Breastfeeding as an IBD mom: Why I’m trusting my gut and following my heart

Before I start this article, I want to include a disclaimer. Breastfeeding is a very emotional and sometimes controversial topic. By no means are my words meant to make you feel guilty or ashamed if this way of feeding your baby doesn’t work for you. I’ve fed my children both ways. My son was breastfed for three days and then given formula. He is a picture of health. IMG_6935My daughter is 4 weeks old today and has been exclusively breastfed. I’m by no means writing this as an expert or to point any fingers. I am completely of the mindset that ‘fed is best’. No judgement here, ladies.

Through the years I’ve experienced the guilt and the worry, I’ve had to explain myself time and time again. I sat in labor and delivery classes at the hospital prior to the birth of my firstborn and felt like an outcast when I was the only one who didn’t raise my hand about planning to breastfeed. I’ve been on both sides of the ‘issue’…I write this article to share my perspective, my journey, and how my thinking has evolved as a mother. It’s a way of showing fellow IBD mamas that I understand the hesitation and all the inquiries. I get how it feels to wonder if you’re doing what is best for your baby and for yourself.

I can’t quite pinpoint when it was during my pregnancy with Sophia that I decided to try breastfeeding. I just woke up one day in the third trimester and decided it was something I wanted to experience this time around.

My son, Reid, turns two next month. During my pregnancy with him, I was adamant on not breastfeeding. IMG_6402I was worried about the lack of long-term studies on my biologic drug (Humira) and I was concerned about the risk of having a postpartum flare that would land me in the hospital and interrupt my ability to feed him. Being a new mom, I was worried the stress that comes along with breastfeeding could cause me to flare. I ended up breastfeeding him the first three days in the hospital, so that he could receive the colostrum. After that—he was given formula until he turned one. It’s a decision I was confident in, but that tugs at my heartstrings at times, especially now as I breastfeed his sister.

Biologics, pregnancy and breastfeeding

Since I was pregnant with Reid, I’ve done a fair amount of research. I’ve talked with fellow IBD moms, educated myself on the benefits of breastfeeding for baby and me and consulted with my care team ( ObGyn, high risk ObGyn and my GI). _F6B0561According to MotherToBaby, mothers who breastfeed their infants while using adalimumab (Humira) have very low levels of the drug in their breast milk. Adalimumab is not well absorbed by the gut, so any of the medication that gets into breast milk is unlikely to enter the baby’s system from the gut. Side note: MotherToBaby is a wonderful resource. I have participated in pregnancy studies for both of my pregnancies—it’s always helpful to contribute to research, share your journey, and help pave the way for future chronic illness moms so that there is more clarity for families in the future.

Like many moms who depend on biologic medication during pregnancy, that in and of itself can be stressful. I stayed on Humira for both my pregnancies—from start until finish. For Reid’s birth, I did my injection two days before my scheduled c-section at 39 weeks, 3 days. For Sophia, my last injection was at 37 weeks, 3 days. My injection was due the day of my c-section with Sophia, but a matter of days before—due to cold and flu season, my GI instructed me to wait to do my injection until I was home from the hospital. IMG_6937That way—the baby did not receive a burst of the immune-suppressant drug through the placenta, the day she was entering the world and I would be at lower risk of developing an infection as well. Timing your biologic medication is key and a conversation you’ll want to have with your care team so it can be tailored to your pregnancy and your personal journey.

The challenge of the journey

Breastfeeding is intense. It’s emotional. It’s rewarding. It’s exhausting and time consuming. I like to call it a labor of love. There are so many expectations, opinions and judgements that come along with the way we decide to feed our children. Until you experience breastfeeding, it’s hard to truly appreciate all the blood, sweat and tears (literally) that goes into it. Today marks four weeks I’ve been breastfeeding my daughter. For me—each week that goes by is a huge accomplishment.

I pump mostly—and put the milk in bottles. That way—anybody can feed the baby, especially if I’m feeling fatigued or if my Crohn’s is acting up. I wanted to introduce a bottle early on, just in case I were to be hospitalized with a postpartum flare. Sophia had her first bottle at six days old and has done a great job and has not had any “nipple confusion” when I nurse her.

It can be a bit overwhelming when you are the sole food source for another living being, especially when Crohn’s symptoms strike, and you feel like you may need to make a mad dash to the bathroom.

In my research, I learned that people with IBD were often not breastfed as infants and that breastfed babies develop healthy bacteria in their digestive tract. Those healthy bacteria can be beneficial in helping the body’s immune system fend off many different diseases. It’s my hope that breastfeeding will help create a healthy gut and microbiome for my daughter.

IMG_6936When it comes to breastfeeding as IBD moms, whether a child is going to latch or if our milk supply is going to be sufficient, tends to be the least of our worries. Our chronic health condition, plus the medications so many of us are dependent on to treat them—adds another layer of stress. In the end, you need to do what you feel comfortable with, what works for your body and for your family. Always know you are not alone in your struggles. Celebrate the parenting wins and accomplishments along the way—no matter how big or small. Lean on your support system—especially fellow breastfeeding mamas who can answer your questions and calm your fears. I can’t tell you how long I’ll continue my breastfeeding journey. For now—all I can do is take it one day at a time. What I can tell you—is how rewarding it is to see what my body is capable of, despite my disease and how amazing it feels to know I’m nourishing my little girl and providing her with a healthy start.

Helpful Resources:

IBD Parenthood Project: A one-stop-shop for everything you need to know leading up to conceiving, pregnancy and motherhood.

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation

Online Communities for Chronic Illness Moms:

IBD Moms—Website coming soon! Social media channels: Twitter: @IBDMoms, Facebook: @IBDMoms, Instagram: @IBDMoms

Mama’s Facing Forward—Social Media Channels: Twitter: @MamasForward, Facebook: @mamasfacingforward, Instagram: @mamasforward

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking care of yourself and your sick child, while battling IBD

It’s never easy to see your baby under the weather. It’s a hopeless feeling when the only way they can communicate is by crying or acting differently. It’s difficult to manage your own chronic illness and keep yourself from spiraling out of control, as you worry about the well-being of your little one. IMG_9473It’s been a rough few days in the Hayden household—our almost 13-month-old son has been battling days of hives and an allergic reaction that we can’t seem to pinpoint.

The perplexing nature of his health and the unknown of what the next hour will bring, is reminiscent of life with Crohn’s disease. Trying to manage symptoms to bring comfort, the mystery of what’s sparked the problem and the emotional rollercoaster that goes along with it.

As an IBD mom, my focus is solely on getting my son to feel better. But, it’s difficult to take this on as you battle your own disease that preys on stress and worry. A disease that tends to surface when you’re going through difficult times. A disease that tries to distract you from the task at hand. It’s been exhausting to carry my son back and forth with me to bathroom as he crawls around and pulls on the toilet paper. IMG_9522As I feel burning sensations in my abdomen at the end of the day, the internal conversation of what could be happening within my own body consumes my thoughts. I can’t help but worry that I can’t go down. I can’t allow my disease to flare when my family needs me most.

I’m going to pause now and say something to all the moms and dads who have children with a complex medical condition. A condition that requires daily care, attention and worry. I simply can not imagine all you endure. Reid has hives. We’ll get to the bottom of it. We’ve talked to the pediatrician, gone to urgent care and have plans to see an allergist. But this reality is NOTHING compared to what so many families face every day. IMG_9472So, the last thing I want to do is sound like I think I have it so bad—because trust me, I keep everything in perspective and know I’ve been blessed with a healthy baby. My goal is to provide insight into motherhood with IBD and the challenges it can present at times.

As we endure life’s unexpected ups and downs—it’s imperative we listen to our bodies, get as much rest as possible and stay on top of disease management. As most mothers do, we tend to put our needs to the wayside. But, in doing so, you set yourself up as an easier target for your disease. It’s a difficult balance, but managing your own illness still needs to be a priority. When you have a spouse and children, your IBD is not just about you, but your entire family. Ask for help when you need it. Take your daily medication and stay away from trigger foods that can ignite additional symptoms. Run an errand by yourself. Take a long shower. Give yourself time to process the stress you are going through and remember to breathe.

As an IBD mom, by taking care of myself, I know it’s part of how I take care of my son. He is completely dependent on my husband and me. If you lose sight of the importance of caring for yourself and doing all your can to control your disease, it will come back to bite you in the ass. Literally and figuratively.

I’m only 13 months into motherhood. IMG_9419Each day is a learning experience. Much like my initial diagnosis of Crohn’s disease nearly 13 years ago, I know I’ll continue to grow and find comfort in my new role. Navigating unknown waters and experiencing illness within your child is all part of it. No matter how many years go by, as parents, we’ll never be experts, but we’ll continue to evolve and discover what works for us personally and as a family.

Find the balance. Use your voice. Your journey as a patient has prepared you for motherhood in ways you never thought possible. Trust your mom gut. As women with IBD, there will be difficult days when the brain fog, fatigue and pain overwhelms you and you have to push through to care for your child. But, there will be many more days where you feel strong and happy—and your child will look up at you with love in their eyes and a smile on their face and remind you that you’re the best thing in their life. Hold on to the feel good days, the magical moments—and know that while the tough times in parenting and as a patient are draining, they are fleeting.