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A Second Chance

by Jody Bookert
Lancaster PA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 1, January-February 2001, p. 12

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (manic-depression) in 1995, lithium and an antidepressant were prescribed to treat the characteristic high and low moods associated with the illness. Lithium is associated with an increased risk of birth defects, so when my husband and I decided to have a second child, I knew I would need to stop taking the medication during my pregnancy. I did not breastfeed my first child, a son, and I did not intend to nurse my second child because I felt it was too risky for my health to continue without my medication. (Most physicians consider lithium to be contraindicated during breastfeeding.)

On July 28, 1999, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Aja, and my husband, my mother, and I took turns feeding her formula and wondering aloud why she cried so much and slept so poorly. We noticed Aja's stomach often appeared distended, and she vomited frequently. On her eighth day home, Aja vomited, stopped breathing, and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. The doctors said that Aja was highly allergic to cows milk and even reacted adversely to soy formula. With few options, I decided to go off lithium and attempt to breastfeed her.

With the help of a board-certified lactation consultant, I rented a breast pump and learned the proper latch-on positions. Soon I was producing enough milk to feed Aja and, by eliminating dairy products from my own diet, eliminated my baby's vomiting and gastrointestinal distress. She quickly gained weight and appeared much more content.

I soon learned to love breastfeeding and I lovingly pumped three times a day at work, knowing I was doing the best possible thing for Aja. There could be no better bond between us. However, my doctors advised me to breastfeed only as long as Aja needed to grow to tolerate formula. They warned me that without lithium I could suffer a mood swing, becoming either depressed or manic. However, I wanted support from the medical community for continuing to breastfeed.

Fortunately, I found the support I needed through my local La Leche League Group. With help from a lactation consultant and my psychiatrist, I found an antidepressant considered safe while breastfeeding. My psychiatrist monitors my mood with frequent appointments. So far, I've suffered no serious setbacks. I attend the local La Leche League Series Meetings monthly and have found a wealth of support from the mothers there. They have seen me through two bouts of mastitis and my concerns about weaning. It is my hope that I can continue to breastfeed as long as Aja wants to nurse.

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