Breastfeeding—it’s amazing how controversial this topic is and how critical and opinionated people can be. Since I announced to family and friends this past summer that I was pregnant with my first child, I’ve quickly learned that the majority of people naïvely assume that’s the route you’re going to go. Whether it’s casually mentioning the best breast pump or laughing about nursing pads to put in your bra—it seems as though no one expects you to formula feed your child. People are vocal and proud of breastfeeding—and I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is people who judge and make you feel like you are depriving your child and being a “bad mom” for making such a personal decision.
I’ve thought about it for years; as a woman with Crohn’s disease my health and the medications needed to treat my illness make it a whole different ball game. While I expect there will be many naysayers and people who question my decision—it comes to this. It’s my son and it’s my personal choice. While doctors and people say “the molecules are too large in Humira to pass through breast milk,” it’s always followed up quickly by ”BUT… there are no long term studies.” Humira first hit the market in 2002 for rheumatoid arthritis and it wasn’t even approved by the FDA to treat Crohn’s until 2007. I started giving myself the injections in July 2008. In my heart of hearts I don’t feel comfortable knowing that 20 years down the road unknown long-term health effects could start popping up. It’s just not worth the risk or the wonder on my part. My baby and I are part of five-year study that looks at Mother and Baby and the response to biologic medication.
My mom was on the blood thinning drug Lovanix while she was pregnant with me and after she delivered. As a nurse, she too made the decision back in the 80’s to formula feed my brothers and I because she wasn’t sure about the long-term effects of those injections. I always appreciate that she looked out for us—and didn’t breastfeed because it was important to her—or others—or something that was “popular” to do. It’s my hope that my son will have the same appreciation for my decision to follow in her footsteps.
It’s helpful to have my regular OB, high-risk OB and gastroenterologist all in my corner. I had a glimmer of hope about possibly breastfeeding my future kids after my bowel resection surgery in August 2015. In order to heal, I was off all medication from July to mid-November. I started whimsically thinking about a life without medicine and what that would mean for not only me, but also my family. Then reality and some harsh words from my GI doctor brought me back to earth. Not taking medication when dealing with Crohn’s is like playing Russian roulette. You may be “ok” for a couple of months or years, but the likelihood of needing additional surgeries and dealing with flare ups skyrockets.
Aside from the medication, living with Crohn’s can be extremely scary. One hour you’re fine and the next you’re being rushed to the hospital. In my heart of hearts I’m so fearful of a postpartum flare and parenting while dealing with debilitating symptoms. There’s no telling when I’ll be in the hospital next or when I’ll need to be on additional medications that aren’t safe for my son. For now, being pregnant has magically silenced my disease. While pregnancy has its fair share of discomforts, struggles and pain, my baby boy has taken my Crohn’s and shown it who's boss. He’s truly the healing hands where it used to hurt.
There’s no telling how my health will be post-delivery and in the years ahead—but, it comforts me to know that my Crohn’s and medications don’t need to be tied to him in any way once he enters this world. It’s difficult enough giving myself injections and taking pills throughout the entire pregnancy. I want to free of him any link to what I’m taking. If you google IBD and breastfeeding the conflicting articles and research would make your head spin. One article will explore how breastfeeding can put you at greater risk for a postpartum flare, while the next says the opposite. With Crohn’s, nobody’s disease process is the same. I’ve found it’s best not to look at what the numbers show and compare yourself to others.
Now that I’m well into my third trimester I keep envisioning the first moment I hold my son and how he instinctively may try to start breastfeeding the moment he’s laid on my chest. It brings tears to my eyes—because I’m sure I’ll feel a sense of failure and that I’m depriving him of what many believe is best for his health. But, it will also be my greatest accomplishment in life. Successfully bringing my son into the world will feel like a huge victory against the disease that has robbed me of so much, but made me stronger than I was before.
I know this article goes against what many mothers and people believe—it may cause you to try and sway my thoughts or make me feel guilty for choosing bottle over breast, but it’s my decision and I’m standing by it. Whether it’s discussions on Instagram or forums online, I’m amazed at how many women with Crohn’s constantly look for guidance on whether they can get pregnant, when they should start trying to conceive and if they should breastfeed…all because of their medication and their own personal health. I stand by all of you prospective mommy’s grappling with those questions and I’m here for you. Follow your heart. Do what’s best for you and your child. And while it’s easier said than done, stay true to what you feel most comfortable with—because at the end of the day—no one knows your body or baby like you do.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Barbara Katz, “Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers: strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.”