Overcoming Covid! Interview with a hospitalised breastfeeding mother

I am at my desk doing a video call with Chloe. Some months ago she battled with Covid and this is her story.

Katinka: Hallo Chloe, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Chloe: Hi. I am 34 years old, married and I have two girls, Zoe 6 years and Zahlia 18 months. I am a working mother and have been breastfeeding since birth. My daughter Zahlia has a formula allergy so I have also been pumping for her at work.

Katinka: How was breastfeeding looking like at the time you got infected?

Chloe: Before I got sick I was breastfeeding Zahlia about 2-3 times a day and throughout the night. She was 14 months old at the time.

Katinka: How did you first notice that you may have Covid? What were your feelings at the time?

Chloe: I was initially just feeling a little unwell, not very seriously. The Covid test at the time came back negative. I even went ahead and got the vaccination. After about 2 weeks I got this tickle in my throat and a few days later I developed a fever and became short of breath. But I recovered from it. 

In August we were planning a family holiday and all got tested in order to travel. That is when my test came back positive for Covid. I had no symptoms at the time and my husband even tested negative.

Then my oxygen levels started to deteriorate and I got much worse. When I developed a fever I consulted with the virtual doctor, an ambulance had to be called and I was admitted to the hospital.

Katinka: When you first got sick, did you take any measures for your baby not to get infected?

Chloe: I isolated myself in the family. I was using gloves and masks and minimised contact with my baby except for the time we spent breastfeeding. She slept with our helper and was brought to be for feeding. She did to catch the virus.

Katinka: When you were admitted into hospital, how were you supported to continue pumping? What was the hardest for you?

Chloe: I took my pump with me to the hospital and found the doctors and nurses to be very supportive of my pumping. They would help me by cleaning the pump parts for me, and remind me when pumping time came.

At first I was too weak to pump, but as soon as I could I started again and although my breastmilk supply dropped I continued to have milk. Due to the medicines that I was taking I had to dump the pumped milk.

I spent 9 days on Oxygen in the hospital and was mot able to pump a big amount, but I did not stop.

“When I was in hospital I would get only 30ml from both breasts expressing which I had to dump.”

The hardest part for me was to be away from my family, I was not allowed to receive any visitors at all and felt very isolated. However, somehow, I knew I was going to get better.

Katinka: Tell us a bit about being reunited with your daughter, how did breastfeeding go?

Chloe: Before I got discharged home I consulted my Doctor about what protective measures I should take when I get home. The Doctor assured me that I was no longer infectious and that no masks were necessary. I felt very nervous about how I would relate to Zahlia. My older daughter would be able to understand, but Zahlia was still small. I was afraid she may have forgotten me and forgotten how to breastfeed, I thought she may have weaned during my absence. I was feeling very scared and worried.

“I’m about to go back home to continue breastfeeding my beautiful 14 month old little girl. How should I go about approaching this, do I get there and just offer her the boob or should I try to reestablish trust because I’m sure she’s been wondering where I was? Do I need to offer the breast or let her come to me? I don’t want to wean her yet and I’m scared she may have weaned while I was away.”

I was determined to rebuild trust. I arrived late at night from the hospital and the following morning when Zahlia saw me, I offered the breast but she had forgotten. We played and cuddled and spent a lot of time in skin-to-skin contact. After 2 or 3 days it became normal that I was back home, she was breastfeeding in her usual way once again.

“She’s looking for her kaka all by herself once again. I feel like she’s healing ME (from the strain of being apart) just by nursing. I’m blessed.”

Katinka: Throughout your battle against Covid, who were the most important support people that helped you get through it?

Chloe: My husband was my rock, right from the beginning of my Covid infection, he took care of all the running around, talking to me all the time, making sure I did not get lonely. When I could not speak he would make sure that I got voice messages so that I could hear him and my family. Church was a great support for me as well. My medical team was excellent, my doctors and the nurses caring for me were so supportive.

Katinka: After your experience what would be your advice for a mother who may be freshly diagnosed with Covid and may feel very scared by it? 

Chloe:  Your mindset is the most important when you get Covid. You need a positive mindset. Even when you get admitted into hospital you have to tell yourself that you will get better. It can be scary but you have to believe in your power to get better and ask for help when you need it.

“Hey mummy, don’t panic. It’s going to be okay.”

Making contingency plans was also important for me, knowing who would take care of the children in my absence gave me peace of mind.

In terms of breastfeeding I would advise mothers to continue breastfeeding their babies no matter what. Breastfeeding builds those antibodies and makes the baby strong, they may sneeze a little bit but not get seriously ill. Your baby’s immune system is very strong.

“My body seems to be producing more milk now that it’s the actual baby I’m feeding (the scent and warmth and bond, it makes a difference mentally I think).”

Katinka: Thank you so much for being an inspiration to us and sharing your positive story.

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