Welcome to Monday Musings by Caitlin Domanico!
Sweet E came in with her mama for a nursing photography session, and as we talked, I realized what a ride they had been on in just few short months. Her mama graciously shared their story with us below!
One of the happiest moments of my life was the first time I held my daughter, Emily. My husband later told me that I was absolutely beaming as she immediately wanted to nurse. She was a natural- she latched with little assistance and ate for over 10 minutes. This was a huge relief to me- her older brother struggled the first week of his life to latch. I was determined to nurse my son and with the help of a lactation consultant we finally hit our nursing stride when he was about 8 days old and it lasted until the weekend after his first birthday.
When Emily was about 10 days old we started to notice that she was becoming increasingly inconsolable. She was arching her back, screaming for hours and was very particular about how she wanted to be held. Our son suffered from reflux and was on reflux medication until he turned 2 so we were very familiar with the signs and suspected that Emily might have the same condition. While we waited with our son to see a doctor until he was nearly 7 weeks old (we dismissed his symptoms as “Colic”), we brought up the issue with the pediatrician right away at Emily’s next weight check. The pediatrician put her on reflux medication and we also spoke about other possibilities that could be causing the symptoms, including allergies. During that visit the pediatrician was able to test one of her dirty diapers to see if there were any traces of blood in her stool- a sign of allergies. That test (a fecal occult blood test), came up negative.
With the medication, Emily’s symptoms seemed to improve for a day or so but then they became much worse. I started to feel that there was something more going on than just reflux as she began to have an increased amount of dirty diapers and she was becoming inconsolable for most of the day. She also appeared to be wheezing at times and she just didn’t look healthy- her coloring was off and she looked exhausted. I spent my days walking around in circles in our house because movement was the only thing that seemed to help her.
When she was 2 ½ weeks old I noticed that her stool looked greenish. I immediately called the pediatrician and they had me come in for another fecal occult test and this time it came up positive. The assumption was that she had a milk protein allergy (the most common allergy for infants), so I was given a list of foods to avoid if I wanted to continue to nurse and also given information on the formula she would need if I wanted to go that route. I left the office basically in shock. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
I was devastated. I cried all the way home from the appointment. I could not imagine giving up nursing but I didn’t even know where to began with cutting dairy out of my diet. I immediately started researching on the internet. I read articles, poured over websites, and downloaded books, to get as much information as I could.
I wasn’t able to get in to see the GI doctor for over two weeks. At first I was anxious that we had to wait so long but then I started to think of it as good amount of time to give dairy free living a try. I decided I would not make any decisions until after we saw the doctor.
Prior to seeing the GI doctor, we had another visit with the pediatrician and Emily had another positive occult test. The suggestion then was to eliminate soy as well.
What I struggled with was the question of would I be causing her pain? I was scared about inadvertently eating something with dairy or soy, which would cause her pain and discomfort. Was I being selfish in someway to try to continue breastfeeding? Was I making the best decision for her?
Then I would contemplate if I could live without dairy or soy? What would I eat every day? Emily’s diagnosis came right before Thanksgiving- would I get through Thanksgiving and Christmas without my favorite dishes? Would I be upset on my birthday when I couldn’t have my favorite cake from my favorite bakery? Such a drastic dietary change really would change my day to day living. Food plays a larger role in how we live our lives that I ever realized.
I arrived at the GI doctor’s office with a long list of questions that I had written down, including how do they really know that she has a dairy and soy allergy? The doctor patiently went through all of my questions after a nearly 45 minute talk, I felt much more confident. Emily also had her first negative fecal occult test since she was diagnosed with allergies! I was glad that I had had time to do my research and wrap my head around Emily’s allergies and my new diet prior to seeing the doctor. The doctor assured me that if I wanted to continue nursing, the benefits for Emily would far out weigh any of the negatives (such as occasional discomfort if I accidently had something with dairy or soy in it).
Ultimately I decided, with support from my husband, that I was going to commit to nursing Emily for the long term. I felt too strongly about the benefits of breastfeeding and I didn’t want Emily and I to miss out on the wonderful experience. Emily already loved her nursing times and I didn’t want to take that away from her. I also came to terms with the change in my diet on the day I asked myself, “What food was more important to me than doing what I felt was best for Emily?” I couldn’t think of an answer.
There have been some rough days in the past 3 months but most of those days were early on. Eating out at restaurants or take out is also challenging. Trusting that the food that is prepared really is dairy and soy free is difficult. Since dairy and soy is often used a preservative, many people do not realize how much dairy and soy is in the foods we eat. Other than the obvious dairy in our diets (milk, butter, cheese, yogurt), it is also very common in breads, pre-packaged rice, cereal bars, etc..
I also get nervous about eating at other people’s homes because I hate to be that “difficult guest” and I feel terrible as I question the ingredients in everything I eat.
I did not realize that most wine is not vegan, which means that in most cases I cannot enjoy a glass a wine but also have to avoid any recipe that has wine as an ingredient.
Fortunately, there are many dairy free and soy free products and alternatives that are readily available in specialty food stores and even our local grocery store. My husband and I enjoy cooking and have tried to find substitutes to make some of our favorite recipes work. But, the reality is I don’t have as much variety in my diet as I used to and I frequently find myself eating “the same old thing”. I am taking additional vitamins to make up for my lack of dairy and I try to eat calcium rich foods whenever possible.
Today, Emily is thriving at 4 months and I plan to continue nursing until sometime after her first birthday.
We hope that Emily, like most children with milk and soy allergies, will grow out of this sometime between 1 and 3. We have not had allergy testing yet as she is still very young and traditional allergy testing tests immediate reactions to food. For Emily, her reactions are delayed so allergy testing is not usually helpful. Since she is at increased risk for food allergies in the future, when she gets closer to one year, we will have traditional allergy testing at that time. Family history also has played a large part in this story. It turns out that many family members had to have formulas changed when they were young because they couldn’t tolerate regular formal. It seems that we have a long history of milk and/or soy allergies but I don’t think it was talked about too much because no one else breastfeed so it was a simple change of formula.
I think that breastfeeding is such a personal decision. I have loved the experience with both of my children and I feel fortunate that I have been able to nurse them. For the moms out that who want to nurse but are faced with challenges I would say follow your instinct. Even if everyone else tells you it is “ok” that you stop nursing, if it is not ok with you, it is something worth fighting for. Out of concern for me, people around me told me that it would be too hard and I would create too much stress in my life. They told me she would be “fine” on formula. All were valid points and I recognize that babies thrive on formula, but that was not what I felt was best for Emily.
I am also very lucky to have a supportive spouse. On days when Emily is fussy, I immediately start to analyze everything that I have eaten. And, if I have eaten something that I did not realize had dairy or soy in it, I tend to beat myself up about it. But it is my husband who reassures me that I am doing the best for Emily and often reminds me that all babies have fussy periods and not to jump to any conclusions.
When Caitlin started to offer nursing sessions I immediately knew that I wanted to have photos of me nursing Emily. Nursing Emily is so important to me and it is something I literally have to work for everyday. I’m happy that one day I’ll be able to not only tell her but also show her what a wonderful and worthwhile experience it was for us both.