The RA Pregnancy Chronicles: Making The Most of Breastfeeding

The RA Pregnancy Chronicles is a series of posts that share my experiences being pregnant while living with RA. This post was written during Week 19 of my second pregnancy.

Although there are a lot of people out there who will try to convince you one way or the other, whether or not you decide to breastfeed your baby is ultimately a very personal choice. And, honestly, however you choose to nourish your baby, I sincerely hope that you will feel secure and confident in your choice.

If you have RA and you want to breastfeed your baby, unfortunately you may only be able to do so as long as you can stay off your RA medications, as most are not safe to take while nursing. Due to the likelihood of having a post-birth flare, the sad reality is that most of us with RA will probably not be able to breastfeed as long as we might otherwise choose to.

With my first baby, breastfeeding was extremely important to me – not only because I believe in the benefits of breastfeeding but also because I wanted the bonding experience with my baby. Although many new mothers and babies struggle with breastfeeding (it can be more tricky than you might expect!) my son and I were very lucky that everything went more or less smoothly for us. However, after almost three months of nursing (and no medication for me other than a tiny bit of prednisone) my RA was so bad that I could barely lift or hold my own baby. It was at that point that I made the difficult decision to switch to formula so that I could re-start my RA medications. This was truly a difficult decision – especially with all the hormones inside me making me feel crazy emotional about it! But, with the benefit of hindsight, I know now that there is so much more to being a mom than breastfeeding.

That being said, I do know that I will want to breastfeed my second baby for as long as I possibly can. (In a world without RA, I probably would have practiced extended breastfeeding and might have still been breastfeeding my 21-month-old son today). Because I know my opportunity for breastfeeding is likely to be limited again this time, I really want to do what I can to improve the experience and make the most of it. If you are also hoping to breastfeed your new arrival, here are some products and ideas to help you make the most of the time you have:

Nipple Relief

Let’s get right to the nitty-gritty – you are not a pacifier, so it will take some time for your nipples to get adjusted to breastfeeding. In the meantime, you will almost certainly experience some pain and soreness. But hang in there! I swear it gets better! And there are a few things that can help you in the meantime. First, get some gel nipple pads – you may even be able to ask for these in the hospital. Keep them in the fridge and then you can put them on for sweet, cool relief after each nursing session. If you are looking to buy some of these for use at home, I liked Ameda better than Medela. If the gel pads are not enough and you are still dealing with painful nipples, ask your doctor to prescribe some APNO (all purpose nipple ointment). You will have to take the prescription to an old fashioned pharmacy where they still make compounds, but it will be well worth it. The APNO has healing and numbing properties and it helped me a lot, but I don’t know if it ever would have been offered to me if a friend hadn’t told me to ask for it.

A Nursing Pillow

A nursing pillow is a fabulous tool for helping you get your baby in the best position for latching – especially when they are really tiny. While there are lots of options, my favorite was called My Brest Friend. I liked this pillow better because it clips securely around your body, and can be tightened and adjusted for perfect positioning. Trust me, your newborn will want to nurse all the time, so you better make sure you are as comfortable as possible! A good nursing pillow can be relatively expensive new, but you can sometimes find perfectly good used ones at consignment sales. I also recommend getting a second cover for your nursing pillow, because your baby will undoubtedly spit up or have a leaky diaper all over it and then need to nurse again before you can put the cover through the wash.

A Breast Pump

If you know you will only be able to nurse for a limited amount of time, you may also want to pump to increase your supply and save up a stash of breastmilk in your freezer. I pumped so much during the months that I was breastfeeding that my son actually got a bottle or two of breastmilk a day for two months after I went back on my RA meds. However, breast pumps can be quite expensive. So if you aren’t sure whether you want to pump or how long you might be able to do it, you may want to consider renting a breast pump from the hospital (most hospitals offer this option.)

Other Useful Breastfeeding Supplies

Knowing that my breastfeeding time was going to be limited, I felt like every drop of breastmilk was precious, which is why I was happy to find a product called the Milk Saver. Sometimes when you are nursing or pumping, you will leak from the opposite side. Instead of letting that milk go to waste, you can put the Milk Saver in your bra to catch the extra milk, which you can then freeze for a bottle feeding later. Also, if you nurse and pump a lot, you may leak a little between feedings. Rather than having a wet shirt all the time you should put some nursing pads in your bra – either disposable or washable. My favorite nursing pads are called Bamboobies. They are made of bamboo and organic cotton, fit comfortably in your bra, and wash great. They are also adorably heart-shaped!

A Milk Club

Ask your hospital or, if you have one, your local mommy boutique if there are any Milk Clubs or Breastfeeding Support Groups in your area. If one is available I highly recommend joining. These groups usually have a lactation consultant on call to provide free advice to help you get through the first few difficult weeks of breastfeeding. It is also an awesome excuse to get out of the house with your newborn and a great way to meet other new moms – I am still friends today with moms I originally met at Milk Club!

Although these products and pieces are advice are meant to help you navigate breastfeeding, in the end I think the most important thing to remember about feeding your baby is to do whatever feels right to you. After all, you are the mother! And mother knows best!

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