Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In Defense of Breastfeeding

It's been awhile since I last posted. Wondering what we've all been up to?

In short, I've been busy nursing and feeding Noelle, and finding acceptable foods to feed my family. She is 8 months old now, her appetite grows by the minute.

At 6 months old (actually at around 5 1/2 months), I fed her rice cereal, which she threw up in the middle of the night. She would wake up screaming throughout the night for the first time. And contrary to the popular advice of well-meaning people, feeding her solids did not help her sleep through the night but only made her wake up with a tummy ache! Rice cereal did not work. The pediatrician suggested oatmeal, which I dutifully fed her for a month, until I noticed that she started developing a horrible rash all over her face with an oddly bloated look. She often turned her head away, not wanting to swallow another bite...

I didn't realize until I stopped many of her solid foods that she was allergic to many of them! She was starting to look like a racoon with red, puffy circles around her eyes, with red, scaly, dry, itchy skin around her nose and mouth. She had food-allergy induced eczema and angioedema!

Under the supervision of Noelle's pediatrician and allergist, we have been on an "elimination diet" for almost one month now: no rice, oats, dairy, eggs, wheat, shellfish, peanuts, sesame, and the list goes on. Good news: her skin is eczema-free! I am now in the process of adding foods in, one week at a time into my own diet, and gauging whether she is allergic or not. So far, as confirmed by a test at the doc's office, Noelle cannot have rice or oatmeal (not even in the breast milk she drinks). Read: I cannot eat rice or oatmeal because it passes into my breast milk.

I am very certain that I introduced solids too early. The more I read, the more I am becoming educated about the digestive and immune system of infants, especially those who are allergy-prone, like mine. An excellent and well-researched book, in case you are interested, is DEALING WITH FOOD ALLERGIES IN BABIES AND CHILDREN, by Janice Joneja, Ph.d

I am finding that what I fed her too early, too frequently, she has now become sensitized to. This makes sense because younger infants lack intestinal maturity - food proteins pass through the intestinal gut wall that are not recognized as safe by the immune system, and consequently the body "attacks" the foreign proteins, producing an allergic response! Boy am I glad I did not feed her formula. If she is allergic to rice (which, btw, people, is considered one of the most hypo-allergenic grains, which is why pediatricians recommend it as a first food), then think what are the chances she would develop an allergy to dairy, which is on the top 10 of most allergenic foods!

So, all that to say, this month has been a busy one in terms of food: finding and testing acceptable foods on her, finding substitutes in my own diet to give an adequate amount of calories and nutrition for a nursing mother. She is nursing 8+ times a day, sometimes 10+. This will make many people's eyes pop out of their heads! I know mothers who weaned their babies at 5, 6, 10 months. But the reality is that there is no other acceptable food for her besides the handful of things that she eats, plus breast milk!

Which leads me to the topic for which this post was named, IN DEFENSE OF BREASTFEEDING:

-Did you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics advises AT LEAST one full year of breastfeeding? It is the best food for your baby! Most easily digested, perfectly balanced nutrition, full of immunities that you can pass onto your baby's otherwise unprotected body.

-Did you know that the World Health Organization recommends two years? Not just for third world countries, people! Breast milk is superior to formula, not the other way around.

-Did you know that the ability to maintain milk supply for your infant varies from mother to mother? Some mothers are able to nurse 3-4 times a day indefinitely while others will see a drop and cessation of milk production when nursing that infrequently. That means that for many mothers, the plan to nurse well into the 1st year means you must nurse more frequently if you want to maintain your supply. Yes, it is a commitment! Yes, it means that as you start seeing less and less mothers nursing their older babies in the nursing room at church, you still go and do it!

I have so much more to share, about the milestones that the girl has reached, but will save that for another post.