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5 Tips for Breastfeeding Through Illness

Updated: Nov 1, 2023


My baby boy was born in May 2019, 9 months before the onset of the global pandemic. In fact, I returned to work just a month before the world went into lockdown. In all honesty, for us lockdown couldn't have come at a better time - I was beyond exhausted trying to juggle a full-time job & breastfeeding on demand on little sleep. Lockdown gave us a chance to reset as a family. That was until we got Covid. We developed aches, pains, crippling headaches, a cough and perhaps the scatriest symptom: near-constant breathlessness. Although there was no widespread testing happening at the time, we knew the deal.


To say that it was the toughest fortnight of our lives is no exaggeration. Fortunately, our son was barely affected beyond a few sniffles. On the contrary, his dad & I were on our knees - quite literally - at times. With no appetite, no energy & a 9 month old to care for, we survived by staying hydrated, taking turns to care for our boy & sleeping in shifts. Our symptoms seemed to ebb and flow in intensity, so the shifts would vary depending on who felt the worst at any given time. Often, we both felt awful, but tagging one another in every few hours was the only way to get through the dreaded 'Rona in the absence of access to any friends or extended family.

Fast forward eighteen months when my fiancé and I both developed crippling headaches days after my sisters had tested postpartum for the ‘Rona and we exchanged terrified glances. This time though we were able to confirm our suspicions with lateral flow tests. Something about knowing for certain what it was gave us both permission to hunker down and come up with a plan of action for survival. Here are my top five tips for breastfeeding through illness:


Help!

1. Unlike the first time that we contracted Covid, this time around my mom and sisters happened to be staying with us temporarily. Unfortunately, that meant that the whole household got ill, but it also meant that there were more hands on deck to look after our boisterous toddler. We took turns, all five adults, being the ones who rested, cooked, napped and entertained our boy. It wasn’t easy, but it was a damn sight easier than trying to cope alone. I appreciate that not everyone is lucky enough to live with their extended family, even temporarily, but if you are able to get help from outside of your home, do. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You deserve it and so does your little one. Give yourself permanent to ask for home-cooked foods to help you heal, fresh fruit and vegetables and perhaps even laundry collections. Every. Little. Helps.


Nursing


2. If you are the nursing parent, you may find that your usual ramped up breastfeeding appetite wanes whilst you are ill. This is no reason to feel alarmed or worried about your milk supply: as long as you prioritize sensible hydration and rest, your supply is unlikely to be affected by a few days of consuming less calories. In the meantime, keep taking your breastfeeding multi-vitamins and focus on eating small amounts of fruit and vegetables as often as possible. Stay topped up with paracetamol too: it is completely safe for you to take as a nursing mama (3).


Take it Lying Down

3. Master the art of breastfeeding lying down and do it all the time. If you have not already done this, the time is now, particularly if you are experiencing painful muscle spasms, aches and pains. You know, the type that stops you from getting comfortable sitting upright with even a dozen pillows? Nursing lying down allows you to rest and nurture your child without the need to move a muscle. Be sure to follow the Safe Seven guidelines for sleep whenever you nurse lying down, just in case you fall asleep in your sickly state. They are as follows:


THE SAFE SLEEP SEVEN BEDSHARING SONG


(to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) No smoke, sober mom Baby at your breast Healthy baby on his back Keep him lightly dressed. Not too soft a bed Watch the cords and gaps Keep the covers off his head For your nights and naps. (2)

Be Strategic


4. Use screen time strategically. You may typically feel pangs of guilt for plopping your little one in front of a TV or iPad whilst you do anything that doesn’t involve them clinging to your bosom. However, whilst you are unwell, the simple fact of the matter is that you need to rest in order to recover. Even if you don’t feel especially unwell, you may prolong your symptoms if you do not make opportunities to rest. No, no-one wants to watch Cocomelon 24/7, but in a world where you may not have access to babysitters, the TV will do, temporarily.


Less is More


5. Be kind to yourself and honest with those around you. Do not rush to get back to your normal levels of activity at the first hint of recovery. In my experience, recovering (from Covid specifically) comes in peaks and troughs, slowly and over time. Rushing back to roughhousing with your toddler is unlikely to serve you as you do so. Relinquish yourself of any guilt in the knowledge that this period shall pass and once it does, your little one will have seen for themselves how important it is to take care of yourself when you are ill.


If at any point you feel like your symptoms are deteriorating and you are unable to care for your babe, do not hesitate to seek medical advice and support. Hopefully, with as much rest as possible you will be back on your feet with a new found appreciation for getting outdoors and simply listening to the birds with your babe. Until then, get well soon.


My debut book, ‘Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition (50 Practical, Evidence-Based Tips for Nursing Moms) is available here, now www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com/book


With love,

Danielle





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