If there’s one thing I dislike about growing up the daughter of a world-renowned pathologist and public health expert, it’s not being taken seriously by my own doctors when I try to save them some work with the differential diagnosis when I show up sick in their offices. I know my symptoms, I’ve done the research, I’ve paid attention over the years, I know my body, heck, I even own a copy of the DSM-IV. I don’t take medical care lightly when I am breastfeeding.
Once, I presented with what I knew to be a secondary, bacterial infection. I was still breastfeeding one of my three children, two of whom were in the examination room with me. After a cursory examination, the doctor was just about to write a prescription for an antibiotic when he looked up and asked if I was by any chance nursing.
“Technically, yes.” I said. “But not much. I can have Amoxicillin, Keflex, or Augmentin.”
He looked at me skeptically and began to thumb through his little reference booklet.
“My OBGYN has prescribed all of those for me before, even while pregnant, so I am sure they would be fine this time.” I could tell he didn’t believe that I was capable of that kind of deduction.
“Um, how often do you nurse?”
“Well, what do they eat during the day?”
I looked down at my 2-year-old daughter and 3-1/2-year-old son and wondered what he was thinking. “Um, well, they are all old enough to eat anything they want. It’s just a psychological tether and a bonding thing. And it’s just the youngest.”
“Oh, so you aren’t nursing them all?”
“OK, I had to ask. We just had someone in here that nursed hers until they were 6.”
All of this got me thinking. Aside from a 3-month break in 1997, during which time I was actively trying to conceive after a loss, I have been either pregnant or nursing pretty much continuously since December, 1996. Holy little green tomatoes.
Most of my friends’ babies weaned themselves before 12 months, but I seem to be putting out either chocolate milk or crack cocaine, because my kids fight me tooth and nail for extended nursing rights.
To be fair, after my middle child suffered major heart damage with viral myocarditis as a newborn, my pediatrician encouraged us to go as long as we could both stand it to boost his immune system. All it took was for him to mention that it would only take one good, strong cold or flu to kill our son in the first year and I was right there with the program, fully and completely over whatever pressure I was feeling from those who looked askance at family beds, attachment parenting, and extended breastfeeding. They weren’t the ones wearing my breasts, I was, and mine was the only opinion that mattered in the end.
Brief aside: I’m not kidding about the whole family bed thing. If I have to line up syringes on my nightstand for round-the-clock administration to a newborn, I am not walking down the hall to get the baby. Period. I want that little sucker right where I can hear him breathing.
For six months, I carried a clipboard charting out the various medications, dosages, and schedules; believe me, when you are already sleep deprived and suffering from postpartum depression, you do NOT want to confuse the blood pressure medication with the morphine with the steroids with the stuff that makes his heart beat strongly enough to keep him alive.
It seems to be true, though, that some children will want to go on longer than the most devoted attachment parenting devotees, and I actually found myself with tandem nurslings after I fell pregnant again when my second was just 9 months old. Yes, I just said that. Tandem. Nurslings.
Does this sound familiar to anyone else? What’s your experience with illness and breastfeeding? Has an unexpected event or illness changed how you viewed whether to breastfeed or for how long?