Although it’s no longer breastfeeding month, I’d like to share my breastfeeding story — or what I fondly call my favorite horror story. Yes, it was scary, but we survived! We survived to share our story with you, in the hope that you will be equipped and empowered, should you find yourself on the same long, exhausting breast milk allergy journey.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am a pediatrician. Knowing very well the benefits of breastfeeding, everyone, including me, assumed that I would breastfeed my baby when the time came and that I knew everything there was to know about breastfeeding. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Initial Breastfeeding Struggles
My breastfeeding struggle started when my son was born. He was barely term. (Babies are considered “term” when they are born between 37 and 42 weeks.) He was quite small but still normal. He seemed to be latching on fine. I had milk let down right away, which made me so happy! We were discharged after only two days.
But on day 3 of life, my son was readmitted for severe dehydration. It turned out he wasn’t latching on as well as I thought. I was wrong. It was then that I realized that I still knew so little. I realized that it’s a totally different situation when you’re the mother and not just the doctor. I continued to breastfeed my son despite having very low milk supply. Exclusively breastfeeding during the first weeks is tedious — you all know that! Long sleepless nights, hourly breast feedings that seemed to go on and on, painful breasts, feelings of inadequacy, et cetera, et cetera. To top it all off, I was in some sort of postpartum depression. I thought my struggle would end there but, again, I was wrong.
It Got Worse: Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome
On our third week, we got the first sign of food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome
(FPIES): blood in my son’s poop. I panicked. I hadn’t even recovered from all the common breastfeeding problems — and now this! The first thing I did was to cut off all the dairy and soy in my diet. It may sound easy but it isn’t.
This went on for weeks. I was completely dairy- and soy-free the entire time. Even a dash of soy sauce — none! But there was still blood in all my son’s poopies. My milk supply remained low and my son was hardly, if at all, gaining weight. He was already under the “failure to thrive” category, which meant his weight was waaaay below normal in the growth charts.
I knew I needed professional help. Fortunately, I met Doc Marini. Dr. Marini Tabon-Esguerra is a fellow pediatrician as well as an international board certified lactation consultant. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t come back to see her after just one consultation — because, honestly, I didn’t want people to see me so depressed — but she was the one who taught me to relactate. To keep myself sane, I also sought out online group forums and Googled posts by moms who had the same struggles as I did.
At one month and a half, my son really needed to be fed more because his height and weight were still way behind normal, so we tried giving him formula. First, we gave him Nutramigen — a formula intended for very allergic babies and for babies with cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) — but it was still a failure. There was even more blood!
Next, we tried a more specific synthetic amino acid formula Neocate, the most hypoallergenic formula out there. It was super expensive and we had to buy it all the way from the US because it wasn’t available here in the Philippines. I really had high hopes for Neocate because most moms in the CMPA forum vowed that it worked for their babies. Gastroenterologists practically guaranteed that it would fix everything. Wrong again.
To my horror, it became so much worse.
My son even developed reflux symptoms! I couldn’t place him in a supine position (flat on his back) because he would choke if I did. I had to sleep sitting upright, with him on my chest. And there was even more blood and mucus in his poop! It got so much worse that his blood count kept going down. We had to admit him to the hospital twice because he was pooping pure blood 8-12 times a day!
The Worst Days of My Life
Honestly, those were the scariest days of my life. I didn’t think I could survive then. But seeing my son so tough, fighting the fight, and smiling at me despite what he was going through — that was all I needed to keep going.
I realized right then that my son’s life depended entirely on me. On my own breast milk.
I was left with no choice but to really push with breastfeeding. Despite the supply being super
low. Despite everything.
I had to be very serious about relactation. I “power pumped” after every feed and whatever ounce I saved — even if I could only pump half an ounce — I fed to him through feeding tubes taped on my breast just to increase his volume of feedings. Yes, it was that tedious. Donated breast milk was not an option because my son pretty much reacted to everything I ate. I couldn’t demand a mom-donor to have the same diet restriction as I had.
Just to give you an idea, these were the only types of food I was allowed to eat:
I’m not joking. That’s for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.
No meat. No juices. No seasonings except for salt.
For six whole months. Day in and day out. Only those.
I honestly feared food then. I cried whenever I ate. If I had a choice not to eat anything, I would.
Seriously! I feared I would make my son even worse.
Eating out was, of course, a no-no. When it was necessary for us to eat out, I had to cook my
own food at home and bring it as baon everywhere.
Christmas came and the whole family was eating lasagna, lechon, all the pastries in the world —
and there I was eating my “gourmet” ampalaya!
But, well, I continued to breastfeed, despite all the challenges. I knew one day I’d see the light at the end of the tunnel. I knew one day I’d see the wisdom, and the fruit, of all these restrictions. If you ask me what kept me going, it was because of this: each time my son breastfed, we just stared into each other’s eyes, and it was as if he was telling me, “Hang in there, momma.” And it was at those times that we always knew that we were going to be okay.
And WE DID!
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
One glorious day after six months, the bloody poop just stopped.
It was like seeing light at the end of a very dark and bloody tunnel. Like seeing a well of water after a long walk in the desert. That day. I’ll always remember that day. I cried (again). We survived six freakin’ months! And, yes, I felt more than ever that GOD was there with us, holding our hands through the journey and finally, joyfully, leading us into the light.
Now, my son is six, and I can’t believe how far we’ve come. I still get teary eyed every time I recall all the details. This is the reason why it took me more than a year before I could write everything down and share it with the world. I thank the Lord everyday for the gift of breastfeeding and for everything that happened to us. It
was what made us who we are today – MOMMY AND CAEL. And it made me the MOMPRENEUR that I am.
It’s why I am so passionate about being a full-time exclusively breastfeeding mom. I couldn’t see myself being anything less. I know some of you have even more inspiring stories and I encourage all of you to share it with the world. You never know whose life you can touch. Posts like this were what helped me get through the most dreary days.
What women go through to nourish their children astounds me! How breastmilk saves babies’ lives amazes me too! We mommas have that power. It’s up to us to use it. Remember, mommas, we are the most powerful beings in this world.
“The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”