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One Military Mom's Incredible Battle With Breastfeeding

Many moms feel strongly about breastfeeding their babies. But breastfeeding isn't always easy, as any mom who has dealt with latch issues, mastitis, low milk supply or painful feedings knows. Sometimes the decision about feeding isn't made by choice. Just ask Trillitye Paullin, whose newborn baby was diagnosed with severe allergies.

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Paullin isn't your average mother of a newborn. When she was just 17 years old, she joined the Army National Guard. She graduated from high school shortly after she enlisted. Today—after 10 years of serving her country, including a year-long deployment to Iraq—she is a doctoral candidate completing her PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of South Florida as a Tillman Scholar. The Pat Tillman Foundation invests in military veterans and their spouses through academic scholarships. Scholars are selected for their extraordinary academic and leadership potential, their true sense of vocation and a deep commitment to create positive change in their chosen field.

As if being in graduate school, doing cancer research, teaching undergraduate courses, serving in the National Guard, and being a wife wasn't quite enough, Paullin and her husband decided to start a family and welcomed their daughter in March 2015.

She quickly learned to be creative, which led to pumping in bathrooms, offices, barracks and Humvees. It took a lot of determination, but she made it work.

They both hoped she could breastfeed their daughter, but unfortunately it was difficult from the very start due to a shallow latch. Paullin dealt with bleeding nipples and pain every time she fed her baby. Because feedings weren't going well, she worried about her baby getting enough milk and wondered if it would ever get easier. In time, and with the help of friends and family, it did get better. But unfortunately there was a new problem lurking around the corner.

After a difficult night of nonstop screaming, Paullin's baby woke with a horrible rash—and her diaper was full of blood. She was admitted to the hospital, where doctors determined she has severe allergies. The only option was to put her on a formula called Elecare. Paullin was upset over the fact that she could no longer breastfeed her baby. But then she wondered—if they can make allergen-free formula, can I make breastmilk that is allergen-free? It would be difficult, but Paullin was determined. She removed dairy, soy, eggs, corn, wheat, nuts and oats from her diet.

Staying allergen-free and continuing to breastfeed didn't come without hurdles. When her daughter was only 4 months old, Paullin would attend the two-week National Guard mandatory Annual Training. She started pumping and stocked away two weeks' worth of frozen breastmilk, which is over 500 ounces. Her husband vacuum-packed grilled chicken, salmon and steak that she loaded into a giant cooler with coconut milk, rice and sweet potatoes. Her daughter had her stash, Paullin had hers.

Once she was in training, she continued pumping to keep up her supply and replace the milk her daughter would drink while she was away. She took her pump everywhere and pumped every three hours, no matter where she was. She quickly learned to be creative, which led to pumping in bathrooms, offices, barracks and Humvees. It took a lot of determination, but she made it work.

Being a mother, wife, scientist and soldier are all separate yet essential pieces of who I am. Each day I work hard to find a balance ... that will carry over to my daughter and empower her.

"There are so many things that can stand in the way of a mother's breastfeeding goals," Paullin shared in an interview with mom.me. "Several mothers have contacted me about their breastfeeding journey. Many of them are inspired by my story and want to talk through their current issues and concerns."

She said she enjoys speaking to each of them and being the extra support that they may need. "Being told that my story is what motivated them to push through the hard times is remarkable."

Clearly, Paullin's career is unique, and she is so incredibly passionate about it. How does she make it all work?

"Every family is unique, and making the decision to pursue a career while raising children is not easy. I want my daughter to see her mother working hard at what she loves," she says. "I hope it will teach her how to be truly passionate in life. Being a mother, wife, scientist and soldier are all separate yet essential pieces of who I am. Each day I work hard to find a balance between these identities and I believe that will carry over to my daughter and empower her," she said.

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Her best piece of advice to new moms?

"The only right answer is love," Paullin says. "Each mother raises their children differently, and none of them are doing it any better or worse than you are."

Photographs by Trillitye Paullin/Peter Paullin (PMP Photography)

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