Fibromyalgia and Breastfeeding
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.
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.
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 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.