Breastfeeding often still comes with so many cultural judgments, stigmas, unspoken regulations, and challenges for the breastfeeding mum. In the 21st century, you would imagine we'd be living in a liberal world, fully accepting and encouraging of this most natural, universal form of nourishment.
Since my breastfeeding journey with Rehan was largely challenge-free and happy, it led to several expectations about my breastfeeding journey the next time around. I suppose we deal with the corollary most often, where a challenging prior experience, sets us up to imagine the worst even the next time around.
Shortly after Nadyah was born we noticed she needed to be burped very frequently, failing which she would often throw up. Soon enough, I discovered the sweet spot for burping her was to keep the feed under 60 seconds. So I began using a nursing timer and would pause the app as soon as we hit around the 60-second mark. She'd burp and often go back to feeding without any disasters. Occasionally, I'd get ambitious or lose track of time and we'd have her throw up all of what she'd consumed. Needless to say, this became rather stressful.
She was also a small-bodied baby so the worry of her not getting enough or growing well began to nag at me, as other mums may relate. The paed called it reflux. Given my hardcore background and training in the alternatives, I am wired not to ascribe to such labels. So I didn't give it too much energy. To my relief, around the 3-month mark, this so-called reflux settled.
Little did I know that I had a larger challenge headed my way. A mild rash had been visible on her cheeks from the time she was about 1.5-2 months old. We were advised to keep observing it with no treatment. When it continued beyond 4 months I began to worry slightly.
That's when we were given another label. Atopic dermatitis. My determination to not ascribe to these labels began to waver. I won't lie. My strength and will began to waver. Having the heart of a mother, I began oscillating between worry and conviction that she will be fine. I tried everything in my repertoire. Homeopathy helped occasionally. Every time we would stop the medication we'd be back to square one. My heart broke at medicating my little angel. No matter it was just homeopathy, it was still something other than mother's milk.
I was so firm about exclusively breastfeeding and keeping my baby(ies) medicine-free that it broke me each time we had to give her more pills. Each time her symptoms subsided I was grateful. Soon the paed added another word to his diagnosis, allergy. He said it appeared to be allergic atopic dermatitis. This gave it a whole new meaning. It worried me, even more. He suggested I avoided foods that were known allergens like eggs, nuts, dairy, etc. "Some babies can display sensitivity towards certain foods through mother's milk," he said. He was hopeful that the elimination of these foods and sos application of topical steroids would keep the outbreaks at bay until she eventually outgrew them.
Suddenly, her scalp, neck, and forehead break into severe redness after a shampoo or application of a moisturizer or sometimes even after an oil massage. I realized there was probably some truth to this being an allergy.
When I am stumped by a problem that doesn't have a straightforward solution (or has a conventional solution that isn't acceptable to me), I usually go into a sort of hibernation (what I've come to call inwardness). Quite contrary to popular behavior, it appears like I am doing nothing about it. This can be frustrating, even infuriating to an onlooker. When life or circumstances push me into this inwardness mode, I know I am on the path to discovering the solution. It feels like diving into the heart of the wisdom of the universe which possesses the resolution to every challenge it creates. I surface having harnessed the solution, knowing fully well that I have also discovered why the challenge was thrown at me, to begin with.
After repeatedly being told that Nadyah would outgrow the reflux, atopy, and now allergic atopy I was done just waiting and watching her not be in health. We couldn't use topical steroids indefinitely. So I did what I do best and went deep into my inner being, in search of the real solution. I kept being directed towards NAET (www.naet.com), but the local practitioner I knew of wasn't practicing due to the ongoing pandemic. Disheartened but not defeated, I turned inward again.
By this time I had begun experiencing extreme acidity, bloating, and stomach pains myself. I just didn't feel well, but couldn't put my finger on what I was feeling or what was going on. Nadyah had now turned 6 months old and was ready to start her journey of solids but even dal and rice had her turning red. Incidentally, I began feeling sick even after eating just boiled rice and dal. Our bodies were somehow mirroring one another and I just couldn't figure out what they were trying to tell me. Neither Ayurvedic medicines nor homeopathy or a simple sattvic diet seemed to help.
In one such moment of inwardness, the message I received was to go for an endoscopy for myself. I tabled it thinking no doctor will let me tell them to undertake a procedure because I think I should do it! In the meantime, my symptoms were deteriorating and I learned about Dr. Valli's millet treatment protocol which is said to cure almost anything (https://www.siridhanyamillet.com/experiences/dr-khadar-millet-man-of-india/). I gave it a try.
This entailed eating fermented millet gruel or ambali for every meal for 4-6 weeks.
My mental health began to take the toll with nothing satisfactory to eat while my baby continued to have skin eruptions and my milk supply dwindled due to stress, lack of joy, and (perhaps) not enough food in my body.I momentarily even considered formula. But she was already 6 months old. She needed food. "Nobody started formula when food was an option," I told myself. I was so confused.
I found myself thinking I caused her all these allergies. Maybe it was milk. Maybe something I ate triggered the allergies. Self-blame was hitting the roof. I stumbled upon a wonderful pediatrician cum lactation consultant. She heard me out for almost 50 minutes and then gave me the best pep talk I have received in years. She said I was enough. My milk was enough. Magically, my supply doubled that evening. It felt like a dark cloud was lifted that day.
I went inward once more. This time I asked, "what am I not seeing? What am I missing? What is the universe really trying to tell me? I'm really ready to listen." I came out knowing I needed to speak to a gastroenterologist whose number was stored in my phone. He answered my call in the first few rings and immediately advised an endoscopy. I was stunned and also guilty for not following my inner guidance sooner. Nonetheless, the compassion of being led back to the same solution had me humbled and grateful. I could see the sliver of the silver lining emerge on the horizon of my life.
I knew it was time to shift the focus to my health, to find the solution to my baby's body. We discovered swelling and redness in the lining of my stomach. He suggested it could be food allergies and I was sent for a food and environment allergy test. The report came back showing almost every one of my staples in the red! I was in shock and didn't quite know what to do without eating all my regular foods and food groups.
I was reminded of being guided towards NAET on multiple occasions. Something told me my solution lay there. Now I needed to find a practitioner who was treating people in spite of the pandemic. In the meantime, I met a highly acclaimed allergy specialist. We spent an entire day at his clinic only to be told to avoid all the foods marked in red for 6-12 months and eat the ones marked in yellow in rotation and watch for reactions. I couldn't take this risk with Nadyah and I needed food for my mental wellbeing.
I went inward again. This time, what may seem like the most obvious occurred to me. Google it and find another practitioner! "Duh!" I said to myself. "There had to be more than just the one practitioner I know!" In minutes I was on a call with a practitioner who was seeing patients and would be willing to treat us.
To my astonishment, on our first visit, she tested Nadyah and discovered that she was allergic to my breastmilk. No matter what I ate or gave up eating, she'd continue to have allergies because she was allergic to her staple food! Never had I heard of something as absurd as this. We treated this on two occasions and she cleared it.
She has continued to breastfeed ever since
and there has been no looking back. There were many other allergies that we had to tackle but that's another story (find it here: https://www.rackheetrust.com/post/elimination-of-allergies-the-holistic-approach). I am overjoyed at being able to continue to nourish her with my body, be free of topical steroids, medication and rashes.
It is my hope that through the sharing of my journey other children and adults who struggle with food/environment allergies or allergic symptoms can find their way back to health and happiness once again.