Today I had a fantastic new mom in the office who is having a really rough time with a colicky baby daughter. She is breast feeding, is a vegetarian, and has already removed all sources of dairy, soy and nuts from her diet due to her daughter’s sensitive stomach. Today, she brought her daughter in after a long week of fussiness, worsening nasal congestion, and crying (both mom and daughter). Reflux medications are already on board and with an already stripped down diet, I was hoping for an ear infection…I know I shouldn’t be hoping for an ear infection but as all parents know sometimes it is a gift to have something that can be treated…..
It was late in the afternoon when I walked in the room and it was clear that neither mom nor daughter had slept much over the last several days. The baby was fussy, squirming and crying. The mom was using all tools in her arsenal to help….pacifier, gently rocking, quiet talking….everything to no avail. The mom and I had been in email communication over the last week fine tuning diet and medication and so I had already been aware of the happenings over the course of the week. I held the baby and noticed a rash on her face and trunk, a very congested nose, and a tummy that was somewhat distended from air. I looked her over, head to toe, and found nothing more….no ear infection, no diaper rash, no sores or thrush in her mouth. I decided to look at her snot under the microscope and found exactly what I didn’t want to find: allergy cells. Despite following an incredibly rigid and restricted diet and even venturing back into the world of eating meat, this mother’s breast milk was the cause of her daughter’s distress.
When this mom became pregnant and then had her daughter, she wanted to do everything she possibly could to make her daughter healthy and happy. She exercised and ate well during pregnancy, tried hard for a natural birth, and then chose to nurse her baby. She gave her daughter probiotics to aid in digestion, tried gripe water and finally zantac to quell her daughter’s upset stomach. She tried scheduling feedings, feeding on demand, co-sleeping, crib sleeping, swings, bouncy seats, driving, craniosacral therapy…everything. Nothing consistently worked. As time went on, this mother began to feel more and more sadness over her daughter’s plight and her inability to meet her daughter’s needs.
New parents are often critical and over anxious. This woman was neither. She was amazingly patient and willing to try different things. She remained close and connected to her daughter even when this was difficult. When I came back into the room after seeing all the allergy cells, I had a difficult plan to put forward….I wanted to encourage this mom to stop nursing and use Nutramigen formula instead. I felt that the apparent intolerance of the foods in mom’s diet, coupled with the extreme discomfort for the baby, along with the heroic but unsuccessful attempts to modify her diet conspired to make continuing to breastfeed a near impossibility.
I decided that since there was no easy way to tell her, I would just do it. And I did. I am not sure what I expected but when this mother responded not in anger but in sadness, mourning the loss of her vision of being able to nurse her baby, and accepted this outcome as both logical and in her daughter’s best interest, I knew that I was in the room with a very special woman. Even though she had a vision, a dream of nursing her baby, even though she had tried as hard as she could in every way to make it work, giving it up came easier than I expected it to. She wasn’t breast feeding for herself, she was nursing for her daughter and since it became clear that wasn’t the best thing for her daughter, she accepted it. Of course she was sad and shed some tears and had a lot of questions but seeing her response to a very difficult situation gave me strength and joy. She loves her daughter unconditionally and even though she feels a failure in some ways because of the way this all turned out she is far from it. She is one of the best moms I have ever dealt with and her daughter is lucky to have her. Giving up her dream of nursing may seem like a small thing to many but it is huge. She put her daughter’s needs far above her own. Now that is the mettle of a mother.
This experience will be the first of many she will have adjusting to the reality that her child is an independent person, one who will influence how the story of life is written. It is just hard to learn that lesson so early, on so little sleep, with having tried everything to encourage a different reality.
Do your best, love your children, and accept them for who they are and each day will be your best!
Molly O’Shea, MD Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center