During the first month at home, I was glad it was my summer break and that I did not have to stress about going back to work. I cried many times during the day and night because my fibromyalgia was flaring up and it hurt for R to be nursing for long periods of time. I struggled mentally at this time because of my PPD/A and I was struggling to build a relationship with my daughter. I never have experienced such pure and utter exhaustion like I did with struggling to breastfeed, experiencing a loss of sleep, and my chronic illnesses flaring up. I wanted to give up many times, and hearing some others just tell me to use bottles so that they could feed R didn’t help with my mental state. I also had people tell me not to breastfeed in public and to isolate myself whenever I needed to feed her. I found it was hard to carry her when I needed to walk with my service dog and just trying to find a place to nurse without people tripping on the dog or walking on me was difficult.
My husband has been a huge support, along with my parents, for both our girls because they will take my girls and let me sleep in in the morning. In the newborn stage (0-3 months) my girls woke up often to feed, but it happened around the same time throughout the night. No longer experiencing this interruption of sleep predictability helped me to cope and not be as grumpy or frustrated with my sleep being interrupted.
The Stigma that Surrounds Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can be difficult for anyone, not just people with chronic illnesses. There is a stigma with breastfeeding that goes around along with a lot of misinformation. Unfortunately, there is a huge push for anyone who is breastfeeding to go and nurse in another room, bathroom, changing room, etc… There seems to be a huge push for formula and bottle feeding because it’s “more convenient” and allows others to feed the baby to “give mom a break”. There are even suggestions to just pump and bottle feed, but that is not an easier option because every time that the baby feeds, mom still needs to get up and pump, then take care of the pump parts and put the milk in storage. There’s a lot of work no matter what, and it can be a struggle.
Medication and Breastfeeding
Having chronic illnesses and making the choice to breastfeed will limit your options concerning medication. Even though you are not pregnant, you still have some limitations or weird changes of limitations on medication. After having my second daughter W, my body went into a flare with lupus and fibromyalgia. I discussed with my doctor what we could do, and he put me on a new medication that would not affect my daughter since I am still breastfeeding. I had to go back to my doctor this past week because the medication was working, but not at a therapeutic level.
He decided to up my medication again by 0.5mg (small increases as needed because everybody is different) and then discussed that I am still inflamed in my ears but the fluid in my inner ears was finally gone. We had initially wanted to put me on gabapentin, however, after my doctor went and looked up to see if it would be safe, he and I decided that we could not take the risk. The medication I was put on instead was one that claimed a minimal amount goes through the milk to the baby. We would have to monitor W as well as myself to make sure no harm or side effects were occurring.
It is a “safe” medication, but in the “if the benefits outweigh the risks” manner. I was slightly devastated because my pain is coming to a point where I am losing more sleep than I already was
For now, I am going to stick with breastfeeding because it is beneficial to my daughter. My daughters both do not respond very well to formula and I would have to special order one from out of the country, which my insurance will not cover. When I consider the cost, benefit and time (easier/quicker to breastfeed than prepare a bottle), I am keeping everything in mind and staying in contact with my doctor to make sure I am not sacrificing too much of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. My experience is going to be different from anyone else’s experience, and I am always a “fed is best” advocate. I will never advise someone to compromise their own health when their child needs their parents alive more than anything.
Katie McCabe is a wife and mother of two beautiful girls. She has rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus, along with a few other disabilities. She works full time at a school district in the city where she lives and will be going back to school to get her Masters. She has a service dog that helps her with being independent and able to function day to day. Follow Katie on Instagram