Breastfeeding children with allergies
Today is the last day of World Breastfeeding Week…I’ve been watching some of my clever blogging friends write amazing insightful posts about breastfeeding, and didn’t think I had anything new to offer, but tonight I decided I’d like to share my sometimes wonderful, sometimes troubled, sometimes heartbreaking journey of breastfeeding my three beautiful girls, all with an array of food allergies and associated health challenges.
I have had three quite different breastfeeding experiences, and in a strange way, I’m really grateful for each of them. This way, I know how wonderful it can be, but I can also empathise with others going through some really difficult times. I owe a lifetime of thanks to my incredible mother who has fully supported me all along the way, doing pharmacy runs for soothing gels when it was so painful I didn’t know what to do with myself, and for answering the phone at 4 am when I didn’t think I could cope anymore. I did cope, but it wasn’t always easy.
Allergy child number 1, now aged 10.
I had a dream run with my eldest. I was shocked by how difficult it was, and only got through the first painful weeks with the support of my Mum and her gentle encouraging. But I breastfed her until she was two and a half, when she asked to stop herself. It was such a gentle weaning, it makes me tear up with pride. I don’t remember any problems with allergies until she was at least a few months old, and they were pretty minor. I am allergic to dairy myself, so I seldom eat it but she had a reaction when I did. It was dissapointing but I knew it was manageable. She did have a few reactions around 6 months when we started her on food, and I remember not being able to work out what it was. But we didn’t really run into major problems until she was eating consistently. She unfortunately has still not grown out of any of her allergies, so remains egg, dairy, tomato, apple, beef, lamb, goats and sheeps milk free.
Allergy child number 2, now aged 5.
I had absolutely NO idea what was about to hit me when I gave birth to my enchanting, dreamy middle child. I had a textbook pregnancy, despite moaning my way through it!!, but horrendous delivery that left everybody in the room pretty shaken. I will never forget the look of panic on the doctor who had been called in to deliver her when things went wrong, just after she had been born. I honestly couldn’t imagine anything getting worse at that point. I couldn’t sit in a chair for 6 months following the delivery and still live with the pain of that delivery. But it was the heartbreaking times that followed that will really stick with me.
She had her first allergic reaction at 4 days old, and they followed pretty continually until I paid to see a paediatric allergist in desperation when she was 5 months old, covered in eczema from head to toe, and nearly back at her birth weight. I felt like I was going insane. In an attempt to get her well, I had gone on to an ‘eczema diet’ (I don’t recommend this!!!), and was eating just 7 foods while exclusively breastfeeding. Of course, we were both starving to death (her, literally)…and miserable. I felt like everything I ate caused reactions. We did see big improvements when I went on to that diet, but it wasn’t sustainable. The specialist was absolutely amazing, and remains one of my biggest supporters today. He quickly realised the current status wasn’t working, and gave me a plan and back up plan to work with following allergy testing…which revealed what we already knew. She was desperately allergic to lots of foods. I was horrified to see the reaction to peanuts as I had no experience with nut allergies and only knew of the shock stories we hear on social media.
I, somewhat foolishly, was adamant I wanted to continue breastfeeding as I really thought it was the best thing for her. It wasn’t. But the specialist was amazing, and gently suggested we move straight to Neocate, by-passing other formulas likely to cause reactions in her, trying that in conjunction with me breastfeeding…but cutting out a list of likely allergens and introducing everything else back in. He was concerned about my well-being, bless him, and worked just as hard to create a plan that would work for both of us. I tried this over a week…and it was a disaster. She was once again absolutely covered in eczema, bleeding everywhere, and her eyes were glazed. She was not on the same planet as us. She was so sick, she didn’t even cry much during the day, she just stared off into space. So we moved to Plan B. I was absolutely heartbroken to give up breastfeeding, and it was very very painful to do it so abruptly, but I honestly believed she was going to die if I didn’t do so.
We had a great month on Neocate despite my feelings of sadness..and I had hope. But moving on to solids was horrendous. To this day, she has more than 100 allergies/intolerances, eczema, asthma, environmental allergies, and I believe she has been developmentally delayed by her chronic illness. She is also still completely reliant on Neocate for survival. She is bright but will stay home with me until she is ready for the school environment.
Allergy child number 3, now aged 2
I was very nervous when I found out I was pregnant with number 3, and approached my daughter’s specialist to see if there was anything I could do to help prevent allergies developing. He recommended trying probiotics throughout my last trimester and for a few months when she was a newborn. I did this faithfully, and I’m happy to report her allergies are a million times milder than Miss 5’s.
I approached breastfeeding differently this time. I didn’t want to get too attached to it because it was difficult for me to let go after my experience with Miss 5, and I really went through a grieving process. So this time, I breastfed her then topped her up with Neocate so she was used to the milk and bottle, should we need it. The downside of this was that she never really took to breastfeeding. Either that, or her fiercely independent spirit had something to do with it! She also had, and still does have, terrible reflux, so was often in a lot of pain when I was feeding her. I managed to persevere until just after she turned one, but she didn’t really enjoy it and bit me a lot…so it wasn’t quite the wonderful experience I had with my eldest. I often wonder if it could have been different and if it would have changed our relationship if I had exclusively breastfed her, but I don’t have an answer..so I try not to dwell on it too much!
So that’s my crazy story, full of pride, sadness and regret. Huge empathy to any Mums out there doing it tough, feel free to message me anytime!!! It’s not easy breastfeeding on its own, let alone adding allergies and the super sleuthing to work it all out, into the mix as well.