Breastfeeding and MS

Breastfeeding is a pretty loaded topic in the world of moms. There’s a certain pressure to breastfeed since research suggests it’s better for your baby and what mom doesn’t want to give their baby the best? Plus, it seems like the natural thing to do since your body is physically producing exactly what your baby needs for potentially the first year of life.

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But with that said, I’ve never been one to weigh in on it because I believe breastfeeding is a personal choice and should be made by the mother without judgement from anyone else. You never know what’s behind someone’s reason for choosing formula and quite honestly, it’s no one else’s business. In a lot of cases, breastfeeding just doesn’t work for some people – maybe the baby isn’t latching well or mom’s not producing enough milk. In other situations, mom’s decide formula is a great option because it includes all the nutrients the baby needs and for some people its is just easier. There’s nothing wrong with making one aspect of your life simpler while juggling the craziness of a newborn! And then, there are people like me who have a disease to keep in mind which doesn’t make the decision of whether to breastfeed any easier.

My mom breastfed me and I guess that’s always what I assumed I would do too. Yes, it was “better” for the baby but it would also allow me to develop a closeness with my baby that’s often generated through skin-to-skin contact. However great that sounded, I was told after giving birth that my risk of a relapse went up significantly with MS and my best option to protect myself was to start a medicinal treatment right away which meant no breastfeeding.

I’m not really someone who likes it when others tell me what to do, especially when it comes to big decisions like when to have a baby or whether I can experience this important aspect of motherhood. But, I also needed to be responsible and protect myself; I had a baby now that I needed to take care of and couldn’t afford to not be 100% for her. Breastfeeding was important to me – at least for the first few months – so I asked my doctor if there were any safe options that would allow me to try. After some contemplation, he said I could do another 5 day steroid treatment – which essentially are crazy amounts of Prednisone administered through IV for a few hours each day – which would essentially trick my body into believing that this wonderful, monumentous occasion never happened and my hormone levels would remain stable. Steroids were supposed to “protect” me from new lesions for approximately 3 months and in that time, I could breastfeed. So, I decided to try and if at any point I felt symptoms getting worse, I would modify my plan.

The first month of breastfeeding was difficult. Like all new moms who opt to try, it’s not an easy thing to pick up. At the beginning it’s painful, frustrating and honestly really stressful. Is she eating enough? Is she latching correctly? Shit, am I bleeding again? Yes, ow. The list goes on. Breastfeeding certainly had its advantages but the stress it caused me started to have an effect on me physically and my symptoms began to flare up. Each time I would feed her, my hands would become numb and start to tingle, a nice little reminder of my condition. After a month of it not getting any better and my stress getting worse, I opted to try pumping instead which helped tremendously. Pumping, if you don’t know, is when you use an electronic machine to pump your milk into a bottle in 10ish minutes – voila! It became a win, win for me. I could still give her breast milk without the stress of the actual process of breastfeeding.

So for the next two months before starting a medication, I decided to exclusively pump which was the best decision I could have made for my baby and my health. I was able to not only feed her my milk but pumped enough extra for 2 weeks of feedings (that’s 330 oz of milk, enough for 6 feedings of milk a day!) and freeze them until I was ready to use them. And best of all, my numbness subsided and I could stop worrying that things were getting worse.

I just finished our last feeding of breast milk and I’m feeling proud because, as many moms know, pumping is a pain and requires a lot of time, effort and yes, bottle cleaning. Even though a part of me wishes I could have done it longer, I was able to give her my milk for 3.5 months and that’s an accomplishment in itself.

Being a new mom has certainly come with challenges and unexpected setbacks – and that’s with or without breastfeeding while managing a disease. If I’ve learned anything from this experience it’s that there is no “right” answer for how you should feed your child. Ultimately, you need to make the decision that’s right for you and your circumstances and once you do, everything else will fall into place.

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