There’s breastfeeding. And then there’s breastfeeding a food allergy baby. Both are a lot more work than I bargained for.
I went ahead and broke down my journey into three parts: the beginning, middle, and end. Because every phase is SO different and the struggles are unique.
The excruciating pain. The latching issues. The fatigue. The overwhelm. Anxiety. Stress and exhaustion. The engorgement. Milk stains. Leaky boobs. Clogged milk ducts. Shivering from a mastitis fever. Painful, uneven breasts. Soaking through breast pads. Not a single hour to yourself. The elimination diets. Bloody diapers. Bloody nipples. Cluster feeding.
And with a food allergy baby…feeling like I was poisoning my tiny newborn with the milk I magically made with my body because of his food allergies. The milk that was supposed to be miraculous and perfectly customized just for him. Until it wasn’t. My milk was tainted with allergens that wreaked havoc on his tiny belly. It took months and months of trial and error. And tears. From the both of us.
The sleepless nights from his upset stomach, his reflux, and simply just needing to nurse around the clock, as newborns do. The fatigue was so overwhelming, and I wish I knew it was going to be like this. Then he stopped latching once I went back to work. Cue the guilt and shame. If only I stayed home with him, he would’ve nursed me longer. If only.
Determined to give my son the best, I continued eating an elimination diet and exclusively pumping. Which means I was eating extremely bland foods (which made me miserable and depressed) and was attached to my pump like a ball and chain. I ate a 100% allergen-free diet for 10 months. I now know that almost everything contains soy. And I learned firsthand how hard it is to find allergy-friendly items. My bank account also took a huge hit from eating this way, but I was determined to fight for my son.
I started working full-time at six weeks, regretfully. My supply quickly dropped because I became an exclusive pumper (due to working) somewhere around four to five months. Where I went, my pump went. Airport bathrooms (sadly, the airport didn’t have nursing rooms!), my cubicle at work, in the car on a road trip, in the guest room at a holiday party. I was always pumping. At first, every two to three hours, which is a total drag. Then I weaned down to three to four times a day, which was a huge win for me. I could slowly feel my life coming back to me. Besides, my body was still not mine! And after nine long, hard months of pregnancy, my body missed the break.
The middle for me is the easiest. Everything was more comfortable and less frequent. The light was at the end of the tunnel.
It breaks my heart to say this, but I just stopped breastfeeding at 10 months. In many ways, I felt that I failed my son. Maybe it was my own pressure I placed on myself, or the quiet pressure from society, or the pressure from successful breastfeeding goddesses that surrounded me. Or my knowledge of the power of breast milk on the human body. Or my commitment to nutrition and natural health. I felt like a fraud, a sell out, a liar. I was embarrassed. I felt shame, regret and guilt. But I also felt a sense of freedom I hadn’t felt in awhile, that my soul and body desperately longed for.
Before I made the transition, I did my research as any mama would do. I delved deeply into the research of every formula on the market. And nothing felt good enough. Nothing was human breast milk. My breastmilk, exclusively formulated just for my son. It was a hard pill to swallow, but one that had to be swallowed.
I went from producing a miraculous liquid that was sustaining the life of my child (best feeling in the world) to paying $50 a can for a vegan soy-free/allergen-free formula he would barely drink.
My goal for the two of us was to make it 12 months. But due to an unexpected drop in my supply, I introduced the allergen-free (very expensive) formula at eight months old. At first, he was having mostly breastmilk with maybe only three to four ounces of formula. I felt very good about that.
Then we got into months 9-10 and it was me who dropped the ball. It hurts me to admit it. As an exclusive pumping mom who still worked for an employer and was starting her own business, I’d had enough. I dreaded having to put cold plastic cones on my breasts and angrily squeeze whatever drops were left that would come out. I just wanted to sleep when I got tired, not having to force myself to wake up and painfully pump before bed. I desperately needed sleep. And my son had just started to sleep decently. Call me selfish and I may agree with you. After all, if mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.
I was sad in some ways to end it when I did, but I also know that I did my best. Beating myself up about it won’t make anything better. I love my son more than the world, and we built a beautiful bond. And it all started with breastfeeding.
The Beauty of the Breastfeeding Bond
There’s always a silver lining to any journey, including mine. Something positive to find during even the hardest of times. I realized after I wrote my three phases, I forgot to mention the most important one, which includes all the positives from my breastfeeding journey. This experience changed my life forever.
I will never forget those long nights shared rocking my sweet baby boy. Nursing him until he fell asleep with a milky smile on my bare chest. The comfort and security that I brought him through breastfeeding in the beginning I’m sure will last a lifetime. The warmth and connection we shared as mother and son. Those moments I will always miss and, albeit challenging, I’m blessed and grateful that I made it so far. Those memories and our bond will live on forever.
To all the new mamas reading this: If you’re just starting your breastfeeding journey and you feel overwhelmed, I feel for you deeply. It’s SO hard, but it does get easier with each passing month and it does end, even if at times it feels like eternity. Dare I say, you might even miss it. Maybe you won’t, and that’s okay too. You did your best, mama. Whether you breastfed for eight days, eight weeks, eight months or eight hours…it was all ENOUGH.