The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be fed human milk for the first year of life. I’ve worked hard over the past 6 months to be able to breastfeed my son, Asher. But my days of feeding him with my own milk are over, thanks to a medical condition called growth hormone deficiency that has recently become unmanageable. I am unable to be treated for this condition while nursing.
At first, I was sad when I learned I could not receive the necessary growth hormone replacement while nursing. Then I was angry, and then I found some hope.
I was sad because I had worked so hard to establish milk supply for my son when he was in the NICU and to maintain that supply while I was working outside the home. I was angry that my body was failing me. And I found hope in two mothers who offered me enough frozen milk donations that my upright freezer is packed. My son will not go hungry.
I had decided that when my endocrinologist told me I could begin treatment, I would stop nursing then. Nursing has created an incredible bond for me with my son; however, I can not effectively parent if I feel sick all the time.
I have known since I was a child that I have growth hormone deficiency (GHD). I was 39 inches tall and weighed 39 pounds from the age of three, when I was weaned from being breastfed, until I was diagnosed with GHD when I was five. While there is no way to definitely prove why I stopped growing when I was weaned, I believe I was receiving growth hormone from my own mother’s milk.
I began receiving injections of synthetic growth hormone a month after diagnosis, when I was six. When I was fourteen, my growth plates fused. This meant that I could not grow any taller. At the time, medical science did not know what effects GHD would have on me as an adult, but since I was done growing, there did not seem to be a need for any additional growth hormone.
In the last fifteen years, medical science and technology have advanced, and much has been learned. Since growth hormone maintains proper amounts of fat, muscle, and bone, lack of this hormone causes gross disproportions due to my body not nurturing itself properly, no matter how well I eat. I am often asked “How far along are you?” because I always look pregnant. Yet when I actually was pregnant, I didn’t appear pregnant, because the baby weight made my belly fat look more evenly distributed. That was the only time I didn’t get asked when I was due.
According to The Magic Foundation, in adults with GHD, fat is deposited more easily (especially in the the middle of the abdominal area); muscle mass decreases, and along with it, the ability to exercise; and bones weaken (osteoporosis), although they do not get any shorter.
I am in constant pain due to my weakened muscles and fragile bones. Holding and carrying my children exacerbates the issue. Babywearing has truly helped me in this regard, as I am not putting pressure on my arms for extended periods of time while holding them.
On Halloween, I finally received a message from my doctor’s nurse, saying that while they weren’t telling me that I had to hurry to wean, they wanted me to let them know when I was done with the process, so they could begin the authorization process with my insurance to provide my medication. That was the final nail in the coffin on my feeding Asher with my own breast milk.
I had already begun to wean at the beginning of that week. I decreased feeding at my breast to twice daily (once before bed, once first thing in the morning). Then, I decreased to just one time in the morning. I gave Asher donor milk otherwise. Since Asher has gone from breast to bottle before, he was still content as long as his belly was full. When he became hungry or overstimulated, seeking comfort, he would try to tug my shirt down, and he would begin rooting. When that happened, I would put his pacifier directly over my breast, and latch him onto the pacifier. If I was wearing him, which I usually was, I would snuggle him in closer, or put the hood of the carrier up.
I’d had a medical test earlier in the day on Halloween and I was unable to nurse for 24 hours anyway. So I decided to give the drying-up process a little shove. At the suggestions of several local members of La Leche League, I bought a cabbage and put the leaves in my bra, directly on my breasts. I changed them whenever they were wilted. The next morning when I woke up, for the first time since I had begun weaning, I did not feel engorged.
I am still sad that I had to discontinue breastfeeding, but I am happy to be able to provide my son with donor human breast milk. I feed him his bottle while he’s cradled against my breast, to maintain our close bond. I practice other attachment parenting methods, such as co-sleeping and baby wearing, so it’s not as if the inability to breastfeed with my own milk will weaken our bond. In fact, my hope is that once I begin taking my new medication, I will feel so much better that I will be able to be more mentally present for my children and therefore, bond even better with both of them.
If you are unable to feed your child your own breast milk, you can still provide your baby with human milk from a donor. Human Milk 4 Human Babies is a network for connecting donors and parents seeking milk for their babies.
To learn more about growth hormone deficiency in both children and adults, visit The Magic Foundation‘s website, which has a wealth of information on the subject.
Thumbnail image: luvi / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND
Have you had to wean for health reasons? Share your story in the comments.