Friday, June 4, 2010

My Breastfeeding Story

My Story: The Lactivist with Broken Boobs

I have severe ulcerative colitis, which has been flaring since October of 2009, when I was 18 weeks pregnant with my son. Ulcerative Colitis is an auto-immune condition that is similar to Crohn's Disease. For reasons unknown, my immune system sometimes attacks my lower intestine, causing ulcers, bleeding, and severe diarrhea (gross, I know). I had been in remission for 3 years, but it came back. I was able to manage it while pregnant with steroids that are moderately safe for expecting moms.

Then, my son was born. We initiated breastfeeding right away - we were even able to do the "breast crawl", which was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I had trouble with latching, but we dealt with that. I ended up with a clogged duct and then mastitis, but we dealt with that. Both my son and I got thrush, but we made it through. I believe in breast feeding. I believe in the benefits of breast milk, and I did all the research. Come hell or high water, I was going to breastfeed my son and give him these magnificent benefits.

When David was 3 weeks old, my flare went from bad to worse. I was in the bathroom 20+ times a day. I was bleeding profusely, and when I wasn't nursing, I was curled up on the bathroom floor. I hid how bad it was from my husband, friends and family. I knew I should tell my doctor how bad things were. I knew I needed help.

I also knew that the only "breastfeeding safe" drugs for UC were the ones I was on - the ones that were failing. I knew they'd make me stop breastfeeding, and the guilt of that was terrible. My doctors had made it clear that the next step was to the big guns, drugs usually used to treat lukemia and an immune suppressant given by IV, both of which cross into breast milk. One drug is so bad that women who might become pregnant can't even handle it - they can't even touch the pills.

I believed that David would be at risk for infections, for sicknesses, for obesity, have a lower IQ, bond less with me. I figured, if I could just hold out a little longer....maybe it would go away.

2 weeks later, I passed out in the bathroom after a nursing session with David. When I came to, my husband and sister-in-law rushed me to the emergency room. I was barely coherent, but I argued with them both that it wasn't serious.

My body had gone septic and I was very, very sick. I was in the hospital for 8 days. They treated me with hefty antibiotics and steroids, and had me on massive painkillers. Breastfeeding was totally off the table, for good.

My husband, suddenly the single father of a 5 week old baby, had to switch to formula immediately to nourish our son.  Even with all I'd been through, the first thing I tried to get when I was coherent was a pump so I could keep up my supply. My husband was so angry; he felt that the pressure to breastfeed almost cost me my life. He and my doctors all made it very clear that what my baby needed was ME, not my boobs.

The entire experience was horrific. I never should have attempted to breastfeed, and I should have gone on the stronger meds right away, as soon as he was born. I put my own life in danger, but I really believed all of the research (and frankly, propaganda) that formula-feeding my son was akin to child abuse. I was convinced that giving up breastfeeding meant that my son would be at a disadvantage for his entire life....and it would be my fault.

I am now on those scary medications that are keeping me moderately healthy and out of the hospital. My son is thriving on formula. He is bright and wonderful and strong. He has never been sick. I still feel guilty sometimes, but I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that formula is the right choice for us, and that it's a blessing. 100 years ago, one or both of us would have died, plain and simple.

I firmly believe that breastfeeding is important and should be supported.   Nonetheless, those who say formula is the devil just haven't done the research behind the REAL reasons some people switch.  It's rarely about wanting to party or wanting pretty boobs, in my experience. Life's just not that simple, and sometimes formula is the right choice from the very beginning.

Do you have a breastfeeding story to share? I'd love to hear it!


  1. Oh my. I'm so sorry for all you have been through. To come through that, live and then have to forgive yourself... strangely I imagine the latter was the hardest. I'm so glad for you that you can feel peace about it. While I understand that formula is very helpful to those who need it, there is a bigger and sadly, insidious, picture that surrounds what should simply be a wonderful blessing in special situations.
    And I LOVE that your son is a 9th!

  2. Wow... that is an gut-wrenching story. The one thing we sometimes lose sight of is that a *fed* baby is a happy baby.

    Here's part of my story: Older daughter born full-term, but with complications... gets sent off to NICU. IV nutrition for 24 hours, formula and whatever I could pump (which turned out to be less than 1/4 of an ounce total) for two days, and our first attempt at nursing at 3.5 days old. Between her already establshed nipple preference and my overwhelming emotions for the siuation, breastfeeding was a constant struggle. At five months we began supplementing with formula, which quickly became 98% formula feedings while we were apart. I was devastated. But then I saw my daughter growing and getting stronger. She's super smart, strong and funny (if I do say so myself, haha). As I said the other day, maybe it's all that DHA-fortified formula she drank.

  3. Situations like yours are the reason we have formula. It's understandable that a mother in your case would feel *regret*, but guilt is not the emotion called for (to the extent that you feel it, it is an occupational hazard of motherhood!). And the five weeks that you did breastfeed your son did make a difference to you both. You may not see it yet, but you will.

    I'm an autoimmune mama as well. My autoimmune disease is in my kidneys but it has also caused any number of other problems, including a stroke. Luckily it didn't present until my 3rd child was one year old and I didn't need to go on a medication that necessitated weaning until he was three (I was on cyclosporine basically the whole year he was two and was able to continue to breastfeed). While it is definitely not the same as having to wean an infant, any time a mother has to stop nursing before she and/or her child are ready, it is a disappointment.

    Happily for me, I did go into remission eventually and subsequently had a "bonus baby," and have not had to resume immune suppressant therapy. Hopefully your life will bring you improved health in the future. I know you already take much joy in your sweet little son!

  4. But see, that is exactly what formula *should* be for, extreme situations where breast feeding is an impossibility. Donor breast milk would be second best, but unfortunately is not always readily accessible or affordable when possible. In these cases, used like a prescription, formula is justified. You have no reason whatsoever to feel guilty mama. None.

  5. I thought she was saying she felt guilty for almost costing her son a mother by endangering herself. I agree though, that this is exactly why formula is and can be a good thing. I was told to wean my daughter at only 3 weeks due to a cyst I had developed in pregnancy on my left nipple that grew to the size of a pea before it... let's just say it worked itself out, haha. So gross. I'm so thankful it did, though, because I was told they'd have to biopsy it and I wouldn't be able to feed her on that side anymore, so I might as well wean her. I'm glad I didn't listen to that doctor because as I said, it... worked itself out. Now I have to make sure I feed her in cradle hold and football hold each feeding on that side for equal time or risk engorgement and blocked ducts. I also still experience some intense pain from time to time, but I've managed to not even need to supplement, I'm proud to say.

  6. How awful. I'm sure you and your son benefitted greatly from the few weeks you were able to breastfeed. Any little bit helps, right?

    With my daughter I was clueless, having never been around breastfeeding and being the first of my friends to have kids. She ended up in NICU for a week, and I credit that with our breastfeeding success (as the hospitals in this area offer no lactation consultants or LLL). Every 12 hours I had a different nurse giving me different advice and different tips. They didn't all work, but there were so many we managed to find what did. They were also incredibly supportive of my decision to breastfeed and called me whenever my daughter awoke, avoiding supplementing her (per my request). I had a seizure when my daughter was 4 months and had to go on medication that required the cessation of breastfeeding. I remember how I sat and cried because I so wanted to breastfeed for at least a year. Still, I managed to raise an incredibly healthy baby on formula.

    I have been able to nurse my son much longer. I had another seizure a couple of weeks ago but have chosen to wait the 6 weeks or so until his 1st birthday to start my medication again. Based on medical history I am safe in waiting. I'm thankful to be able to bf him for a full year. If I couldn't, however, I'd be okay, though sad. We do supplement with formula at times and I have a close relationship with my breast pump so I know he is comfortable with whatever I feed him.

    I've now read several of your posts and much enjoyed them. They're thought provoking and informative, not to mention entertaining. Thank you.

  7. I'm another lactivist who formula fed one of my sons! We adopted him, and by the time he came to us he was fully attached to his bottle nipple and pretty profoundly rejected me: I went into an emotional tailspin and even pumping for him had to be sacrificed for sanity.
    I loved your post on how to support breastfeeding without being a boob: recently on our website we stumbled upon this issue by posting about support for banning formula ads (as per WHO Code) and several of our readers expressed that this made them feel guilty for legitimate formula feeding experiences. I will link to your post in order to add to the discussion~hope you don't mind!

    It is true that there really are so many individual stories out there to explain a choice to use formula, and accusations of laziness or lack of care are just profoundly unfair.

    Thanks for sharing your story!
    (p.s. I found you through Hobo Mama)

  8. Good and another post from you admin :)