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Lives in: Wallington, New Jersey
Breastfeeding experience: Difficult but rewarding
Main challenges: Her son's extreme sensitivity to her diet
Breastfed for: 20 months
When I started breastfeeding my son, Cameron, I was focused on how painful it was for me. My nipples were cracked and bleeding, which made me dread nursing. Eventually my nipples healed – and that's about the time I noticed Cameron becoming a little cranky.
Everyone I spoke to about it told me that all babies go through this. But in the back of my mind I thought it might be food-related since my sister had had to cut out dairy and soy when she was nursing.
Then, when Cameron was about 3 weeks old, I noticed a spot of blood in his stool. I went to the doctor that day, and Cameron had a poopy diaper right there. They tested it and found more blood, so my doctor suggested I cut out dairy and soy since they were the most likely irritants. But seeing that blood scared me and I decided to cut out other potential irritants as well, like chocolate, caffeine, citrus, fruit, and broccoli.
It wasn't easy, but I was committed to nursing. Since I had already cut out so much food during pregnancy, it really wasn't a big deal for me. Plus I knew I could always add foods back.
Cameron was okay, but I noticed he was still cranky, and when he ate he looked like he was in pain. He also occasionally still had blood in his stool.
When he was about 6 or 7 weeks old, I celebrated my birthday and overindulged on things like meat and nuts. The next day Cameron was beside himself. He screamed and cried and was so upset I decided to cut out the other top allergens as well: gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, corn, fish, and shellfish.
His personality did a 180. Within a day or two he became the happiest baby. He also started meeting and even exceeding all his milestones. Still, the blood in his stools continued.
We went to a gastroenterologist who told us it was allergies. So I took him to a pediatric allergist who did a skin prick test for eggs and dairy. It came out negative. The doctor thought the problem was an immature digestive system and told me I could put Cameron on formula or keep doing what I was doing.
I wanted to continue breastfeeding.
So my husband and I did more research and decided to try a total elimination diet where you eat only five to seven things and use that as a baseline for identifying foods you're sensitive to. Dr. William Sears, who recommends an elimination diet in instances like mine, suggests sticking to turkey, lamb, pears, millet, potatoes, rice, and squash. I altered the lineup slightly and ended up with chicken, quinoa, millet, pears, squash, and olive oil.
I was on that extreme diet longer than I'd anticipated. The experts say two weeks, but I stayed on it for two months because Cameron still bled when I'd add in a new food.
That was the hardest time! Even my pediatrician urged me to go on formula because she thought this was too much. But I wanted to keep trying because even the hypoallergenic formulas include corn syrup, and when I'd tested Cameron on corn he'd bled a lot. Plus I don't really eat processed foods myself, and formulas are so processed.
I know different people have different experiences with breastfeeding. You have to do what's right for you, and this approach was right for us. Plus it worked. By the time Cameron was 7 months old he had really turned a corner, and by the time he was 10 months old I pretty much had my own diet back.
There was also an upside: Thanks to my extreme diet I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight within two-and-a-half months.
My biggest lesson learned
Breastfeeding was hard, and my family's support made all the difference in the world. If you run into challenges, it helps to keep in mind the many practical benefits of breast milk, including the fact that it's free and you never need to make a midnight run to the store for formula or wait for water to heat up. In the end, I felt all the hard work I put into it truly paid off, for Cameron and for me.
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