From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 9, July-August, p. 132
By the time my fourth child was born, I had taken nursing my children for granted. Not that I didn't enjoy nursing. I loved seeing Avery's head nestled against my breast, her gentle sucking lulling her, and sometimes me, to sleep, and having her older sisters and brother snuggle up against us while we all enjoyed our nursing sessions. While I knew my body was producing milk for her, I never stopped to think about it. I didn't really comprehend that my daughter was thriving on milk that only I could give her. I never fully understood until she got sick.
When Avery was six months old, my grandmother contracted pneumonia and passed away. While I knew my grandmother was elderly, I was still in shock, and I walked about in a daze for a few days. Thus, I didn't notice Avery's coughing and sleepiness. I figured it was a cold or perhaps teething. I reassured myself that Avery was still nursing regularly, and had no signs of dehydration.
Then, not even a week after my grandmother had passed away, Avery was up almost all night coughing, her little body struggling for breath during horrific coughing spells, her temperature soaring to 102 degrees. I turned the cool mist vaporizer on and laid her in the crib with her mattress raised. I did everything that I had learned with my older three children, but I never remembered any of them being so sick. Still, Avery nursed regularly and frequently, even better than ever.
The next morning, when Avery showed no signs of improvement and seemed to be getting worse, I took her to our family doctor. I still expected to be told she just had a very bad cold, or perhaps bronchitis, but nothing prepared me for what the doctor said. "Pneumonia. She needs to be admitted to the hospital immediately. She's not getting enough oxygen and could become critical if we wait any longer."
My mind reeled. All I could think of was the word "pneumonia," and my grandmother's passing. Never had any of my children needed to be admitted to the hospital before. I found myself, an experienced mother of four, in new territory. I became terrified, and as I rushed Avery to the hospital, I wondered if I would ever bring her home again.
When we arrived at the hospital, we were immediately taken to the pediatrics unit, where doctors began to poke and prod her. She was so listless, just lying in my arms while they took blood. Her only reaction was turning her head to nuzzle my breast for much needed comfort. After they took chest x-rays, where they had to hold her absolutely motionless, again she turned her head to my breast. Each time, I was most willing to comfort her the way nature had intended. The doctors who came streaming in and out asked question after question. They were all amazed that I was still breastfeeding at six months. I was amazed that they were amazed! When they asked if Avery was still nursing regularly while sick, I was able to confidently reply that she was nursing better than ever, sometimes for the sheer comfort of it. Because of that, she didn't need an IV for fluids. My milk was enough for her, and I was glad to be able to spare her that one thing.
They set up a croup tent for her, and when they explained that Avery would have to be kept inside all the time, only to be taken out to feed her, I cried, just wanting to hold her close and never let her go. Avery seemed to worsen by the second, her whole chest now heaving with every breath she took, sleeping almost constantly, exhausted by just trying to breathe. But almost every hour and a half, she stirred, looking for me, wanting and needing the comfort of nursing before falling gently back asleep.
Throughout the day and night, I was so grateful to be able to nurse her for what seemed all too briefly before placing her back in the croup tent. Those precious moments were what kept me sane. They helped me realize that I was taking an active part in her recovery process.
The next morning, Avery had a complete turnaround. The doctors called it almost miraculous, explaining how worried they had been the day before. That afternoon, she was allowed out of the croup tent. I held her close, smelling her sweet baby smell now mixed with antiseptic, and was so grateful for this precious life I held.
That night, Avery and I slept together on the cot they had set up for me. She nursed on and off, my body providing her with what she needed to get well and strong. I stroked her head, kissed her fingers, and reveled in holding her against me.
We went home the following day, along with a bag full of medicine and a mile long list of instructions. And now, a few weeks later, looking down at a happy and healthy Avery who is contentedly nursing and finally off all medications, I no longer take nursing for granted. I now know that it's not just a feeding tool, it's comfort for both mother and child. Breastfeeding can help make a child well, and it can keep a mother's sanity when the world seems to be falling to pieces.