Breastfeeding and IVF and Possibility
This post is in honor of World Breastfeeding Week and part of Mothering’s “Blog about Breastfeeding” event.
While Kris and I tried to conceive a second child, my son Arlo breastfed through all four of my IVF cycles.
Total weaning is the policy held by most clinics and their fertility doctors before embarking upon IVF. I was not comfortable weaning Arlo, but age and recurrent loss would not allow me to delay IVF. Determined to do both, I rolled up my sleeves and discovered what was possible for my family.
Here are some of the things I did to move forward:
- I met with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Melony Kendell. She confirmed what I’d already learned from my doctor: breastfeeding doesn’t jive with pregnancy. When your child nurses, the uterus contracts, which could possibly expel the embryo. Also, your hormones are anti-pregnancy; your body is actually working against pregnancy so that your existing, nursing child can survive. But – and this is key – this relates to babies. Arlo was already 21 months old and long past being exclusively breastfed. I no longer had let-downs. I no longer had cramps. My menstrual cycle had resumed normally. I was ovulating. I felt we were past those risks.
- I read Dr. Thomas Hale’s site: http://www.medsmilk.com. There is extensive yet clear information on risk and bioavailability of the drugs prescribed in an IVF cycle. I looked up every med I would take and determined they were all safe for me AND Arlo.
- Every clinic I called or e-mailed refused to treat me while breastfeeding, demanding a total wean plus three-cycle clearance. Even my own Reproductive Endocrinologist (Arlo was conceived via our second cycle of IVF) refused until I told him I had done extensive research, met with an IBCLC and that I was ready to move forward. At that point he relented, requiring only a signature from my son’s doctor saying it was okay.
- I provided Arlo’s doctor a copy of all the Hale research and he signed off.
That was the easy part. Truth be told, I was terrified the entire time. I was convinced the birth control pills prescribed during IVF would dry up my milk instantly and then my god, my poor son. Then every shot, every pill. All those hormones. I just had to keep telling myself – they have no bioavailability – they are not passing through my milk. One of the most comforting thoughts was that if these drugs were so easy to get into my body, I would be drinking them, not injecting them. Melony told me that and it was very reassuring.
As to the breastfeeding itself, Arlo never skipped a beat. Because we were living in Bermuda at the time, I traveled to the States for treatment (there are no REs or fertility clinics in Bermuda as of this post) which meant Arlo breastfed even more frequently. I was a wreck. I did the work though and I trusted in what I learned and the professionals who advised me. In the turmoil of secondary infertility, I was still able to gave my child that which he needed the most: the unwavering love and comfort of his mother’s breast.