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Nursing Strike

Rebecca Brackley
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 1, January-February 2008, pp. 20-21

Feeding my eight-and-a-half-month-old baby, Charlotte, was going brilliantly. She was eating three solid meals a day and having three breastfeeds. Then, suddenly, Charlotte stopped breastfeeding completely and neither of us knew what had hit us.

It was a horrible experience, which I think a mother can only fully understand if she has been through it. Rationally I knew it did not matter how my daughter took her milk (she was happy and healthy), but emotionally I was gutted. I kept dissolving into tears whenever I thought about what we had lost: her little peaceful face at my breast with her eyes closing as she drifted between sleep and wakefulness; her warm body snuggled across mine. Breastfeeds were also the time of the day when I got to sit down and relax. How would I find the energy to go all day without them?

It all started one day while I was feeding Charlotte in the usual way when my husband walked into the room talking loudly -- we both jumped out of our skin. She pulled away from my breast and would not go back on. I didn't think anything of it, as she had been startled in the past. At her evening feed, however, she still wouldn't latch on. She seemed to freeze at the breast, not moving her mouth, and with her eyes wide open. I ended up putting Charlotte to bed without any milk.

The next morning I tried to feed her again. She leaned toward me, but changed her mind and pulled away and started crying. I ended up expressing my milk and giving it to her in her cereal and in a cup. Charlotte drank it, so I knew that she did not have a problem with the taste of my milk.

I took her to the doctor so she could have her ears checked, and I was told she was fine. Both the doctor and health visitor suggested that Charlotte was self weaning. Although she may have been ready to wean, I certainly wasn't! It all seemed so sudden.

By day three, I was very upset and I decided to do some research on the LLLI Web site for some tips, and I came across the concept of nursing strikes. The information I read was extremely useful and led me to realize that Charlotte was not self weaning, and that the reason she was not feeding might be because she was upset. I read that a nursing strike can be caused by a baby being startled at the breast. This seemed the most likely reason in Charlotte's case.

Although it was good to find hope and realize there was a possibility she would being nursing again (apparently a lot of strikes last two to four days), I now felt terrible that she no longer felt secure enough in my arms to feed and I felt that I had caused her to deprive herself of something she loved.

Advice on www.llli.org included increasing skin-to-skin contact, taking a warm bath together, and not forcing the issue. I spent the rest of the day trying these things and offering her my breast. Occasionally she took my nipple but would do one biting mouth movement and then pull off.

On the morning of the fourth day, Charlotte was still pulling away when I attempted to nurse. I decided my best tactic was to try and make her relaxed about it all, which is easier said than done because I was so stressed, too. So we lay in bed and I left my top off and let her reach and touch my breasts while I pretended it was a game and tried to laugh (even when she decided to tug my nipples!).

I tried to put her to the breast a number of times but to no avail so I decided to stop trying for a while and we went down for breakfast. I chose not to express so that if she wanted to try feeding again later I would have milk at the ready.

I thought something was wrong, and that I should pray about it. Tears streamed down my face as I asked God to remove the blockage that was stopping Charlotte from feeding. When I finished, she looked a bit upset so I picked her up and cuddled her and walked around. We went into the lounge and I started playing with her and thought, "Why don't I try feeding her again now?" I couldn't believe it when she started feeding. The first few mouth movements were more like bites, but I kept encouraging her and then she was feeding. When she finished, she looked up at me and broke into a massive grin. It was as if she was saying how happy she was that she was feeding again.

I encountered difficulty again when I tried to get her to take the mid-afternoon feed and, after a number of failed attempts, I prayed again. Afterwards I put her to my breast and she fed. From then on, she has fed like normal! And I view each feed as a blessing and enjoy each one.

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