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Breastfeeding With Asthma

By Roberta Barreda
Lincoln NE USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 5, September-October 2000, p. 165

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time

I have four children, Carlos, 8, Jose, 6, Luis, 18 months, and Mateo, 4 months. The three oldest and myself have asthma. Breastfeeding has been an important part of our lives. I am still nursing the two youngest children. Because of my children's and my own problems with asthma, we are often sick and end up in the doctor's office and even in the hospital emergency room.

I believe that it was my breastfeeding experience, and the way I parented Carlos as a baby that made me able to tell when he was getting sick. I knew when he started to get in a cranky mood and slept even less than usual that he was probably starting to get sick. He would get colds very easily and the colds would turn into asthma.

Yet, when his asthma was diagnosed, I was angry for a long time. I kept thinking that I had done all the things I was supposed to - breastfeeding, waiting until seven months to start solids, and nursing at night while Carlos slept with me. I stayed home, so he was not exposed to illnesses in a day care setting. I thought that since I was nursing, he would not get sick. After all, isn't that a basic advantage to breastfeeding?

It took me a long time to change my point of view and realize that things would be worse if I was not nursing. Breastfeeding in itself was not a guarantee that my children would not develop something like asthma. After all, they have a family history of asthma through me, and I have had some bad attacks.

I nursed Carlos until he was 15 months old, when I was pregnant with Jose. Jose nursed until almost four years old. Luis is still nursing, and of course, so is Mateo. I have spent weeks in the hospital with Carlos and Jose. I have nursed over a railing while Jose was in an oxygen tent. Luis had an attack when Mateo was born, and I nursed both. We have nursed through many emergency room visits. With each boy, the signs of illness are different, but with each one, I feel that I can tell when he is starting to get sick before he shows physical symptoms. I feel that I am closer to and in tune with my children because of breastfeeding.

There are certainly many hard times. I get very tired and we have weeks of illness. During those weeks, the things that help keep me sane are lying in bed or on the couch to nurse the babies. Since we are physically close, I can touch, hear, and feel them to see if they are having breathing troubles. Knowing this helps me to relax enough to get more sleep while I keep them close to me. Getting Luis to take medication, some of which really tastes awful, is difficult, but after he gets it, he can breastfeed. I have learned from La Leche League about dialoguing with doctors about the medications and treatments. Dealing this much with doctors in itself can be difficult. It is very important to find a doctor that you can talk to!

I go with the flow as much as I can - parenting small children has taught me that! If I fall asleep at 8:00 nursing the baby, it is okay. Not getting enough sleep can be hard. NIGHTTIME PARENTING by William Sears helped me to see that the boys are not staying awake on purpose. They are sleeping according to their needs, and those needs change with illness. I am glad to have breastfeeding to help comfort and heal them.

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