At 1.40am this morning my dreams were punctured by the sound of ear-splitting screams coming from the floor next to my bed. I leaned over, my mind a fug, not sure exactly what was going on, and in my zombie-like state I picked up Piglet, who had rolled out of bed.
Rolled out of bed.
I know, I am a terrible mother. This is what happens when you don’t follow the NHS safe sleeping guidelines, and you instead resolutely insist on co-sleeping with your breastfeeding toddler for your own selfish comfort and ease of slumber. And the worst thing is, after the baby has rolled off the side of the bed and landed on a cold, hard bedroom floor in the middle of the night a few times, you don’t even notice it anymore, you just roll over, pick them up and plonk them on the boob to remind them that you are still there and this time, you will be the one to sleep on the outside of the bed.
This was exactly what I did. After a minute or so, Piglet disconnected from the boob, as is his custom, and promptly started being violently sick, which is not. It must have been a bad fall, I thought through the sleep-deprived haze. It’s the shock. I cleaned us both up, and paid the matter no further attention until the morning.
The morning arrived, and Piglet was not happy. Again, this is nothing new. I would be more surprised if he enjoyed his mother and her ever-comforting bosoms getting up at 6am and leaving him for twelve hours, sneakily substituting Granny in the bed in her place. He got up, was promptly sick again, and this time there was an adjoining emission from the lower part of the digestive system to boot. There was now no question about it, no it’s the shock of falling out of bed. Piglet had caught YET ANOTHER STOMACH BUG.
It seems as though this has been approximately-without exaggeration-a fortnightly occurrence since Piglet started nursery. That first year of his life, the year he was either at home with me or, later, with a childminder and just a handful of other children at most, he got sick approximately never. There were colds, there were coughs, there was the Really Bad Cold he got at Christmas that had my mother, in her panic, threatening to call the doctor out on Christmas Day for a child that was merely a little hoarse, but there was no diarrhoea, and certainly no vomiting.
Aha, I assumed, it is I with my magical breastfeeding antibodies. I am protecting my child from the onslaught of germs that the world wishes to throw at his intestines. I am responsible for baby gut flora so impenetrable that all the plagues of childhood cannot touch him.
Well reader, I have learned not to be so foolhardy now, not to trust blindly in the wonders of breastfeeding and proclaim it to have preternatural powers of immunity, for the minute Piglet started nursery, all this changed forever.
It seems as though he is constantly picking up bugs, bugs that knock his gut flora out of kilter, and leave him screaming and shouting and pointing at the potty he has just vomited in with something between terror and anger.
“I thought breastfed babies were supposed to get LESS ill!” my mother will cry in despair, as though contrary to popular scientific opinion after a child turns one its mother’s breastmilk ceases to be of any nutritional benefit and instead turns into a toxin that weakens the immune system every few weeks and lets in any tiny, diarrhoea-causing Tom, Dick or Harry.
For a working mother such as myself, these frequent infections pose a problem not seen before in my working life: having to take time off even when not actually ill, in order to look after a dependant who is, all the while praying you won’t be next.
Sometimes I am next. Since having a baby, I have been ill more frequently than at any other time in my life, thanks to an immunity-destroying combination of no sleep, breastfeeding, eating chocolate because I’m breastfeeding and therefore BRAP, I can eat what I want *performs Maury “you are not the father” style dance*, working long hours and no sleep again. Repeat until exhaustion sets in and the microscopic terrors start burrowing into my small intestine and replicating at a high rate of knots.
So what is a mother to do? Prevent a child from having any contact with his peers for fear of picking up another particularly virulent strain of Generic Sickness and Diarrhoea Disease? Give up work? Accept that breastfeeding might not be a surefire route to one hundred per cent health at all times?
No, looks like I’ll just have to grin and bear it, and hope that all the constant use is developing a robust immune system for the challenging school years to come. For both of us.