Let me start by saying that I understand the importance of #WorldBreastfeedingWeek and the need to bring awareness to the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby. I did breastfeed for about 5 and a half months before I had to stop because of issues with my kidneys. And I initially chose to breastfeed because nutrition is important to me. As someone who generally follows a paleo diet to manage autoimmune symptoms, I knew that my son would be getting the best nutrients from his mama. I also hoped that breastfeeding would help him appreciate the taste of kale.
But I digress. I’m frustrated with how we talk about breastfeeding and how moms respond to each other about breastfeeding. I often have a hard time participating in conversation about it with moms, mostly because it can be described or positioned as an integral way for mothers to bond with their baby or have a “special relationship.” These words imply two things: either 1) you must breastfeed to have a deep and meaningful attachment to your child or 2) you gain some kind of unique relationship with your child from breastfeeding, which suggests that moms who formula or bottle feed don’t. Words matter, people. Honestly, this type of language is problematic and it can be hurtful. We get enough guilt and judgment simply for being mothers, we don’t need to feel worse over how we feed our child.
I don’t have a special attachment to my son because I breastfed him for 5 and a half months. I have a special attachment to my son because I love him. Because I take care of him and nurture him daily, no matter how bad my fatigue gets or how much pain I’m in. Because I cuddle him and snuggle with him as often as I can and I tell him how special he is to me.
My breastfeeding journey with Sjögren’s and kidney problems
I discovered postpartum that I didn’t really like breastfeeding. The first two weeks postpartum I couldn’t do it because my milk hadn’t come in. Weeks 3-4 postpartum, it was excruciatingly painful. My son was a barracuda with my nipples, eagerly latching on and power sucking the milk out of me like it was a sport. Once we got the hang of it, I didn’t like how much of my day was spent with my son on my boobs. I felt like a part of my bodily autonomy had been lost.
To top it all off, I was unbelievably dehydrated because that’s what my autoimmune disease does to me even when I’m not breastfeeding. And breastfeeding dehydrates any mom. I struggled with breastfeeding while passing kidney stones. I couldn’t take any medications to manage the flank pain because I insisted on breastfeeding. If you’ve had kidney stones before then you’d know how excruciatingly painful they are – frankly, I’d rather go through 27 hours of labor again than pass another stone. It took at least a week for the stones to finally leave my body.
I was told to drink at least 3 liters of water a day. This didn’t solve the problem. As if it wasn’t hard enough trying to care for an infant and occasionally fighting the urge to pee when I knew I shouldn’t (that’s how you get an infection), I had even more issues with my gut, which only made the dehydration worse.
After making an appointment with a nephrologist, I had to stop breastfeeding to take some tests and find out what was causing the kidney stones. I wasn’t comfortable prolonging the inevitable and I’m grateful now that I stopped breastfeeding when I did. Sure enough, I discovered that I have renal tubular acidosis, which isn’t something you want to hear at 30. It is a type of kidney disease that can be caused by Sjögren’s and, if left unmanaged, it can lead to chronic kidney disease.
TL;DR: Breastfeeding isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be, it’s incredibly hard work, it can cause health issues, and please stop making it sound like mothers have to do it in order to establish a deep and meaningful relationship with their babies. It’s in our power as mothers to change how we talk about breastfeeding and how we treat each other.