Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Lisa Hassan Scott
Photo: Jacob Wright
By four months old, my baby was round-cheeked, giggling, and playful. Breastfeeding her was a joy. She would hold my finger, look up at me and smile. I could put her in the sling so she could sleep, and I would go for walks or bake cakes with my elder daughter. We enjoyed our snuggles and had fallen into a nice, easy rhythm, after spending many weeks trying to find our feet. But suddenly, Eilidh refused many of her usual nursings during the day, and I wondered what had happened to our calm ease. She was up more in the night, wanting to feed almost non stop, and I wracked my brain trying to think of the cause.
Four months heralds an exciting time of development in our babies’ lives. According to Bill and Martha Sears in The Baby Book, in the fourth month, a baby begins to “display visual tracking” and “develop binocular vision: better depth perception, gazes intently, tracks accurately.” He is now able to lift his head 90 degrees and scan 180 degrees. He may begin to roll over and may sit up supported on mother’s arms. In the section, “What babies like” the list is illustrative of how curious and active babies of this age have now become: “greeting caregivers and inviting play; amusing self with fingers, playing with bracelets, rattles; rolling on beach ball, changing to forward position in sling.” Babies really begin to see, learn, move and interact with the world around them at this age. Consequently, your baby might refuse to breastfeed during the day around this age.
Once latched on, if someone enters the room, she might suddenly pop off and turn her head to see who it is. Or she might try to take the breast with her as she cranes her neck to look at the source of the disruption. She might fuss and cry if you try to offer the breast again, arching her back and pulling away.
I began to wonder why Eilidh would feed well at night, but not during the day. I talked to other friends involved with La Leche League. What was it about the night time that was preferable to the day? Then, eureka! I realized that the conditions at night were so vastly different from the usual daytime hustle and bustle in our house. During the day, there was too much to see and do. Eilidh wanted to practice her “visual tracking”! She was interested in bracelets and wanted to pull her head out of the cloth of the sling to see where we were going. There was a fascinating three-year-old to watch. If breastfeeding could be delayed until the nighttime hours, why not make the most of all the opportunities for fun during the day? she reasoned.
Had I not more knowledge about the normal course of breastfeeding, had I not breastfed Eilidh’s older sister I might not have known that this is a normal developmental stage. I might have thought she wanted to wean. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding says, “Occasionally a young baby will suddenly refuse to breastfeed for no apparent reason. This can be a real puzzle, especially if the baby is under a year old and probably not at all ready to be weaned.” While not a nursing strike, Eilidh was still sending me some puzzling signals, and it would have been easy to wean her then. But The Womanly Art goes on to say, “A baby who is really ready to wean will usually be well over a year old, will be eating lots of solid food and drinking liquids from a cup, and will gradually lose interest in one nursing at a time.” None of these applied to my situation.
This stage, in many cases, is short lived. It takes a mother’s ingenuity and patience to work through it. In my case, I took Eilidh upstairs more often to feed, after helping Iona to start an activity like playdough. I would stand up and feed Eilidh in the sling while rocking her. I reduced extra noise from the radio, turned off the ringer on the telephone, and hung a “please do not knock” sign on the front door. Iona and I enjoyed quiet activities like reading books so that Eilidh could have some quiet time at the breast. And, because I was tandem feeding, I could always feed them both at the same time in bed and we could all have a rest.
Having celebrated her second birthday this week, I am happy to say that we survived that short stage. She is still round-cheeked, giggling, and playful. But now she can use her words to tell me about her world. It is a rare occasion when she will refuse to breastfeed, and when she wants her “sides” she wants them now! And it is worth it, because as The Womanly Art explains, breastfeeding “is a secure haven in a sometimes difficult world.”
Sears, W. and M. The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby From Birth to Age Two. Harper Thorsons 2005.