The Healing Power of Milk
In last month’s blog I shared my experience donating milk. If you haven’t read Part 1 – click here to read the backstory. I promised a happier ending to my story. As life would have it, there were some bumps in the road on my way to that happy ending. It’s all about the journey, right?!
After giving ourselves some time to heal – both emotionally and physically – we decided to try again. I was afraid, but for some reason, I had faith that things would work out better this time. In September of last year we had our second child. This time it was a boy. My attempts at a VBAC failed, but our son was born healthy and we were overjoyed. Getting a baby to latch on and nurse after surgery was a little more challenging than just using a pump. With help and support from lactation experts we eventually figured it out.
By the time I returned from maternity leave, breastfeeding was well established and I had a stash of milk in the freezer. My pump and I were ready to return to work. Since each of our buildings has a dedicated “Mother’s Room” there was always a place to pump while at work. Other than the usual sleep deprivation that every parent faces, everything seemed to be falling into place.
Then bam! I was blindsided. I was driving to Fond du Lac to visit my family. It was late winter and we were expecting a lot of snow. I thought taking my husband’s truck would be the safe thing to do. The combination of wind and 4 wheel drive, were the recipe for a freak accident. Luckily I wasn’t hurt (or so I thought) and my son wasn’t in the vehicle. I was rattled and pretty shaken up. As it turns out, I was in shock and didn’t know it. Less than a week later, I started having problems. I assumed I just had a bug and it would pass. A month later, I was pumping at work and noticed I wasn’t getting much milk. I figured something must be wrong and decided to call the doctor. After a series of agonizing tests, I was eventually diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis/Crohn’s Disease. I’ll spare you the details, but I was terribly ill and deteriorating very quickly.
My son wasn’t getting enough milk. I was losing weight at an alarming rate and I wasn’t able to eat. This caused my body to shutdown and I stopped making milk. I had some stores in the freezer, but not enough. The thought of not being able to feed my child caused me to panic. It took a while before my diagnosis was confirmed. In the meantime I needed to feed my son. So once again I called on our trusted midwife. My voice trembled as I made the call. The shoe was on the other foot. Here I was the strong person that had donated, in need of milk herself. We were in luck. She had milk. I sent my husband to pick it up.
For several months, this became our weekly ritual. Each week I would call the Mothers’ Milk Alliance and hope milk was available for my husband to pick up. Although there were times we supplemented with formula, we were able to make it to the 6 month mark on donated breast milk. All and all I think my son received milk from 6 different women. We are so grateful for the generous gift of “liquid gold” that those women gave.
At the height of my disease I couldn’t eat or sleep, much less hold or feed my son. As I started to recover and get stronger, I longed to be able to breastfeed again. By now my son was on solid food. The donated breast milk had run out and formula was causing a lot of problems for him. I was strong enough to go online and began researching other formula options. Miraculously I came across information on relactation. Who knew you could do such a thing! It doesn’t work for everyone, but since I was a good producer before, I thought I would give it a try. In the beginning my son wasn’t terribly cooperative. Who can blame him? He was doing all this work for nothing. So I would nurse as often as I could and then pump regularly. Eventually I got a few drops. It was a piddly amount, but I was ecstatic! It motivated me to continue my efforts. It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually my milk production increased. With our doctor’s guidance, we were able to stop formula supplementation all together.
In Part 1 I highlighted some of the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby. Since then I’ve learned how beneficial breastfeeding may be in the prevention of a similar disease for my son.
- Not being breastfed is a risk factor associated with later development of Crohn’s Disease.1
- Breastfeeding may help babies avoid developing Crohn’s Disease later in life.1,2
- Mothers’ Milk completes the development of your baby’s digestive system, making the lining 15x thicker than that of a formula-fed baby.3
It hasn’t been an easy road for us, but I’m happy to report that our family is happy and healthy. Breastfeeding did more than transform me; it made our family whole again. Whether you are looking to give or receive milk, the links below are great resources at the local, regional, and national level.
Mothers’ Milk Alliance
Mothers’ Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes
Human Milk Banking Association of North America
1 Koletzko S, Sherman P, Corey M, et al. “Role of infant feeding practices in development of Crohn’s disease in childhood.” Br Med J. 1989;298:1617-1618.
2 Rigas A, et al. Breast-feeding and maternal smoking in the etiology of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in childhood. Ann Epidemiol 3:387-92 (1993).
3 Walker, WA, Absorption of protein and protein fragments in developing intestine. Peds 75: 167-71, 1985.
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