Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Liesl Marelli, Florida, USA
Photos: Girona Consulting
Last week my older daughter got sick. Sofia, who had just celebrated her third birthday, had a fever, runny nose, and a cough and was miserable. Sofia weaned at 27 months so she wouldn’t take my breast, even though I offered. She neither knew how to latch any more nor did she want to. At one point she put her mouth on my breast and looked at me as if to say, “Okay, my mouth is here. Where’s the milk?” I pumped her my milk. Pumping for my little sick Sofia was a labor of love.
Soon she began requesting my milk. Sometimes she’d grab the pump, put it on her chest and tell me how to use it. It was adorable! I’d let her participate by having her help hold the pump on my breast and adjusting the pump setting. Isn’t everything a learning experience?
Meanwhile, I nursed Chella, our seven-week-old daughter, on cue and hoped she wouldn’t get sick. One day I noticed my milk production ramp up dramatically. It was as if my body was saying, “Pump for Sofi and nurse Chella every chance you get. More! More! More!” But my breast milk couldn’t fully protect her and we ended up in the hospital.
Sickness and breastfeeding
In the Emergency Room, I fed Chella whenever someone new came by to poke and prod her. She was visibly distressed by what the nurses were doing, by the bright florescent lights, the strange smells, and noises. I used my body and my breasts to offer her as much comfort and love as possible. She tested positive to a respiratory virus and we were admitted to the pediatric wing for a few very long days and nights.
I prefer to practice health care in lieu of sick care in my family, which is one of the reasons breastfeeding is a top priority and why we chose out-of-hospital births for our girls. I don’t jump to take medication and I think that lifestyle and food choices play a role in staying healthy. But there was no denying that medicine would play a large role in Chella’s treatment. When we checked into the pediatric wing, I told the nurses we were breastfeeding only and no supplementation was allowed.
I struggled answering questions with the rotation of nurses about how much Chella nursed. Prior to her getting sick, I didn’t pump, rather I fed her from my breast on demand. I knew she was nursing enough because she gained weight beautifully (she’s turning into quite an adorable baby chunk!) and has a sufficient number of wet and poopy diapers. When she’s done nursing, she gives me signs that she’s full, happy, and completely satisfied. That’s how I know she eats enough. How much does she eat? No clue. How long does she nurse for? I don’t know. Usually she empties one breast when she eats. I don’t watch the clock while nursing. She has a great latch and appetite. I just let her eat when she determines it’s time and let her stop when she’s satisfied. I couldn’t seem to communicate why I was satisfied with not knowing how much she typically ate and for how long she typically ate. Trying to explain the value of breastfeeding on demand and why I didn’t know the amount she ate was frustrating. My daughter’s sickness and simply being in the hospital were stressful enough without the questions.
Helpless, fatigued, sad and concerned: I felt so many things as I watched my little girl suffer. The virus caused her to have trouble breathing from an excessive amount of phlegm. This made breastfeeding nearly impossible at times. Her illness also affected her appetite. My breasts were leaking because they were so full and she couldn’t empty them. I wanted her to nurse and nurse and nurse but it wasn’t possible.
And so when she was super congested, I pumped and my husband and I used a syringe with a small tube to feed her, to keep her hydrated, and to give her the antibodies my milk could offer, even in small quantities. She was also on an IV drip to keep her hydrated so I felt good adding my nutrients to her hydration routine. All of the excess milk I pumped went to Sofia, who was no longer sick but still had quite a cough.
I put Chella to my breast to get her to communicate with my milk supply. I don’t know the science behind it, but I know that her saliva tells my body what kind of milk she needs. I love that our bodies talk to each other on a biological level. It’s one of those magic things about motherhood. Chella could only latch for a moment before breaking away to breathe with less obstruction but she remained on my chest, close to my heart.
I assume my milk helped. Chella never did get a fever and her symptoms, while bad, could have been much worse. We stayed in the hospital for a few days of monitoring and for help suctioning the mucous. The crib in her room was practically unused. Sofia would lie down in this crib when she came to visit. I held Chella in my arms, rested her on my chest, and kept her near me day and night. My husband would swap with me and hold her so I could sleep a bit. He also fed her drops of my pumped milk while I slept.
Our parents were happy that I was breastfeeding Chella. Our families agreed that she’d fare better with breast milk while she was sick. Their support felt good to have.
Just last night we were released from the hospital. It feels great to be back home! Chella’s not back to full health just yet, but we are on a steady road to recovery. I’m grateful both of my children benefited (and continue to benefit) from my breast milk. I know that medicine saves lives and plays a vital role in health care but I feel grateful to have my own little medicine factory in my breasts. I truly believe my milk helped my daughters fight the illness more effectively.
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