Breastfeeding with IBS: A Struggle I Never Anticipated
“What has breastfeeding to do with IBS?” you might ask. “Nothing,” my pre-pregnancy self would say. Everything, in my current opinion.
Every breastfeeding guide I ever read stated that a healthy diet was the way to go. Only, my IBS doesn’t do healthy. It likes plain carbs with no sides of vegetables, please.
My parents and grandparents kept telling me that I needed to eat tons of dairy to be able to produce milk without running out of calcium myself. The problem is, I’m pretty much lactose intolerant. But they kept insisting anyway.
After giving birth, all I could stomach was bread, rice, and meat. As you can imagine, all these recommendations made me feel so stressed! What if my milk wasn’t nutritious enough because I didn’t eat well? What if my body used all the vitamins and minerals to produce milk and left none for me?
Every time my baby was unhappy, I started blaming myself for it. But I shouldn’t have. He was gaining weight just fine, even without 5 fruits and vegetables a day!
Fasting impacts milk supply
In the first weeks of my breastfeeding experience, I was really struggling with IBS flares and could barely eat. This couldn’t be good for my milk supply, right?
Despite wanting to fast so badly because food made me sick, I forced myself to eat as much as I possibly could. Even though my intestines desperately needed a rest, I just couldn’t give it to them.
I wanted to get nutrients into my body in order to pass them on to the baby, but this made my flares so much worse. I was miserable all the time, and my one safe option (not eating) was taken away from me.
Trying to keep up my milk supply was so stressful due to my IBS. And I barely succeeded.
On bad days, I felt like my baby didn’t have enough to eat. I’m not sure if that was really the case. All I know is that I was so worried that we ended up supplementing with formula, just in case. At least my son wouldn’t go hungry because of my IBS!
Nursing during flares
Breastfeeding required me to be present for half an hour every 3 hours, with a baby attached to me and no possibility to use the bathroom. Let’s just say, I was bound to be nursing through IBS flares.
For me, the first weeks of breastfeeding were not that glamourous, smooth experience that I imagined. It took a while for my baby to latch on, and he would constantly fall asleep or just be inefficient throughout the feed. Only, it’s really hard to be patient when you’re in pain and just want to run to the toilet.
A lot of the time, I ended up putting him down mid-feed to take care of my IBS, because I just couldn’t take it anymore. Other times, I had to ask my fiancé to prepare a bottle because I felt too miserable to nurse.
However, I also discovered that nursing actually eased my IBS symptoms a bit (especially pain and discomfort, not so much diarrhea). So, that was kind of nice!
A no-pressure solution for nursing with IBS
At the point where I’m writing this article, I’ve now been breastfeeding for over 3 months. And it has definitely become much easier to do so despite my IBS. Why? Because I stopped putting so much pressure on myself.
Yes, we do regularly supplement with formula whenever I’m having a flare. It’s just the best thing to do, for me and my baby. After all, who wants to be fed by an exhausted mom mid-IBS flare when you can have a quiet bottle feeding with dad?
By doing this, I can allow myself to fast when I need to. I can rest when I’m feeling sick, and have someone else take over. And since I get so much less anxiety now, I’ve also experienced fewer flares!
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to IBS?