Eight-months-old to the day and my baby girl stopped nursing. Not a peaceful stop, an all of a sudden, scream-hysterically-near-my-breasts kind of a stop. Is this it? Was she suddenly weaning herself? Was this a nursing strike? Talk about emotional with a capital E. Giving my baby breast milk was important to me. We worked so hard on our breastfeeding relationship.
While weaning technically begins with the very first bite of solid food and is a gradual process, a sudden stop usually means a nursing strike. Most strikes last between 2-4 days. Strike theories abound: teething, change in routine, distracted or stressed Mom, ear infection, thrush, Mom’s reaction to a bite, change in the taste of Mom’s milk, a new deodorant, soap, perfume or lotion or my favourite, for no reason at all. Sadly, the cause is often only revealed in hindsight and I can now see my daughter was having a rough time.
My mind was everywhere. Worry. How will I feed her? Guilt. What did I do? Rejection. She doesn’t need me. I panicked. She’s going to starve. I pumped and fed her a bottle. Wrong, apparently if I want her to nurse again. My Internet hunt for advice revealed vague, vague recommendations including this helpful tip: It was “time to reaffirm my commitment to breastfeeding.” Ummmm, I have always been committed. Should I walk in a circle, Shaman-like, casting boob-feeding spells over my daughter? Reaffirm my commitment? What the heck does that mean?
Thank goodness for the La Leche League website which offered some calming and rational advice, namely to relax and refocus. Mama, forget about all the boxes that need packing and take time to reconnect with your baby. Close the drapes and cuddle up, skin to skin. Your baby will likely still refuse to nurse but at least you aren’t taking it personally (anymore!). If mayhem ensues in your usual nursing position, try your feeding attempts while standing or rocking or while lying down. Wait to nurse until just after the baby falls asleep as some seemingly forget they are on strike and just cannot resist! Yes, you’ll need to keep pumping to maintain your milk supply and avoid blocked ducts, especially if the strike-action carries on for a couple of days.
On day two of the strike the best thing I did was go to my family doctor. Not only was this doctor a father of four, he also delivered my brother thirty years ago. He had truly seen it all and I was counting on his experience. I now know it’s “time to reaffirm your commitment to breast feeding” means: You better be committed because you will need to starve her until she gets back to norm. After eliminating a physical cause like an earache or infection the doctor declared my daughter, “one healthy girl.” He then asked me if I wanted to keep giving her breast milk? Answering yes, my options were to pump and feed with a bottle, or to wait until she was hungry enough to feed off me. Wanting to keep nursing the old-fashioned way, I went with option two.
Ok baby, buckle up! Four hours, a few failed nursing attempts and many tears later (hers and mine), I got creative with another La Leche League recommendation. Picture me on hands and knees, boob hanging over my daughter, who is lying on the floor, dripping milk into her mouth. Then scoop, pop, she’s on! Deep breaths. Calm thoughts. Admittedly, it took a couple of the drip, scoop, pop methods but then we were back on track.
I didn’t realize how much my self-esteem, as Mom, as a woman, was linked to nursing my baby until it stopped. I certainly didn’t anticipate how devastated I would feel. I’m comforted knowing a strike is normal, common and surmountable and happens for even the most ‘perfect’ of mothers. My baby is now 20 months old and even if I wanted her to stop nursing, she’s not done yet!
– By Leanne Davis
Breastfeeding Support – La Leche League