Even before Karissa was born, I knew how important it was to me to be able to breastfeed her. I knew that it was undoubtedly the best nutrition that she could get, I wanted the bonding experience, and I felt that it was the greatest, most natural thing that could happen. The thought of holding my newborn in my arms as she happily chugged away elated me.
When she was born, however, it wasn’t all that easy. She breastfed, and it wasn’t bad, but we had some problems. We had some correct latching issues. She had a bubble palette. I had sore nipples from lazy latching (with both kids). She was constantly comfort nursing. The real big problem, though, was the milk itself.
A word of wisdom through personal experience: don’t believe people who say that all breast milk is the same and diet doesn’t matter. A few weeks into it my sweet newborn baby had this horrible green and red mucous poop, a red ring around her butthole, she was spitting up constantly, she was wheezing and she had a terrible rash. The consultants at my lactation clinic and her pediatrician both said that what I was eating wasn’t the problem and scoffed at me for thinking that the breast milk could have been causing her problems, but intuition and Internet research indicated otherwise. Always trust your gut (ha). So began my quest into starvation in an effort to find out what she couldn’t tolerate. I already don’t eat most grains, so this was going to be tough.
First I eliminated dairy, since her awful rash had first appeared a day after I had eaten cheese. Dairy takes a while to leave your system, though, and waiting to see improvement was maddening. My mother in law thought that I was nuts and made it very obvious. It’s understandable–our parents didn’t know as much when we were kids as we do now. After about a month her skin looked a little better, but she clearly wasn’t healed. I went back to the worldwide web in search of clues.
Next came soy–dairy and soy protein intolerance very often coexist. I guess the proteins are similar. Now, I’m used to glancing at food labels, but you really have no idea just how much has soy in it until you can no longer eat it. Suddenly hot dogs, sausages, and trail mix were no-go. Marinades too. Anything fried in oil that I didn’t fry myself was a strict no fry zone (har har). We learned that the effects of soy scared us most–it caused the wheezing, skin problems, and digestion issues–but also went away the fastest if I accidentally ate it, 24 to 48 hours. We were figuring it out, but still not there.
Last was eggs. She was around 3 months old now, and grandma thought that I was an uber-nuts extremist for cutting all of this out of my diet, but I needed to know and I wanted her to have exactly what she needed. Finally her bloody poop and rash went away completely and we knew what I had to avoid. I did accidentally eat oat flour once too which prompted a 24 hour rash (I guess that a lot of oat flour can be contaminated with gluten). I was on an autoimmune paleo diet, eating ridiculous amounts of sweet potatoes and coconut flakes to try and keep up with milk production, but I lost weight at an incredible rate with so little variety. I lost 50 pounds in 6 months.
Then we discovered that I was pregnant again. I was devastated when Karissa began to lose weight and fuss constantly around 8 months old because, unbeknownst to me, I was not longer making milk (I had been told by a nurse that this wouldn’t happen and that I didn’t need to worry, so our baby STARVING didn’t evdn occur to us). We met with a different pediatrician who finally agreed that it sounded like she was intolerant of many various proteins. Since there is not a mainstream formula that is both dairy and soy free, he suggested that we ramp up her solid intake and use milk alternatives. He also advised that I stop trying to breastfeed–he thought that it would encourage her to eat. When we left his office I broke down crying–how could I give up nursing her? I wasn’t ready, and neither was she. This was a new world of pain, not being able to provide what my daughter needed. Luckily I found Sammy’s Milk–a goat’s milk alternative formula–read her story, and cried with both sadness and relief as I placed my first order.
The first week of bottles and extra solids was a nightmare, but we both adjusted. She seemed like she was scared that if she ate or drank it meant that I wouldn’t let her nurse, so the routine became that she got to comfort nurse after meals for as long as she wanted. I spent all day in the kitchen with her for weeks trying to get her to gain weight, and finally we hit our stride. Karissa comfort nursed throughout my entire pregnancy with her sister in spite of the fact that all I had to offer was colostrum. I am so thankful that neither of us never gave up: in spite of the intolerances, milk loss, teething and soreness we refused to let it go. Because of the laxative effect of colostrum she pooped a ton; her diaper consumption nearly doubled overnight!
Towards the end of the second pregnancy I remember just wanting it to be over so that I could see Karissa’s reaction to the milk coming back. I was able to resume eating eggs and dairy since she had outgrown her intolerances and was now eating them herself. Madilun was finally born and when it came to breastfeeding she was a born natural. She immediately latched herself and rarely needed help.
I am incredibly lucky: I’ve never had major complications with breastfeeding, never had mastitis or anything serious. I had milk blisters for a few weeks–that sucked (ha). The hardest thing for me was painfully sore nipples at the end of my pregnancy with Madilyn–Karissa wanted to suck and it would drive me crazy, but I let her. Ah, the things we do for love. Me and the girls are tandem nursing now, which is incredibly great and very rewarding. I love seeing my girls together snuggled up in my arms or gazing at one another while holding hands. Sometimes I wonder how long Karissa will want to breastfeed because of the difficulties we had, and I intend on letting her choose when to wean within reason (if she gets to 4 or 5 and hasn’t weaned perhaps we’ll reevaluate). She still wakes me up a few times a night to nurse, whereas her sister already sleeps pretty well. I can’t blame her, I really appreciate the comfort of the ritual as much as she does. She wants to lay in my arms and fall asleep, and I love knowing that she’s there next to me.
Thus far in my parenting adventures breastfeeding has been a crazy, hard, and great experience.