by Franchessa Sayler

I have juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA since I was 9) and multiple sclerosis (MS). Because of my health issues, breastfeeding meant so much to me. I’ve read that a mom with an autoimmune disease can decrease her child’s chance of developing that autoimmune disease by breastfeeding. So when I found out I was going to have a baby, I was determined to breastfeed as long as I could. My doctors were on board with me nursing in the beginning, but after about three months they started pressuring me to stop and get back on my meds. At the time, my meds were not approved for breastfeeding and I was on low dose steroids constantly and high doses for disease flares. I had a feeling my breastfeeding journey was going to have to come to an end sooner than I wanted. But there was so much I wanted to experience, so I created a breastfeeding bucket list, a short set of goals that I wanted to experience with my son.

1) Enjoy breastfeeding. This was my first and primary goal. We had an extremely rocky start (trouble latching, trouble gaining weight, ill fitted nipple shield, late diagnosed tongue and lip ties, and vasospasms.) Through attending support groups and working with Katie, after about three months I started not to mind breastfeeding and by four months I loved it!

2) Breastfeed in public without a stupid cover and without judgement. I had to go to Norway to be brave enough for this one. (See #3)

3) Breastfeed on a plane. I travel a lot for work and I’ve actually had to pump on a plane. I wanted to be able to travel with my baby instead of with my pump. Also, I see so many moms with their babies nursing on planes. They both seem so calm and confident. I wanted to experience this. To achieve #2 and #3, my husband, son, and I took a trip to Norway. In Norway, 95% of women breastfeed, so it’s completely normalized. I actually got to nurse on every mode of transportation (planes, trains, buses, and boats) and at the top of a mountain that we hiked up together! It was the most amazing trip. It allowed the three of us to bond and helped my husband and me grow as parents. After a trip across a foreign country with a seven-month-old, I felt like there was nothing we couldn’t handle.

4) Experience comfort nursing. For the first few months, I felt like I was food only. I knew that weaning might be more challenging if we got to this point of nursing my son for comfort, but I wanted to feel like I was providing more than a bottle could. After five months, I could whip the boob out and calm him no matter what had happened. It was a wonderful feeling.

5) Have my son ask for the milkies. I knew I’d probably have to settle on this one, knowing that my son would wean before he was really talking. So we worked on sign language and other ways of communicating. He ended up calling my boobs “mama.” I was okay with that. We fixed that after we weaned. 😉

6) Provide enough milk to get him to a year of breastmilk. Depending on when I had to stop, I knew I might not achieve this, but I wanted to try. So I pumped! I got a little obsessive about it and then had to back off a bit when I realized that my body thought I had twins. At about 10 months, I had at least two months’ worth of milk, especially since my son was eating more solid food.

At 10 months my arthritis was flaring and I decided that it was time to wean. I had achieved all I had wanted to in my breastfeeding journey and it was time to take care of myself. On my way to my lactation appointment to discuss weaning, I slipped in the parking lot and broke my hip. It turned out that my artificial hip, which was 18 years old, was failing and I’d have to have surgery. We didn’t want to start my immune suppressant drug before the surgery, so I ended up being able to nurse for one year and two weeks! It’s funny how life works out. While surgery and a fractured hip sucked, I was just relieved to be able to breastfeed until my son was a year without the thought of having to quit. I completely cut out my pumping and did minimal pumping when I had to work out of town. I weaned nursing down to morning and after work through bedtime right before the surgery. The night before the surgery was the last time I breastfed my son. After the operation, I did get engorged, but I was on antibiotics and pain killers, so I didn’t really mind. I hand expressed and used ice when I got too uncomfortable. I do miss being able to nurse my son. He is fine without nursing, though, and he still has breastmilk from my freezer every morning and night. Now that my immune suppressant drug has been approved for breastfeeding, I hope to not have to stop nursing with any subsequent children.

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