Breastfeeding Your Baby After Surgery

I’m so very lucky to have this little gem to publish. It’s written by the fabulously entertaining Trae from Where’s My Glow and is a wonderful post about her experience of breastfeeding her baby after some pretty major surgery along with some good tips. The baby in this post (aka Tricky) is going to become a big brother any day now 🙂 Best wishes for the journey ahead and thanks for sharing your story.

xx Julie

Breastfeeding your baby after surgery By Trae Flett ( aka Glowless of

Baby before surgery
Baby Tricky before surgery

The very first time I held my son he was just seconds old, laying on my chest and hollering before rooting around for his first breastfeed. In bewildered awe I stared at his 3.8kg body and his whopping head and said a silent prayer for my future pelvic floor strength. I realized this not-so tiny human was mine and we were now a family. It was perfect… he was perfect.

Eleven weeks of long nights later, when we were finally getting in to the swing of breastfeeding, we discovered that actually, he wasn’t so perfect after all. He was diagnosed with sagittal craniosynostosis, a premature fusing of the plates of the skull, characterized by an elongated head, protruding forehead (known as scaphocephaly – literally translated to “boathead”) and closed fontanel. He had a pretty funky noggin to say the least and was starting to resemble a Sherrin football, albeit an incredibly cute one.

However the main issue with craniosynostosis isn’t aesthetic. The brain’s growth is impacted and in some cases, without surgical intervention, can lead to an increase in intracranial pressure which in turn can cause all sorts of problems including learning disabilities and vision problems.

Only three weeks later he had his first surgery and I discovered that breastfeeding a child after they’ve had surgery is a very steep learning curve and feels just like having a newborn again.

Breastfeeding after surgery.
Tricky after surgery

When he came out of surgery with his head bandaged and his eyes swollen half shut he looked like he’d just done ten rounds in the ring. He was connected to what seemed like half a dozen machines and crying like I’d never heard before, but he fed immediately and calmed down… until the anaesthetic started to wear off a few minutes later. My previously “good feeder” and renowned comfort sucker swung between being in intense pain and being completely drugged up both of which meant he was unable to feed.

Once his morphine levels were adjusted and he was in as little pain as possible but alert enough to latch on, our breastfeeding journey was able to continue, albeit still connected to machines that constantly beeped every time he fed (his oxygen levels would drop a little – I’m told that’s quite normal).

Figuring out how to hold him without touching his swollen head or feeling like I was about to pull out a cannula was difficult and required a lot of help from the nurses and family visitors. It was just like learning how to breastfeed all over again.

Breastfeeding after surgery

It was a traumatic time but now, at three years of age, two and a half years of breastfeeding, and with two successful surgeries under his belt, my son is a robust kid with a dare devil streak… and a lovely round head!

My top tips for breastfeeding after your child’s surgery:

  • Ask someone to help you position the baby – with all those tubes, having a nurse or family member place the baby in to your arms after you’ve positioned yourself helps enormously and also reduces the fear of pulling out the wires.
  • Take a breast pump & storage bags – if your baby is in pain, heavily medicated, or even being kept sedated in ICU, he may not be able to feed as regularly as usual and this can lead to discomfort and a supply drop in some cases. Label the milk with the date, your name and your child’s name and ask a nurse to put it in the fridge/freezer.
  • Feed, feed, feed! – being nestled in close and breastfeeding is so comforting to a sick child, and it’s also comforting to mum, too, after such an emotional experience.

Trae is a slightly crunchy mama, a champion procrastinator, wannabe geek and sometime writer. She blogs about life, breastfeeding, recipes and much more at with tongue very firmly in cheek.


Too Much Vitamin D During Pregnancy Can Cause Food Allergies

Results of a  study carried out by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research and the Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg in Germany indicate a link between high vitamin D levels in expectant mothers and increased infant allergy risks. These results were published in the February issue of the medical journal Allergy.

The conclusion drawn from the study states that pregnant women should avoid taking vitamin D supplements because this appears to raise the risk of children developing a food allergy after birth until their 2nd birthday.

A total of  622 mothers and their 629 children were included in the long-term study “Lifestyle and environmental factors and their impact on the newborn allergy risk” says  Dr. Irina Lehmann who headed the study.

Vitamin D is one of those nutrients that always had a good reputation for supplementation. Many mothers are found to be vitamin D deficient when they enter pregnancy and it is becoming increasingly popular for pregnant mothers to be told to take a vitamin D supplement. However, recent scientific investigations are increasingly questioning the positive aspect of the  vitamin D supplementation. At the end of the 1990’s, for the first time people’s attention was drawn to a link between high vitamin D levels and the development of allergies.

This study aimed to find out if  there is a correlation between the concentration of vitamin D in the blood of expectant mothers and in cord blood of the babies as well as the association between vitamin D levels during pregnancy and at birth, the immune status and the incidence of allergic diseases of the children later in life.

Vitamin D in Pregnancy. A good source is the sunshine.

In short… They found that yes, the baby’s vitamin D levels are similar to the mothers at birth, and that babies with excess levels of vitamin D have fewer regulatory T-cells which stop the immune system from overreacting to allergens. Fewer regulatory T cells  results in a higher chance of developing one or more allergies.

The final recommendation of the study was a little puzzling to me. This recommendation is to avoid vitamin D supplementation in pregnancy. I fore-see a future where this is translated as “vitamin D is dangerous to take in pregnancy” as has happened with vitamin A ( a whole ‘nother kettle of fish and a topic for some other time). The  major problem I see with this blanket recommendation is that it seems to ignore the fact that vitamin D deficiency is more common than an excess of vitamin D and the problems with this are just as troubling. In pregnancy, vitamin D helps to develop baby’s bones. A vitamin D deficiency can affect the amount of calcium the baby has in their bones and in severe deficiency this can cause a bone deformity called rickets. Since the baby is getting it’s vitamin D from mum, mum has in increased need for it for her own bone health and a mother deficient in vitamin D is more likely to suffer post natal depression.

I do agree that routine vitamin D supplementation should be avoided during pregnancy. Routine vitamin D supplementation should be avoided for ALL people. Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin so your body doesn’t just pee it out like some others. It’s stored in fat cells and it’s hard to get rid of it if you go overboard. We’ve known for a long time that it’s toxic in high doses.

It’s a simple enough procedure to test a mother’s vitamin D status and make recommendations according to her results. For many women, diet and lifestyle modifications alone can boost her vitamin D to optimal levels. For others, this might not be enough and a vitamin D supplement might be necessary. A simple blood test will tell what’s required for each individual.

So how do you ensure you have enough vitamin D without getting too much?

1. Get some sunshine 

It depends on where you live as to how much sunlight you need each day to keep your vitamin D levels up. Your body will never make too much from sunlight alone.

It’s obviously important to get enough sunlight to produce vitamin D without increasing your risk of skin cancer. In summer, many fair skinned people make enough vitamin D from having their hands, arms and face (or equivalent area of skin) in the sun for a few minutes each day during normal day to day outdoor activities. This is without the slip, slop, slap. Sunscreen, hats and layers of clothing will reduce your body’s ability to make vitamin D, so you need to make sure that you get some direct sunshine to your skin without sunscreen and protective clothing. You should choose your timing sensibly. Don’t go get your vitamin D fix at the beach in the middle of summer at midday for example.

In most of Australia, in winter, you will need two to three hours of sunlight each week. In Summer, 5-15 mins a day should do it.

People with darker skin need more sunlight and those with very black skin may need three to six times as much sunlight as fair skinned people.

2. From your diet

While there is vitamin D in some foods, there is not enough to give you what you need, you still need sunlight. Vitamin D is present in a small number of foods, for the average person food will  supply about 10% of the amount they need. You can up that to around 90% if you try hard enough with your diet. Vitamin D is present in oily fish such as mackerel, tuna, salmon and sardines. Other great sources are eggs, shitaake mushrooms, button and field mushrooms the mushrooms make vitamin D2 which is a little harder for your body to use than the animal sourced vitamin D3, but they are still helpful).

3. If you do need to take a supplement, choose carefully

Have your levels rechecked after a maximum of 3 months of supplementation to see if it’s still required.

Vitamin D supplements come in two forms:

  1. Ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) a synthetic version made by irradiating fungus and plant matter—this would be the form of vitamin D suitable for a vegan lifestyle. This is not as well absorbed or utilised by your body as vitamin D3. This is the most common type available. Always check the label to see what type you are buying.
  2. Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) the same type of D vitamin created in your body when you expose your skin to sunlight. This is  87 percent more potent in raising and maintaining vitamin D concentrations and produces 2- to 3-fold greater storage of vitamin D than does D2. It is only produced by vertebrate animals and is not available in plant based supplements.


The study cited in this post:

The press release that alerted me to this study:

Protecting Baby From Eczema Starts In Pregnancy

Lactobacillus rhamnosus
Lactobacillus rhamnosus. One of the fascinating little critters that live in your gut to help keep you healthy. Image credit: Citizendium.

Probiotics are fascinating little things. Babies get their first mouthful from their mother’s vagina as they make their way out into the big wide world and continue to colonise their digestive system with the health promoting bacteria through breastmilk and skin contact with other people. It makes sense that birthing a baby through a healthy probiotic rich vagina and snuggling that baby on healthy probiotic rich skin and feeding that baby healthy, probiotic rich breastmilk will give that baby a healthy gut flora and keep the unhealthy bacteria under control. It’s a little less obvious (though used by natural therapists in this way for a while now…) that the probiotics a baby gets from it’s mother can also reduce the risk of that baby developing allergic type health problems  such as eczema, as shown in this study published last week  in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

About the study

Researchers said it’s possible that probiotics – which help to balance bacteria in the gut and prevent disease-causing strains from spreading – may influence babies’ health through immune cells that cross the placenta and then are later passed on through mums breast milk.

lead author Samuli Rautava of Turku University Central Hospital, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology says “Prevention regimen with specific probiotics administered to the pregnant and breast-feeding mother, that is, prenatally and postnatally, is safe and effective in reducing the risk of eczema in infants with allergic mothers”  ie. Probiotics are safe to take while pregnant and breastfeeding and they do work to prevent eczema.

The study involved 241 pregnant women, all who had a history of allergies which would put their babies at high risk of  eczema and other allergies. They were given one of two different probiotic strains. either Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Bifidobacterium longum given as a powder mixed with water once a day, or a probiotic free placebo powder.

The study ran through the final two months of pregnancy and the first two months of breastfeeding. Researchers then tracked their babies’ health for two years to see how many developed rashes.

By the end of the study, 71 percent of babies in the placebo group had had eczema at least once compared to 29 percent of babies whose mother took either of the probiotic combinations.

26 percent of  kids in the placebo group were diagnosed with chronic eczema, compared to 10 percent and six percent, respectively, of those in the two probiotic groups.

However, by age two the study didn’t show any obvious advantage to the probiotic use in pregnancy and breastfeeding.

“(The study) really shows a reduction in eczema from probiotics, which is such a simple and easy intervention for mothers,’ said Ruchi Gupta, an allergy an eczema researcher at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

But she said it was still too soon to see if that reduction in eczema will be tied to a drop in asthma and more serious allergies later on, and Rautava himself said it was still not yet possible to make recommendations for routine use of probiotics.

Rautava and his colleagues didn’t find any evidence of probiotic-related side-effects in either mums or their babies, which is comforting news.

I’d like to point out that probiotics occur naturally in fermented foods and are easy to get from your diet if you make the effort. That’s a post for another day though…