Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
Having breastfed my two daughters now for more than four years combined, I can say without hesitation that the benefit that is the hardest for me to give up is the ability to nurse through illness or injury. I certainly don't mean to disparage the myriad of other nutritional, developmental and emotional benefits of breastfeeding. But long after the bonding days of infancy are gone, and more of their daily nutrition comes from the table than from the breast, the ability to calm and comfort a hurt or feverish toddler in this unmatched way remains. I found this to be so important that I am inspired to dedicate an entire article to discussion to a breastfeeding benefit that, when it makes the list of "reasons to breastfeed" at all, doesn't usually get very much attention.
Having nursed my first daughter for 18 months before she essentially self-weaned, I remember the feeling of absolute helplessness I felt the first time she became sick after she was no longer breastfeeding. Bringing her to the breast to counteract the misery had become such a kneejerk reaction that I found myself casting around for what to do. At only 1 ½ years old, she still had pretty limited grasp of the concept of "this too shall pass," and while arms and kisses and cuddles were certainly wonderful replacements, both of us seemed to know something was missing.
What brought this subject to the forefront for me was a couple nights ago when my nearly 3 year old daughter fell out of her bed. She has a bolster, but somehow managed to climb over it and then fall off, banging her head. We woke to the sickening thump and ran into her room to find a screaming toddler already with a grape-sized lump on the back of her head. In trying to assess how hurt she was, it was necessary to calm her down enough to tell her if anything else hurt, as well as if she was alert and coherent.
The first words she was able to force out between wails were "I – waaant – Mammmaaaa – Miiiillllkkk!" It took her a minute or so to be able to calm enough to latch on, but nursing was definitely the magic bullet. I have no doubt that I would have been able to calm her down eventually without it, but I could not have been more grateful at that moment that she hadn't weaned (even if I have the alternate thought at many, many other moments).
In thinking about how long I wanted to nurse my second baby, I knew that I would go at least a year, but hoped we'd make it to two this time. Actually, what I usually said was that if she was leaning the same way, I'd plan to go through cold and flu season after her second birthday. Well, when we hit springtime she showed no signs of stopping. At this age, it would be easy enough to nudge her over the line – to substitute other comfort or drink, or even to take advantage of an upcoming two night trip to not return to the breast. I've certainly done my share with nursing.
But going into an unknown flu season, with fears abounding and not knowing whether or not they are grounded in reality, I must say that I'm not eager to stop. Knowing that if the flu hits I can offer whatever increased immunity I have (even to my older daughter through expressing milk if that seems warranted), all the while putting a feverish, achy daughter to breast rather than just watch her suffer is, to me, more appealing than the freedom of weaning.
These aren't specifically nursing-related, but I wanted to share the two things I can't live without when my daughters get fevers:
1) Temporal artery thermometer - You still need to have a rectal thermometer around if things get dicey, but I've found this to be quite accurate and easy to use, even when they are sleeping.
2) Be Koool Strips – These non-medicinal gel strips help disperse high fevers. I don't understand all the science, but they do help bring a high fever down fast and ease the headache of high temps (adult sheets are a better deal in my opinion, because they cost roughly the same, but can be cut in halves or even quarters for small children).
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