Monday, January 10, 2011

Breastfeeding, Allergies, and Antibiotics

I was born in January 1971 -- yes, I'm turning 40 this month! -- which had the lowest breastfeeding initiation rate on record.  I can't really blame my mother for not breastfeeding.  It was the culture.  Women only breastfed if they were too poor to buy formula.  Women were told that formula was superior to breastmilk.  Much like today, women trusted their doctors and didn't question them.  As far as I know, my mom never even considered breastfeeding.  I did not receive even one drop of colostrum.

I love to read my baby book.  I was eating veal at 3 weeks of age.  Yes, veal.  I was loaded up on all kinds of baby food in that first year.

During the first 5 years of my life, I was in and out of the doctors offices regularly -- ear infections, croup, you name it.  I was hospitalized for croup and lived in a "bubble" for what-seemed-like-forever to a 5 year old.  I went through the allergy testing at the same age and started the joyous road to allergy shots for the next 7 years.  I'm not sure why they stopped doing them when I was 12, but it was perfect timing because I picked up smoking!  It was 1983 and everyone smoked -- everywhere!  Plus, I grew up in Santa Fe and it was artsy and cool.  I'm sure that was great for my lung development, since I already had oodles of problems.

When I was 18 or 19, I had an MRI and the doctor found that my sinus passages were completely white (they were supposed to be completely black) on the reading.  He asked if I did cocaine but I didn't.  Fast forward 20 years and my MRIs and cat scans all say the same thing.

I have suffered all my life with seasonal asthma and especially sinus infections.  I usually have about 5 or 6 per year.  Last year, I had 10 infections from October to July when I finally had sinus surgery.  Personally, it was the best move I've made towards better health. 

Let's talk about antibiotics for a minute.  I remember this being a big deal in the news a few years back -- the Superbug scare and antibiotics not being able to treat certain people because they are immune to antibiotics because they have been on them so much in their lifetime.  This is me!  In fact, last spring my allergist told me he hopes I never get really sick because he doesn't know if I could be treated.  I was on the strongest antibiotics possible at the time and could not get rid of the infections. (I have strong feelings about putting women who test positive for Group B Strep on antibiotics in labor just in case and then treating babies with antibiotics after birth just in case.  If there is a problem, you will know it in other ways.  Stop all the antibiotics!  Only use them when they are truly needed.)

Since the surgery, there have been a couple of times where I could tell I was starting an infection, but my ENT has me on a medicated sinus rinse (fellow sinus sufferers, you should know about this!) and it fights the infection because it's putting the antibiotic directly on the infection instead of traveling through the entire body trying to find the infection.  I wonder how I would have done if I'd been on that before the surgery...

I should add that I grew up in a very sterile environment.  My mom was a total clean freak -- still is.  I had all my immunizations.  I was probably not exposed to a whole lot of dirt, well, except that I grew up in the desert!  There are many factors to consider.  I believe, if I had been breastfed, I would not have as many problems as I do.  I also believe that starting all the solid foods at just a couple of weeks old really did a number on me as well.  My brother and sister do not have the allergy and asthma issues that I do.  I hate it when people say, "I wasn't breastfed and I turned out fine."  Sure, I'm fine, I'm surviving, although miserable half the time.  I think my brother and sister, while not allergy sufferers, have their own set of issues, would probably agree.   There is a big difference between surviving and thriving.

I really like my allergist, but for over two years we have argued over whether breastfeeding helps prevent allergies.  He has twins and I'm pretty sure his wife did not breastfeed because of his blase attitude towards it.  He insists that allergies are based on genetics.  Maybe.  My dad had allergies -- nothing like mine though.   I have always thrown back at my doctor that all of my kids have been exclusively breastfed -- no formula ever and all started solids at a late age, one at 9 months and another was over one year.  Why, with my allergies being so severe, if it's genetic, do none of my kids suffer from allergies?

So, I guess ultimately, I'll never know. There are things we can control and things we can't.  Babies can't control what kind of milk they get, but mothers can control what they feed their babies.  I only addressed allergies in this post, but the physical effects of breastfeeding are incredibly far-reaching and extensive.  Maybe another post for another day.  Mothers can control how early they introduce solid foods.  Mothers can control giving their babies and children antibiotics.  Rushing down to the pediatrician for an antibiotic every time your child is sick should not be taken lightly.

I have no doubt there will be people who comment here that they were breastfed and they still suffer from allergies.  Of course.  Again with the variables - how early and how often you received solid foods, did your mom supplement with formula, etc.  Food for thought -- how much worse off would you be if you had not been breastfed at all? 

Mothers, breastfeed your babies.  It's good for you, good for your baby (who will grow into an adult), good for the budget, good for the environment, good for humanity.  It's a no-brainer in the year 2011.


Jolee Burger said...

Donna, I was born in 1974, and my mother was one of the FEW who breastfed her babies during that time. She thought to tell me as a small girl that was the case, that few other babies received their mother's milk. I think she felt a little insecure about it, even though she knew logically it was best. It was hard for her when all of her friends were using bottles. I have no allergies. I would not say I am the picture of health all of the time, but overall I am very healthy, rarely sick and I have never had an allergic reaction.

My mother thought to take a picture of me breastfeeding. From a young age, I valued this picture, I treasured it. And now it is in a frame in the room I teach childbirth education. Brave when others didn't think to be. I am so thankful for her gift.

Mellanie said...

I have several thoughts on this issue, but so little time today. Not fair!

Very often when I bring up this issue people will point to several studies that show no difference in allergies in breastfed babies, or worse, the one study that showed an increase in asthma. One thing I think you said was key - your kids were EXCLUSIVELY breastfed. So many of the studies do not look at exclusivity. They look at ANY breastfeeding. Many people don't look at he impact of just one bottle of formula, especially in those early days. Even a little formula changes everything. It irritates the gut and reduces the protective effects of breastmilk. This is why, in Africa, they recommend that mothers with HIV breastfeed exclusively or not at all. Breastfeeding exclusively can prevent the transmission of HIV, but breastfeeding while also giving formula increases the risk of transmission. Exclusivity matters!

I think the antibiotics play a key role as well. I think it is no accident that my child with significant allergies is also my child that had round after round of antibiotics as a baby. Over-use of antibiotics weakens the immune system, overwhelms the liver and contributes to multi-drug resistant diseases.

I have more to say, but I have to be responsible and go teach my kids something. :-)

Mellanie said...

By the way, Jolee, I love your story! My mother-in-law breastfed my husband in 1969 against all advice from her doctors. She has been my biggest supporter in breastfeeding my kids.

Laura said...

My MIL nursed my husband's siblings for nine months and then she put them on formula, whereas my husband wouldn't take formula, so he was nursed until he was a year old. He's the only one of his siblings who doesn't have a food allergy. He has difficulty digesting pork, but that's a tolerance issue, not allergic.

Another thing to think about with formula is the link to future weight problems. My dad and his siblings were exclusively formula fed and they ALL have weight problems. Most of their children (my cousins and my siblings) were nursed, and there are no significant weight problems among us.

Krista Eger said...

I'm so grateful my mom breastfed me. She only did it for 6 months because she had major surgery. I don't blame her obviously. I never ever get sick though. Sometimes. I'm allergic to pollen, but isn't everyone? haha!

I have a few theories about my husband though. He actually doesn't have any food allergies, but I guess he had asthma as a kid. Same with his brother. My MIL says that she fed him for two weeks but "he wanted to eat too much" so she gave up. When he was like 3 months old or less (can't remember) she started putting rice in his bottle because he wouldn't sleep through the night because he would get so hungry. It's just strange to me because she made him sound like such a big baby, but he was the EXACT same size as my daughter at birth. She needed to eat a lot at first, but that has settled down. I think it's just newborns in general! I have my own theories about her though. I think she exaggerates a lot of his illnesses (every time one of my children coughs she tells me to go to the pediatrician....uh no thanks!) Anyway it definitely makes a difference to breast feed! My kids don't get sick often and neither do I!

Carla said...

I think it's different for everyone. I was breastfed (I don't remember ever seeing formula in the house when my siblings were younger, so I think it must have been 6 months to a year), I was totally immunized, and every time I got a cold I was brought to the doctor and given antibiotics.

I don't have allergies (though most of my 9 siblings do), but I have a constant sinus/nasal irritation. I always have a stuffy nose. I have digestive problems to. If I had to guess, I'd say my problems go back to all the antibiotics, weakening my immune system and killing all the good bacteria in my gut.

I really hope I can find ways to reverse some of this. I'm just so sick of being sick all the time.

Madcap said...

Hi Donna,

First time commenter here. I've been enjoying your blog for about a month now.

We have a very similar early history, and I've been absolutely at my wits' end with the allergies. Lately I've been reading a lot about vitamin D, and I decided to give it a shot. I'm taking quite a high dosage (15,000 IUs)and my nose stopped running! It was constantly pouring, so badly in the last year that I was having trouble sleeping. My lungs are also really improving, and I've gone from using my inhaler 7-8X/day to once or twice.

Anyway, I'm totally onboard with the benefits of breastfeeding, but I thought you might be interested in something to help after the fact.

And Happy Birthday!

nigel said...

A small percentage of breastfeeding mothers notice an obvious difference in their baby's behaviour and/or health when they eat certain foods.

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HaleeBurch said...

I have been studying these issues a lot lately and while I hate to just put the blame on my mother, she was young, she didn't know better (I assume) I really think many choices she made for me have caused me to be sicker.

I was born via Cesarean section, she says that this was necessary, my life was in danger... I have asked for her to obtain her medical records, I am curious to know what drugs where given to her during labor among other things, was my life really in danger or were they just tired of waiting.

She only breastfed for a max of 3 months with any of us because it was too hard and she is under the believe that ebf babies will starve.

And I received all of my vaccinations.

For a baby that has been rescued from so many ill fates, why am I so sick? Why have I always been the sickest child? I have severe asthma and have all my life and I am the murphy's law of sickness, I even got whooping cough last spring. Something I was told only children get. Oh and I have had c-diff on multiple occasion (self diagnosis)

I hated getting the shots, at one point I even hid the reminder when it came in the mail and was able to make it to junior high with out them, until it was discovered by the school nurse who told my mom that if I did not get them within the month I would be kicked out of school. So off to the health department I was taken to be held down by my father while these toxins were forced on me, I really think now that my body was trying to tell me what a bad idea they were.

I am 16 weeks pregnant now and against my families wishes or lack of encouragement (She says I won't be able to go with out the drugs and that breastfeeding will be hard)
I am planning a natural homebirth.
I am planning to breastfeed my child a minimum of 1 year, longer if she will let me.
and we probably wont vaccinate...