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Fibromyalgia and Breastfeeding

Updated on August 16, 2012

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, lactation consultant or medical professional of any kind. This article is based on the research and reasoning I did when deciding whether or not breastfeeding was the right choice for me and my family.

When it comes to feeding your newborn breastfeeding is obviously the ideal choice but not always the best one, especially when you have fibromyalgia. For many new mothers who suffer from FMS supplementing, pumping or exclusive formula feeding may be the best option when it comes to being an active and engaged parent, avoiding unnecessary pain, and managing your symptoms with medication.

Medication

If you decide to stay on medication throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider you trust about the risks associated with your medication(s) and breastfeeding. You can and should do your own research as well, of course, but none of the medications generally used to treat FMS are considered safe for breastfeeding, but that is only one side of the story. Regardless of medical studies and their results many women successfully breastfeed on a number of the medications that are used for FMS, most notably SSRIs which are also used to treat post-partum depression. So, do your own research for sure, but take the time to talk to a medical professional who is familiar with your medication as the benefit may be very much worth the risk in your case.


Pain

Unfortunately many women with FMS find breastfeeding just too painful. It’s no easy task, even for a healthy woman. It requires you to stay in one position for extended periods of time, sometimes with shoulders hunched and arms supporting your baby’s weight and tends to result in chapped or sore nipples. For a healthy women these minor aches and pains are well worth it, breast milk is, after all, the best choice for your baby, but if you have FMS these aches and pains are not likely to be minor by any stretch of the imagination and narcotic medications like Tylenol 3 are something you almost certainly should be avoiding while breastfeeding.


Sleep

Sleep is another major thing to consider when it comes to breastfeeding. The relationship between sleep disturbance and FMS is so correlative and well documented that some doctors and researchers actually believe sleep disturbance to be the main mechanism at work in this disease. If you choose to breastfeed you will likely be up ever 1-4 hours to feed your newborn. Disturbance like this will make the chance of you achieving stage 4 sleep unlikely which will aggravate your symptoms and slow down the healing process from your birth. Pumping, supplementing or exclusively formula feeding may give you a chance to sleep a little longer, potentially achieving that elusive and all-important Stage 4 sleep.


Looking on the bright side

If you do make the difficult decision not to breastfeed your child for any of the above reasons, or for more personal ones remember that there is always a bright side, in this case there are actually quite a few:

  • You can still bond with your baby through skin-to-skin contact, singing, cooing and baby wearing.
  • It’s true that breast milk is ideal but formula is well-formulated to achieve as many of the same benefits as breast milk as it can. Many adults today were exclusively formula fed as babies as it was the fashion then.
  • You get to sleep.
  • Co-parent gets a chance to bond with the baby as well.
  • You can continue on with any medications you choose including narcotics or anti-convulsants
  • You can avoid the pain that may come along with breastfeeding (for healthy women this pain is very manageable, for women with FMS it may be very severe).


In the end it’s up to you

If you’re anything like me the realization of how hard it is to breastfeed when you have fibromyalgia may be very depressing. It took me months to come to terms with my own decision to stay on a medication that made breastfeeding unsafe. As parents it’s our job to do what’s best for our family and what’s best for one family isn’t always best for another. In my case I decided that having a mom who could get some sleep and treat her symptoms with any medication she needed would be best for my son but that doesn’t make it the right decision. You need to carefully consider your options, lifestyle and the risks you are comfortable taking and have a discussion with one or more healthcare providers to find out what is the best decision for you and your family.


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    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      True Kris. There is no doubting that breastmilk is the more nutritive and complete option but formula is a well-made alternative!

    • KrisL profile image

      KrisL 

      6 years ago from S. Florida

      This made sense to me.

      We also need to remember that many middleaged people, like me at 51, had only formula and did just fine. In fact, I given cow's milk at 3 months, and the only harm it did me is that I got fat! ;-)

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 

      6 years ago

      Hi ar.colton, congratulations on your pregnancy, what an exciting time!

      Thanks so much for being OK with my question - I know that the topics of health and of parenting can be seen as very personal, and here I was asking you about both at the same time. I really appreciate how open and up-front you are about FMS. It's great that you are spreading awareness and advice about this. Best wishes for the 'home stretch' of your pregnancy - pregnancy is such an exciting time in any woman's life.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Giselle, your questions don't offend me at all. In fact these are the kind of questions I love to get as they actually help spread awareness about FMS and obviously come from a place of compassion. A hub about pregnany and FMS is in the works and I excpect to write many hubs about FMS and parenting...once my first child is born. I've still got about 2 months to go!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and learn about fibromyalgia and for your interest and compassion.

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for your response to my comment.

      Your hub really made me think. I was trying to imagine how hard it would be to breastfeed with FMS, and then I came to the bigger question of what would pregnancy be like with FMS (extremely hard I imagine). Then I thought about parenting in general and how I'm always busy with my 2 toddlers. I then tried to imagine how parenting toddlers would be with FMS (as I personally am finding it is challenging enough without it!) and how people cope with that. How do you do everything you have to do for your kids, while still caring for your FMS? Have you ever thought of writing a hub on it from which others can learn? I am curious and interested in it. I hope this question does not offend you - if it does I apologize.

    • ar.colton profile imageAUTHOR

      Mikal Smith 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, B.C.

      Giselle, I know so many women who have faced judgement no matter what they choose! Even choosing to formula feed becuase of a health problem doesn't make you safe from nasty comments unfortunately. But there is no special place in heaven for women who breastfed exclusively, thawe have to remember that. It's just one more of the many many oppurtunities cruel people take to make you feel guilty and build themselves up.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 

      6 years ago

      I don't have fibromyalgia myself but I found this article extremely interesting. The personal experience you have will be valuable for others with fibromyalgia. Your story was very captivating.

      I have been through some of the agonizing over breast milk vs. formula (for other reasons - no medical conditions) - in the end my babies were fed on a combo of both, and that worked out for us. I don't think people realize how much soul-searching is involved in decisions like this (regardless of the type of medical situation, if any), and sometimes people can be quick to judge and it can be hurtful.

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