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An Epileptic Mom's Journey to Breastfeeding

By Kelsey Saintz

Ashley Muehlhausen waited a long, long time to breastfeed.
 
The mother of four suffers from epilepsy, which she developed in graduate school from stress. Due to the medication needed to keep her disease under control, doctors urged her not to breastfeed her daughters Isabella, Sophia, Giovanna and Gabriella.
 
When Isabella was born in 2006, she accepted the news. Upon meeting with Alicia, the previous lactation consultant at Mother’s Haven, Ashley was already giving her formula. After talking with Alicia about her possible missed opportunity, “I just felt awful,” she said. And that stayed with her until she had Sophia.
 
“That’s something that, as a mother, you should be able to do if you choose to,” she said. But with both Sophia and her younger sister Giovanna, she again gave up on the idea. Because she wanted to do something all-natural – something beneficial to her kids, she said – the Muehlhausens began using cloth diapers.
 
When Ashley was pregnant with Gabriella, she started to push her midwife and neurologist. They both agreed to let her try nursing her fourth and final baby, thinking that the medication preventing her seizures may get to Gabriella through the breastmilk.
 
The good news was, they tested her blood twice and there was no trace of the medication. The bad news was, that meant she could’ve nursed all four baby girls.
 
Ashley said that despite not being breastfed, her older daughters are intrigued with how their little sister is fed. Giovanna even nurses her dolls.
 
“It’s become a very family-oriented event,” she said.
 
Her husband Paul, however, feels how many fathers feel – a little left out. He knows that it’s important and supports it, but it’s not the same experience as bottle-feeding.
 
A big difference that Ashley sees is that she feels more protective of Gabriella. For instance, she’s hesitating starting solid foods. She said the bond is stronger than it was with her other babies, mostly due to the fact that she never felt the euphoria from a breastfeeding-induced oxytocin release.
 
Something else that she’s noticed is that it takes more time and attention than bottle-feeding. Ashley said she didn’t realize how much she’d have to slow down and take her time, even though it could make the family late. “Everybody has to wait for me,” she said, “and that’s just what we have to do.”
 
Ashley said she doesn’t have a goal of when she’d like to stop breastfeeding – she wants to go as long as Gabriella wants. And whenever their nursing relationship ends, she’ll be sad.

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