I usually love breastfeeding. I love how my 16-month-old son mewls and jumps into my lap when he wants to suckle and be comforted. When he breastfeeds, I feel important and needed and like I’m his favorite person in the world. Breastfeeding is something only I can do for him as his mom — it’s our special bond.
If I’m being honest though, there are times when breastfeeding feels more like a chore than a blessing. I felt that way this week for the first time in ages, when I got sick for the first time since my son was born. I didn't know this at the time, but if you think breastfeeding can be tough, try breastfeeding when you're sick.
We recently moved from the United States to Singapore, and we had to go through a lot of changes because of it. I went through a lot of stress trying to get everything done for the move and all the other things first-time moms worry about. I also had to make sure my son, who had open-heart surgery shortly after his birth, would receive adequate care.
When we got to Singapore and my husband transitioned from working at home to going back to an office full-time, I suddenly found myself with a lengthy to-do list. I unpacked all our things, built furniture, and made sure we had food in the house on top of caring for a child and dog. Taking that, the jet lag, and the sudden climate change into account, I knew it was only a matter of time before one of my family members got sick. I happened to be the first casualty.
The second my digital thermometer turned red and alerted me of my fever, I did a quick Google search to find out if it was OK for me to breastfeed. I learned that breastfeeding while sick is not uncommon; in fact, it’s considered a good thing, because you effectively transmit any antibodies your body produces to combat your illness onto your child. But knowing that didn't make it any easier to actually do it.
Instead of relishing the experience of one-of-one time with my baby, I found myself literally counting the seconds that I spent nursing him from each breast.
I usually love breastfeeding, but it’s hard to see the benefits of providing your offspring with nourishment and relief when you’re crippled with a throbbing headache and muscles that feel like lead. Instead of relishing the experience of one-of-one time with my baby, I found myself literally counting the seconds that I spent nursing him from each breast. "Five minutes per boob counts as good effort considering the circumstances, right?," I'd wonder.
Some might say I was being selfish, and they would be right. I was sick for the first time in a long time, and I felt like sh*t.
As if getting a fever wasn’t bad enough, I also suffered some sort of allergic reaction the same week. What I initially thought were normal mosquito bites were actually red, itchy hives all over my limbs and torso. When applying vast amounts of hydrocortisone on the spots didn’t work, I went to the doctor, who said she could give me a strong topical ointment for the itch and an antihistamine. Then she asked the dreaded question: “Are you currently breastfeeding?”
I already knew that I wanted to continue breastfeeding, even if that meant sacrificing my own comfort and relief; I wanted the chance to give my son everything he needs and wants from his mom.
I knew why the doctor asked me that question: strong antihistamines can be transmitted via breast milk, which can induce a sedative effect in babies. It would also probably have made my milk supply weaker, and because I had just gotten my first postpartum period, it was already meager as is.
The choice was obvious. I already knew that I wanted to continue breastfeeding, even if that meant sacrificing my own comfort and relief; I wanted the chance to give my son everything he needs and wants from his mom. The doctor made me continue with the hydrocortisone and gave me a low-dose antihistamine instead of a higher one. She told me that it may or may not work, but if I wanted to continue nursing safely, it was my only option.
I am very lucky that my son took to drinking formula quickly and without hassle – supplementing has provided me with so much comfort while I was trying to recover from my fever. But after I recovered, it was my baby’s turn to get sick, this time because he was teething. He'd cry into the night until I picked him up to breastfeed. When my boobs became deflated, I tried to switch to a bottle, which he vehemently refused; he kept crying until I put my sore nipple back into his mouth. He showed so much discomfort that my husband and I decided to temporarily transfer his crib into our room, so he wouldn't have to strain his voice crying out when he needs me. As a result, we’ve all had sleepless nights, and I’ve had to breastfeed more than ever.
As a mom, I will undoubtedly go through more challenges that will make me rethink my decision to keep nursing, and they will be much harder to beat than a common cold or fever. However, at the end of the day, one thought keeps me going: everything I do is for my son.
Breastfeeding – and continuing to do so for a long time – takes serious commitment. As a mom, I will undoubtedly go through more challenges that will make me rethink my decision to keep nursing, and they will be much harder to beat than a common cold or fever. However, at the end of the day, one thought keeps me going: everything I do is for my son. It’s all for him. Those four simple words are powerful enough to make me weather whatever comes my way and make me love breastfeeding.