While drinking the coffee I’m not supposed to: I have craved it since the day I said I wouldn’t drink it. First, one of the many Neonatologists my son had said it may be the reason for his high heart rate. He had been only a few weeks old and being extremely premature they had him on a caffeine drip in the NICU to make sure he didn’t stop breathing. It was a miracle they all say that he didn’t need oxygen, but of course he must need the caffeine. “Babies born that early can forget to breathe,” they said. “The caffeine helps remind him to breathe.” Okay then. Let the boy be on caffeine! But after a spike in his heart rate I am asked “have you changed anything in your diet.” I think really hard and say “I don’t think so.” See, I was lucky and determined enough that even though my baby was in the NICU, he would get my colostrum, he would get my breastmilk and he would not be on formula. I’d hand expressed and pumped as often as I could. I’d suck up those first few drops in a syringe just to make sure I could provide for my son. I believed it was my mission to help him in any way I could. I believed in the power of breast milk. I also believed in my morning cup of, yes, single, cup of coffee. So after answering this question that I had no idea where it was going, she clarified. “Have you been drinking more caffeine than usual? Coffee? Soda?” Wo wo lady, soda? I was mortified that she thought I could possibly be a soda drinker, but then said, “no, just my one cup of coffee a day that I have drank all along.” To my surprise, I next heard “well maybe you could try and switch to decaf?” Seriously. You are literally pumping caffeine into the belly of my infant, but you want me to stop drinking my one cup of coffee that only transfers 1% of it’s caffeine into my breast milk. “Ok. I can do that no problem. But maybe you can stop giving him caffeine?”
I thought I was crazy for seeing the obvious, but again was willing to just do what I was told and do whatever I could to help my son. They agreed to stop the caffeine and I agreed to switch to decaf. Five days later when the caffeine was cleared of his system, his heart rate came down. But like any experiment, you never want to change two variables at the same time. So I chatted with a different neonatologist, my favorite nurse, and the milk technician and decided to do my own trial. I’d bring coffee back into my morning routine, label my milk for that day, be told when it was given to him through his NG tube (he was still too young to take a bottle) and I’d monitor his heart rate. Would you believe it made no difference? All of this to give me, not only a new mom but now a NICU mom, peace of mind that my morning cup of coffee was not contaminating my baby through my breast milk.
I say all of this to lead to where I am today. My son is currently napping on his tummy next to me on his topponcino and I am sipping a delicious cup of FarmStrong Coffee with a touch of coconut milk creamer, for the first time in 2 weeks. After we were sure his heart rate was fine, he learned to eat by mouth, and blessed us in our home 35 days after delivery, I thought my coffeeless days were over. He ate, he slept, he grew, and he was/is cute as ever. He loved his tummy and hated his back, and maybe had silent reflux? Then maybe he really had GERD? And maybe he just had bad gas? He was uncomfortable. That I knew. But was it normal? Abnormal? Do we treat it? Do we not? How many hours of research do I do online before making a decision? Is it dairy? No, I cut that out just in case a long time ago Soy? No, who eats soy any more? Is it eggs? I really don’t care I’m not giving up eggs too. Is it the acid in the coffee I drink and all the locally grown tomatoes I’ve been eating? Maybe…ok I gave it up once I can give it up again, right? So I cut it out for the last 2 weeks. I also made the same mistake as I did in my previous experiment and began giving him the doctor recommended Zirtac for his “reflux” against my “better” judgement. I wanted so badly to avoid medication of any kind unless we knew it was really needed. My son is not colicky, I mean I don’t think so, but I’m a new mom so who knows. He cries. I hate it. I try to fix it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Is it more than 3 hours? I don’t know, I don’t have the ability to time it, nor do I want to, every single time he cries and it is not fixed by eating, changing his diaper, and making sure a hair isn’t wrapped around his tiny fingers or toes (I guess this can happen?). It feels like forever when he does, but I digress. They say the medicine is safe so I decide to try it. At the same damn time I decide to give up coffee, again. What is wrong with me anyway? I have conducted real research in the past, I know this won’t help me understand the true issue, but I am sleep deprived and do not think of it at the time.
So, twice a day here I am trying to squirt this medicine into my now breasfed only baby’s mouth as he gags and spits it out. Apparently it has to taste like mint? Why? Who decided this? We know kids don’t like mint, which is why their toothpaste is flavored with strawberries and bubble gum. Why would we make something that is supposed to help them stop spitting up, gag and spit up the second it enters their mouth? WTF. Really. In any case. I try it. And I quit drinking coffee and eating the delicious tomatoes that now I expect my husband to consume all of from our amazing CSA.
I do this for nearly 2 weeks before deciding I am really against the medicine. If it is helping, not much, and by now I’m convinced it isn’t reflux because I’ve down even more online searching. So I stop giving it to him, but do not resume my beloved coffee. I change my research to oversupply of breastmilk/forceful let down and now I believe it is my fault for his adverse reactions. He does every single thing on that list. He hasn’t had a bottle in awhile so I’m not sure at this point, but then I go to drill for the WI Army National Guard. My husband bottle feeds him during the day with the milk I have left for him and I breastfeed at night. I eagerly await how he does with the bottle, my husband says “fine, the same.” So I let it go and move on. Then comes the first night he’ll have his soon to be nanny watch him while my husband and I go to a friend’s wedding. I come back, ask detailed questions and learn bottle feeding went very smoothly. My husband then admits, yes bottle feeding may go better, but, God bless him, he didn’t want me to feel bad about it and believes it is still good to breastfeed. More on my husband later, but if you don’t have a great one (or a great wife or partner), you really should invest in one because he will prove to save my son and I many times on this journey.
Now I “know” without a doubt I need help with breastfeeding technique as I have tried all the suggestions to no avail. I now have a crazy amount of lack of sleep, I’m becoming crabby without my coffee, and I am getting mad at my son while still feeling bad he is so uncomfortable when he eats. So…what now? I drink the damn coffee and write about it. It smells amazing, it tastes amazing, and really, I don’t even know if it ever affected him. I truly don’t “know” anything about his reactions, but over analyze everything. So when they ask a pregnant woman, “Are you going to breastfeed?” what they really should be asking is “Are you ready to feel guilty for everything you eat, risk having an undersupply, an oversupply? Are you ready to face one of the most challenging things you have done yet? Read too much online? Seek help wherever you can, but then decide to make your own decision on what works for you and your baby and your life?” If you are ready for all of that, that’s great! Because honestly, I am still committed to providing for my son, and giving him all the benefits that come along with breastmilk, there are many…I just am not ready to give up coffee for it or say I love breastfeeding.
–Kathryn Kraft, MPT