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A Peculiar Nursing Strike

Shobha Shankarnarayan
Yokohama, Japan
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 5, 2008, p. 26

It all began a few days after Tara turned a year old. She had been coughing a little during the week. One evening at the start of a feed she suddenly bit me and I screamed in pain. I'm quite ashamed to say that the next couple of times she bit me I screamed for my husband to come. He then carried and rocked Tara to sleep and she nursed during the night, like she always did. Unfortunately, when she woke up the next morning, she began nursing with biting. Each time I took her off the breast and put her back on, it was only to be bitten again. After a few attempts, she stopped even opening her mouth when brought near my breast. She resisted strongly, turned away, or blew air at my nipple! This went on for the whole day. She would only nurse when she was napping. I was starting to feel sore from all the biting and pulling. By then, Tara's cough had worsened and she was developing congestion.

I went to the temple of knowledge -- the Internet -- to find some answers, and read that I certainly shouldn't have screamed when I was bitten. I discovered that babies sometimes bite when they have nasal congestion. We decided to take Tara to the doctor. Her cough got a lot better but the congestion took more than a month to disappear. I got in touch with my LLL Leader and she suggested what I was already doing -- getting Tara to nap and then nursing her. She assured me that this was not a typical and complete nursing strike as Tara was still nursing at nights and while asleep.

In an effort to get her to nurse, I would walk with her the whole day, strapped to my front, wear my shirt unbuttoned, and pop my breast in her mouth every time she nodded off to sleep. I kept strict tabs of the number of times she nursed in 24 hours. Meanwhile, I attended an LLL meeting and got more tips on getting Tara to nurse. One was to keep the breast available to Tara.

I went back home and tried again, feeling very much like Mother Nature, without my shirt, "au naturel." Tara continued to bite when she was awake. I was starting to panic, it had been a week since she started her peculiar daytime strike and I was slowly going out of my mind.

I called my LLL Leader every few days and poured out all my troubles in her ear. She kept assuring me that Tara was getting the nutrition she needed from all the nighttime and naptime nursings. She was very supportive and gave me different ideas to try. Another Leader suggested I focus on making nutritious food available to Tara throughout the day. She assured me that this was a phase, that Tara was perhaps asserting her independence, and that things would get back to normal again. My Leaders assured me that since I had nursed Tara for a year already I would have enough milk but, if I wanted, I could pump and express my milk. I was in two minds about pumping to keep my supply up but I quickly gave up that idea.

My husband and I decided to concentrate on getting Tara to nurse during naps and at nighttime and to keep offering her healthy food during the day. I missed Tara's nursing more than I imagined was possible and I felt like a total failure. I missed her dimpled smile and her baby talk when she finished nursing to go to crawl and play.

One day, almost three weeks after she had started her daytime strike, while taking my friend and her little son out to show them the sights of Tokyo, Tara tested my patience by refusing even the smallest quantity of solid food and by not having a nap. For most of the day, I was a highly emotional sobbing mess. It was way past lunchtime and we settled on a restaurant to have our lunch, where Tara further refused more solids. Out of sheer frustration (and habit), I simply put her to my breast and right there in that restaurant she began nursing. I could not believe it! Later that evening, she nursed while awake. And thus Tara ended her strange daytime nursing strike.

All through the strike, my husband stuck to being the great guy he always is. He kept telling me that Tara would surely resume nursing. He would carry her until she fell asleep and then I would rush to the bed to nurse her. We had synchronized that process almost perfectly. My family kept advising me not to worry excessively about Tara's eating as congestion does affect children's appetite. My in-laws were very supportive, too, and conducted special prayers for Tara to resume nursing.

For mothers who face nursing strikes, I hope my story will help you be patient and not give up. Some helpful tips I received were:

  • Try to nurse your baby when she is about to wake -- she might remember how wonderful nursing is if she wakes up while nursing.
  • Try to nurse your baby while she is asleep -- she might nurse, out of habit, meeting her nutritional needs.
  • Keep your baby close to you. The moment she expresses an interest in nursing, you will be able to offer her your milk.
  • Try some games, like nursing her toys and telling her that her toys are very happy nursing.
  • Wear clothing that will allow your baby easy access to your breasts or wear your baby skin-to-skin.
  • Bathing together might relax your baby to such an extent that she might resume nursing.
  • Try to remain calm.

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