Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Cynthia Lefferts, Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico
A lot of things can cause a nursing strike, including teething, a mother’s negative reaction to being bitten, sudden, drastic changes, and a cold—there is no comprehensive list. In the end, you really don’t care what the cause was; you just want the strike to be over. When a baby just stops breastfeeding, not only do you have to deal with her rejection, but you have to suffer through other people’s comments and conjecture. Maybe it’s just time to stop nursing? Maybe you should give her formula? Maybe it’s her way of saying she needs space? Maybe it’s time for everyone to butt out?
In my case, we will never know the reason for the nursing strike, so I’m just going to lay out the situation and explain the process we went through to get my baby back to the breast. On Wednesday, we flew from Mexico City to Miami. A quick, hop, skip, and a jump, a two-and-a-half-hour flight over the Gulf of Mexico. The baby was perfect. She got woken up at 2 am as we rushed around packing our bags at the last minute. We grabbed a taxi and got the last seat on the bus to the airport. She nursed on the bus, nursed at the airport, and fell asleep right before take-off and landing. She was a bit fussy during the flight, like every other person on the plane. She happily nursed at the Miami airport once we got through customs. She nursed at Chili’s, while we waited to be picked up and on the two-hour car ride to grandma and grandpa’s house. She rolled over for the first time at the encouragement of her aunt and grandma, and then promptly fell asleep, sleeping through the night.
When we woke up around 5 am, we were out of sorts. My left breast was engorged from not having nursed on that side throughout the night, and my baby didn’t seem interested. When we woke up again around 8 am, she bit me and I, like most people who’ve been bitten, screamed. To cut a long story short, from then on she refused to nurse on either breast for the next 19 days.
What really surprised me was how much we’d become nursing elitists, my husband and I. I didn’t realize how proud I was of having nursed my baby successfully and for so long. We had built our entire parenting style around nursing: nursing to keep her happy, healthy and well fed. I nursed her to sleep and whenever she was fussy. Suddenly, we had an unhappy baby and we didn’t know how else to get her to sleep or how else to comfort her. And worst of all, I hadn’t developed any patience over the past six months for listening to a baby cry. We’d never had to deal with our baby crying for hours on end, or listening to her cry herself to sleep.
So what did we try?
Everything! All of these tried and trusted ideas to end a nursing strike.
- A dropper, so she wouldn’t get nipple confusion.
- A bottle, so she would go back to my nipple.
- Bathing together, with her on my chest.
- Sleeping together.
- A nursing vacation, spending all weekend in bed.
- Skin-to-skin contact, all the time.
- Carrying her in a sling.
- A sippy cup, so she would at least drink something.
- Teething gel and teethers.
- A wet washcloth to soothe teething pain.
- A doctor’s check-up, to rule out illness.
- Pressuring her by putting her to the breast (she pushed away, and we were later told that this is NOT helpful).
A very supportive cousin of mine told me to try not to stress and to be okay with the worst possible outcome, to remain hopeful about trying again for the next feeding, to try only as much as I felt comfortable with, and not to stop trying unless that is what I wanted. She told me that others would try to tell me things, but to listen to my own heart. “You never know … Your baby might be teething or sick and this is just a season. After a while you may feel like ‘this is it.’ Go with your gut!” I’ll be forever grateful for my cousin’s words, which really might be applied to any situation we face as mothers. As a new mother, it’s hard to realize that nursing (or not nursing) is just one tiny stage in our child’s life. If we colored in a pie chart, nursing would be just a tiny sliver, a line, on that colorful graph.
From the day my baby was born, I had no intention of giving her formula. And by the time she was a month old, we were pretty faithful La Leche League members. I knew all the reasons why nursing was good for both of us: health, connection, comfort, emotional support, convenience … the list goes on. So when my baby stopped nursing, we fought the idea of supplementing for two-and-a-half weeks. Although I was pumping endlessly, I never got out enough milk that way. But one night, after pumping less than an ounce, as I listened to my screaming baby, I finally broke down and started giving her formula. I wasn’t happy about it. She spit it up. She wouldn’t drink all of it and it’d go to waste. But I was able to relax a little.
For two days, I mixed in formula with the little breast milk I was able to pump. The following morning my baby woke up crying, and just like when she was a newborn, I started dripping milk. It was so depressing. The milk was right there! And my sweet husband told me to try to nurse her. I had all but given up on ever nursing her again. So I put her to the breast and, just like that, she started nursing as if nothing had ever happened. It was all I could do not to start crying and startle her. Her nursing strike was over.
So here we are, still nursing at 13 months. Each month brings a new challenge: teething, distractions, more teething, growth spurts… I want to thank La Leche League for their support throughout this time, especially Leaders Cheryl, Laurie, and Sabrina. I would not have made it through this difficult spot without their encouragement. And, of course, my husband, who gets the credit for keeping us both sane, happy, and healthy throughout this first year as new parents.