For a little over three years I breastfed my two babies, one after the other. While it is natural for a Mumma to feel a little emotional about their breastfeeding relationship coming to an end, I unexpectidly am reflecting on it as one of those relationships that come into a persons life to change it for the better. You know like a person who has influenced and changed you. Anything that changes a person is hard, is a journey and is a rewarding challenge. That has been breastfeeding for me.
Prior to having my babies I was a fairly typical niave girl in my 20s. Nutrition wasn’t always at the forefront of my mind. I drank way too much alcohol, consumed too much caffeine, was on the pill for 10 years, had taken antibiotics all my life without a second thought, I smoked cigarettes too. My poor body! I thrashed it but expected it would look good and preform optimally for me (oh to be 21 again!). I had so many factors that would lead to bad gut health but I was too busy finding the perfect dress for the weekend to have gut health on my radar. I had briefly seen adverts about probiotics around the place but that all seemed too hippy lala for me. I worked out sometimes, had a healthy bmi and good iron so I assumed that was all there was to my health. I was like holistic health, what’s that even mean?
When we planned a baby at 25 and fell pregnant right away, I was overjoyed. I did everything right – cut caffeine, ate well avoiding all the ‘No’ foods, did yoga, walking etc. After birth I was only 5kg heavier than my start point so I believed that I must have been healthy. I suppose in this respect my beliefs on health were very one dimensional.
His birth was a good one with complications. I self taught hypnobirthing, John had to be induced when he was 10 days late and the waters had been broken for a while. They pumped me full of antibiotics in case of infection. With a little synthetic oxytocin, he was born naturally with no further intervention. Then I got unlucky and had a post partum haematoma to deal with, where the blood pooled internally in my vulva and I had to have two rounds of surgery to remove a busted vein and clamp an burst artery. One blood transfusion later and 10days in the hospital, I was on the path to healing. As fate would have it, when I was whisked off to surgery my baby was having a little trouble with his breathing so he was sent to NICU and also pumped full of antibiotics. Our gut health would have hit rock bottom at this point.
When John was a newborn, I had to ask the hospital staff how to change a nappy because I had never been close to one of those things let alone changed one! Did you know the packet has instructions on them? Haha, that’s there for people like myself who had never held a baby before then they had full responsibility of one. I was very maternal but had no experience! As an impressionable and clueless new Mum, I took loads of bad advice. Amoung the worst of it was that my baby should be sleeping more than he did so my boy must just be hungry and he would need watered down farex and formula to make him sleep. I am so ashamed to say that I believed this terrible advice, so into little newborn John’s delicate little gut I put in dairy and watered down farex.
When John started getting red rashes in his folds and also his whole body turning red in flashes, through bad advice and my own ignorance I thought it was the washing powder or the swim lessons. When he started developing eczema in his folds, on his face and under his multiple baby chins, I thought he needed topical creams. When his eczema worsened and covered his whole body, turning infected in patches requiring steroids and antibiotics, through a combination of sleep deprivation, desperation to help my baby and good advice from a fellow allergy Mum Jen I tried an elimination diet. I cut dairy and stopped the farex and formula feeds and it seemed to help a little but John’s skin was still so severe the GP talked of hospitalizing him. I realized I was on the right path with a natural approach as steroids hadn’t worked, and kept diving deep for more information. I turned to modern parenting (google!) And learned more about elimination diets, gut health, candida, eczema and I was releived to learn that as a Mum you cannot die from sleep deprivation.
I will never forget those months of eczema life which seemed to go on forever. My little bubba, scratching himself into a literal bloody mess and looking up at me with big eyes as if begging me to make the itching go away. It must have been torture. All day and all night he would do nothing but scratch and cry, I was the 24/7 scratching police as I held down his limbs and cried as he screamed himself to sleep. He slept in our bed so I could hold him down to sleep, he woke every sleep cycle (45min) then it would take me 15min to get him back to sleep then he woke again. I was only sleeping 30min streches at this point and began to despise nighttime. When it got dark I would feel this doom and gloom pressing down on me and I would impatiently wait for the sun to rise so I could stop trying to sleep and get on with the day. My days were filled with baths, wet wrapping (2am every night included), appointments, washing blood out of baby clothes and wishing to be a normal Mum who only had pumpkin stains to worry about. I will never forget the stares my baby got and the gasps ftom strangers, some of whom would tell me coconut oil will fix that, others would ask me what was wrong with my baby. My poor itchy baby, I can’t imagine the stress and I often still worry about his cortisol levels as a baby. We bought so many pairs of scratch me not gloves that as much as I love them, I was happy to see the back of them as my son was 1.5years and gradually stopped needing them. My firm fave for eczema clothing is bam [+] boo for everything especially their zippidy zip suits, amazing product, they saved our sleep and sanity!
I was now a breastfeeding Mum of a baby with food intolerances. Through all of this I found a little me time at Ashy Bines 12 week bootcamp in Howick. It felt great to exhaust my body and become strong, fit and a good example for my boy. I completed the challenge, coming in 2nd place and winning a scholarship to study nutrition theory through Ashy Bines with FIT Australia. I could not believe my luck! I got 100% on the course and just like that a burning passion was lit.
My path to gut health has been a series of small steps leading to a path in turn becoming my journey. Around the time I commenced study, we consulted with leading naturopath Gina Wilson at Indico Ltd. John was 7 months old and I felt although his eczema had improved, we could not go it alone and needed guidance down the only route which worked for us so far which was holistic health. As well as being a naturopath, Gina has a nutrition qualification and specializes in children so she was perfect.
We were now starving candida whilst on an elimination diet where John and I both excluded gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, nut, soy, nightshades and all sugars (no fruit even). This was 3 months and because we were doing it for my baby, it was easy. I found preparation was key and it got easier with every meal, every day.
John’s eczema was two steps forward one step back but eventually (by 2) he wasn’t having much trouble anymore. By 3 he only gets eczema when he is triggered by food, sunscreen or chlorine. He is such a happt boy now with a sparkle in his eyes, gone are those giant, pleading eyes which used to look at me with such desperation.
During all of this, of course, we uncovered that John had multiple food allergies through painful trial and error. He is allergic to dairy and eggs and anaphylactic to cashew nuts. Multiple Drs trips, hives/swelling/itching/tears, a couple of ambulance rides and lots of antihistamine later – we are managing as best we can.
I breastfed John whilst avoiding his allergies until my milk dried up in pregnancy with Daisy. The kids are 1.5 years apart. With Daisy I decided to do everything in pregnancy that I could to reduce her chances of allergies and eczema, I researched, talked to other Mums and felt confident that I was holistically healthier than my first time around. I truly did everything, even populating my birth canal with probiotics for her to swallow on her way out!
Not to bore anyone with the long version, Daisy is allergic to white fish, something unknown and anaplyactic to nuts and eggs. She got eczema as a baby. But, lucky for her, we made all of our mistakes with her brother (sorry Johnny). She was breastfed exclusively, bugger the bad advice I got from relatives about her “starving” from 4 months (when they strongly felt she needed mushed up pumpkin). What I have learned with my second child is that I am my babys biggest advocate, I come with instincts that are right for my baby and breastmilk is best for baby’s gut health.
When Daisy got eczema, I went back onto the elimination diet and followed Gina’s advice once more and we nipped it in the bud! A few breakouts but all nothing comparitvely.
I am happy to say that I had such an oversupply of breastmilk that I was able to donate to other allergy babies. I have continued my studies now with The Naturopathic College of NZ.
Now Daisy is nearly 1.5years and I have weaned her. I feel like I should have gone to two as per the World Health Organizations recommendation but the relationship wasn’t mutually working out anymore.
I look back on this journey with appreciation and love for how much it hs shaped me, changed me and put me on the right life path where I am thrilled to be helping others not just with text book advice but real life experience to draw on.
I laugh about how even though my kids are weaned, I am so used to not eating dairy or eggs that mentally I cannot bring myself to eat them now. I got a sip of my husbands coffee and dry wretched everywhere, no moo for me!
What I found really beneficial has been cutting out their allergens myself while breastfeeding because it has forced me to find, create and make food which is safe for them. I don’t just rely on the first 5 safe foods I found, I know all of the places they can eat and all of the items which are safed because I live in their shoes.
On reflection, I am so glad that even when John bit my nipples hard and made them bleed, I persevered with breastfeeding. I had a tin of allergy baby formula and read the ingredients – first one up was corn syrup. CORN SYRUP!? No. I had so much pressure to feed him that and I kept with breastfeeding despite my MIL and SIL giving me dirty looks while I breastfed as John turned one. The family pressure was hard, loads of comments and when I announced I was pregnant with baby number 2, my MIL mocked my toddler saying, “Ha ha ha haa ha, you’re gonna get weeeened”. So you see I had opinions against my breastfeeding relationship however I knew not to worry.
My husband was supportive and real catalyst for natural, holistic health the whole way.
Now I am not breastfeeding anymore babies, but breastfeeding my two with food allergies and eczema put me onto the right path and I am sure the resulting journey will never end.