Nursing with Fibromyalgia: My Experience and Some Research

Like many areas of living with Fibromyalgia, I have found there to be little information on nursing with Fibromyalgia. There are a few articles, like this one on Fibromyalgia Symptoms that mentions research but provides no links, “Numerous studies have been done evaluating how fibromyalgia influences breastfeeding. These studies all indicate that it is very hard to breastfeed with fibromyalgia.”Nursing with Fibromyalgia

The Fibromyalgia Health Center on WebMD posted an article in 2004 referencing a new study about nursing with Fibromyalgia.  This study was very small, with just nine mothers included:

“All nine women felt that they were not successful in their attempts to breastfeed, and felt frustrated,” Schaefer writes. Difficulties included muscle soreness, pain, and stiffness; fatigue; a perceived shortage of breast milk; and sore nipples.”

The article lists a few tips from the study which includes good nutrition, proper rest and paying attention to where and how you are nursing.

Having had two children now, I thought I would share my experience. As with all areas of this illness, my experience may not be the same as another’s with Fibromyalgia, so my difficulties do not translate to all women with Fibromyalgia.

With both children I found nursing extremely painful, I had cracked and sore nipples from the second day cluster feeding with both babies. Both times, it took a long time for them to recover. Expressing was less painful, but still resulted in sore breasts.

The differences in situations were extreme.

With Nu, we found he was excessively windy and by week two we were going back and forward to doctors at the after hours centre. At last, at week three, we were sent to the hospital and there they found that he had pyloric stenosis – a thickened sphincter that wouldn’t let food out of the stomach to be digested, so it was forced back up and out of his mouth in projectile vomiting. After several days in hospital and a small operation, we came home and found that he doubled the amount he was taking at each feed. My supply couldn’t keep up, despite pumping three hourly the entire time he was in the hospital, my supply decreased in real numbers and relative numbers. I managed to keep him exclusively on breast milk until eight weeks. At this point whenever it was time to express, I would cry, so I knew it was time to finish up. I was just tired and sore and Nu was not a very settled baby and so cried the entire time I tried to express.

I was so relieved when parenting no longer needed to include my breasts. I am proud that I managed to give him such a good start in life, but I also wish I had given up sooner, but the pressure on mothers to breastfeed is enormous, even my expressing rather than feeding directly was seen as failure. My doctor and my Plunket Nurse were both supportive as they understood the Fibromyalgia and how hard I had tried.

With W I managed to persevere a little longer. My right breast got so sore and cracked from the second day cluster feeding that when I first tried to express, I expressed blood in the milk, it was a frightening sight! I persevered with the one side for another week before that became too sore (this guy is a rough feeder and liked to pull away with it clenched between his gums). I expressed four hourly during the day and once in the middle of the night (that was hard to leave baby sleeping after giving him a bottle and stay awake). My supply stayed static no matter what I did to try to increase it, so by week four, I was only just producing enough from both breasts for one feed. Luckily I had a lot of frozen milk from the first weeks of expressing.

This time I knew it didn’t have to be all or nothing (this is an important message for all mamas, you can mix feed!), I had more knowledge and therefore more power. I also ignored any messages of my being deficient or not trying hard enough. I managed to add in a physical feed each evening after he had spent the previous few hours having more regular bottles in his nightly cluster feed, this meant I didn’t have to worry about him not getting enough and he got some comfort from it at the end of a long day. It hurt, but swapping which breast I gave him each night helped me to cope. I worked with my midwife to reduce to a few feeds a day of my milk and add in formula for the shortfall. My plan was to give him whatever breast milk I could, for as long as I could.

As we know, plans do not always work out. Little W developed reflux and vomited my milk and got very sore. Through long weeks of trial and error we found that I could feed him directly (my measly 40 ml or so) followed immediately by a bottle of thickened formula, reducing the vomiting to spills and the gas pains greatly decreased. At seven weeks I was still managing to mix feed, with the miniscule supply I produced.

Due to the very different positions in my health and a lot more knowledge and confidence, I believe it was slightly easier the second time around. However, by 12 weeks my supply had completely dried up. I was really happy that I had been able to provide him with these vital nutrients for that long. I was also happy to not have to deal with expressing, feeding and bottles – it had begun to feel like my whole life revolved around his feeding. And at this time my life turned to revolving around his sleep, or lack of!

My tips would mirror what most nursing women are told:

  • Try to rest as much as you can
  • Try to eat as well as you can
  • Drink lots of water
  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible when you feed
  • Know that whatever you manage to give your baby is awesome and that you cannot fail. You will be a great mama whether you feed physically, by expressed breast milk or by formula. A fed baby and a happy mama are both minimum requirements. (Your well being counts as much as baby’s and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!)

I’d love to hear about your experiences with nursing with Fibromaylgia, if only so that others have something to read when they Google about it.

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