When I was a few months postpartum, I started experiencing vasospasms. A vasospasm is a painful pinching of the blood vessels. Mine were in my nipples, probably caused by prior trauma (in the first few months). I could watch the tips of the nipples turn white, then blue, then pink, then repeat the cycle over the course of about half a minute.
I went to a lactation consultant. She said there were two options. The first was to take a magnesium supplement with calcium, about 1000 units a day. The magnesium would help with the spasms, and the calcium would balance the magnesium, which could cause bowel issues. The second option, if the first did not work, was to get a prescription for nitroglycerin cream. Nitroglycerin is a highly explosive substance, and is usually used to treat heart patients.
When I saw my doctor later that week for my son's well-baby visit, I mentioned the vasospasms and the lactation consultant's recommendation. My doctor rolled her eyes, as if to say, "Nursing is uncomfortable. Deal with it." Without even looking at the problem area, she said, "You don't need a prescription."
I picked up some cheap calcium-magnesium-zinc tablets at Trader Joe's, and took them for a few weeks. The symptoms improved, but did not vanish; eventually, I stopped taking these giant pills that made me gag because I stopped getting improved benefits from them. And I hate gagging.
Fast forward about a year.
I went to my chiropractor last week. Each week, I complain for several minutes about my weekly ailments. I have inherited quite a few from sleeping on the Japanese futon on the floor, on my side, with a pillow that had probably deteriorated several years ago; from carrying around my 27-pound toddler and associated accessories; from sitting, hunched over a laptop, in cafes around town while typing furiously my thesis and papers; from watching back-episodes of Project Runway and Covert Affairs while sitting in awkward positions, trying to simultaneously hug my husband, cat, and a slice of cheese toast.
On this visit, I complained about a neck spasm which, as Murphy would have it, started the day she went out of town, and cleared up before she returned the following week.
"Are you taking your prenatals?" she asked.
"Yup," I replied, proud. I did not always take my prenatal vitamins while I was pregnant, because they made me sick, as did everything I tried to put in my mouth. Now, as a nursing mom, I took these vitamins religiously, and even noticed a marked change when I accidentally skipped a day. I would feel sluggish, tired, unhappy, and like I was on the verge of getting sick. It is like telling your dentist that you do, actually, floss daily. I was very proud.
She looked straight at me, stopped writing in her notebook, and said, "Are you taking a calcium supplement?"
"Uh, no... my prenatal ---"
"You have to take a calcium supplement. You are going home with a bottle of calcium today," she scolded. She explained that muscle cramps are symptoms that my calcium supply is depleted and my body is stealing the calcium from itself to generate the milk that my son still drinks. The calcium that is generally sold in US stores is of poor quality, hard for the body to digest and incorporate. You have to be very choosy about your supplements, and preferably get them from Canada, where the vetting process for these consumables is much more strict.
So, I picked up a large bottle of chewable calcium ("Calcium candy," my chiropractor said. "They're like Sweet Tarts."), infused with magnesium and vitamin D. I have been taking them for about four days and I feel better. Maybe it is psychosomatic. But I have been having almost no vasospasms --- which I did not even notice I was having, because vasospasms are a drop in the bucket of my daily body aches at this point --- thanks to the magnesium that came in the pill. I feel limber; my back is not as uncomfortable. Plus, these supplements tend to, erm, cleanse the body frequently.
Since having my son, I no longer have the luxury to listen to my body. Where before, my body needed to whisper a problem to me, or just hint at it, and I would hear and obey, now, it needs to scream. Before, my body could suggest, "Perhaps you should not lift that," showing me with a gentle twinge in a toe. Now: "You sleep wrong! Raraararr!" it yells, when my muscles are tense for three days and I cannot turn my head because of the alignment of my lower neck.
The moral of the story is to stay on top of the body's needs. The nutrients my son gets from my milk come from somewhere; until very recently, they had been coming from my own body. And if I cannot hear my body's needs, I should listen to my chiropractor. She seems more on top of it than I am!