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Toddler Tips

Nursing Strike or Not?

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 2, March-April 2004, p. 72

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's life-style. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

My 13-month-old just stopped breastfeeding all of a sudden. I don't think she's ready to wean, and I think there's something wrong—maybe the new teeth coming in are bothering her. My husband and friends say it's no big deal; she received a year of breastfeeding and that I shouldn't worry about it. Meanwhile, I'm getting engorged and she's much harder to console. Has this happened with other mothers of young toddlers? How did it get resolved?

Response

My 15-month-old suddenly stopped breastfeeding on Christmas Eve when we were visiting my husband's family. It had been a very stressful visit culminating in my father-in-law's emergency trip via ambulance to the hospital. We spent Christmas day in the hospital, and then flew back home. During the airplane ride, my daughter, Thea, cried inconsolably, and for the first time since she was born, I was helpless to comfort her because she would only try to bite me if I offered her my breast. That was the longest plane ride of my life!

When we got back home, I called a La Leche League Leader. She listened and asked questions, and then assured me that my daughter wouldn't have weaned herself so suddenly. She talked to me about other mothers' experiences with nursing strikes, and she encouraged me to keep trying to nurse. I also called a friend in another state who was nursing a toddler, and she had experienced several nursing strikes but had successfully continued the nursing relationship after the strikes were over. A key suggestion she made was to try to nurse Thea after she had fallen asleep. As we had a family bed, that was easy for me to do. Without fail, when I offered my breast to Thea while she was asleep, she nursed eagerly without biting. As soon as she woke up, she would refuse to nurse.

My daughter's nursing strike lasted 18 days. During that time, I pumped my milk and offered my daughter the breast regularly. She would turn away and cry, or would come close and then bite me. I was very discouraged, but was sure I was doing the right thing. I knew in my heart that our nursing relationship wasn't over yet. One day, after returning from a brisk walk in the cold winter air, I sat down with Thea while we were still bundled up in our coats and offered her my breast. Without hesitation, she pushed her cold little button nose into my breast, cupped it with both frigid little hands, and latched on like there was no tomorrow. Watching her, I could hardly breathe for a few moments, and then I wanted to cry!

That was almost two years ago and Thea still loves her "nah nah" to help her wake up in the morning, and to go to sleep at night. She is a loving, sturdy little toddler. I am so grateful that we maintained our nursing relationship through her nursing strike! Good luck!

Ruth Roland
Colorado Springs CO USA

Response

My first son weaned himself abruptly one day at 10 and a half months. At that time, he had been nursing four times per day. He had nursed first thing in the morning as usual, and this was the late morning nursing. He nursed from the right side as usual, then, when I switched him to the other side, he looked up at me with a look I had never seen before. He refused to nurse. Although it was unusual I didn't think about it at the time and assumed that he just wasn't interested in nursing on the left side. To make a very long story short, that nursing was our last.

It was a very difficult period of time for me, as I was totally unprepared for his weaning and had no desire to stop. It was obvious that my son felt conflicted, as he would come up to me uneasily as if he wanted to be put to the breast, but when I lifted him into my lap, he would pull away from my chest. I tried everything I could think of to bring him back to the breast and consulted with my LLL friends for further suggestions. All the usual things associated with a nursing strike were ruled out (i.e., illness, a biting episode, other changes in our lives). After about two weeks, I finally came to the understanding that this, although unusually early, was truly his time to wean. When I was able to accept that this was his decision, I finally let go of attempting to bring him back to the breast. I continued to pump my milk until he was a little over a year, and he happily drank it from a cup.

I have been involved with LLL for over 10 years now and have been a Leader for seven, and I know that my son's early weaning is truly an exception. My son is now almost 11 years old and a very loving and secure child with a strong sense of self!

Dianne E. Oliver
Wrentham MA USA

Response

During the refreshment period following an LLL Series Meeting, I saw a mother sitting on the floor while breastfeeding her little toddler and quietly crying. When I asked her if she was okay, she explained that her tears were from surprise, relief, and joy. She continued, "This is the first time my little one has nursed in several days. I was so sad and bewildered by his sudden, unexpected refusals, I didn't know what to do. I was convinced it wasn't a true weaning, but rather a nursing strike. Coming to this meeting and seeing the other breastfeeding children must have awakened pleasant memories and inspired our reconnection."

When trying to make it through a variety of obstacles in my parenting journey, including nursing strikes, it always made me feel better to remind myself that through my persistence, I could lead my children to discover and rediscover the joys and benefits of breastfeeding. Good luck!

Susan Johnson Blake
Valrico FL USA

Response

One day, my 11-month-old daughter, Elinor, was breastfeeding beautifully. The next day, she was finished with nursing. I am a firm proponent of "mothering through breastfeeding" and I don't breastfeed on a strict schedule or sparingly. Rather, my daughter nursed throughout the day as needed, whether it was before a nap or to calm down after scrape on the knee. It was scary to think about getting through the day without nursing such a little baby.

It all began with a teething bite followed by my involuntary yelp and saying the words, "No bite." I know the hazards of this type of response for many babies, but the ill-timed, scissor-like crunch brought out instinct, not reason. A few more of her practice bites were followed by the same words, sober-faced, but much softer. To my sensitive baby, this was enough. Elinor decided against nursing.

We struggled through the first day, unable to latch on for more than a minute before she would bite, cry, and bite again. The pain on top of the existing soreness was incredible and I was relieved at first that she wouldn't nurse. Even at night, a time when sleepiness would seem to foil even the most resistant baby, we fared no better. She fell asleep with no nursing for the first time and woke intermittently, but with no milk, all night long.

By the second day, I became concerned that this was not a passing stage and perhaps her nutrition would suffer. My breasts became full and I pumped milk. Even from a cup or bottle, Elinor would not drink my milk at all—the ultimate rejection! I suffered the emotional stress of having a baby decline my nurturing. With no exaggeration, this was the toughest nursing challenge I'd ever faced.

After much consideration, I decided to give her some whole milk. She was not interested. Water was our temporary answer, coupled with soft and regular foods. She had been a strong proponent of "getting mothered through breastfeeding," but now she began to eat almost overnight.

I struggled with guilt and lamented to my dear LLL friends who gave me support and ideas, some new and many that I'd read in THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK. The next night my determination was renewed -- we could do this. We struggled through the same cycle: suck, bite, cry, let go over and over with her head tucked in my arm, which would guide her head back to the breast. A few times she would consent to nurse until she thought about, I guess, my outburst of two days before and then she would pull away again. It was a long night.

On the third day, after I'd considered every circumstance, I came upon the realization that Elinor had been conditioned by my responses to pull away from my breast after just one or two times of biting. I decided to offer my breast again, and greet the biting with a smile and a laugh. This was hard because my fear at being bitten was strong, but I persevered, and it worked. She bit me initially, looked at me closely for my reaction, then proceeded to nurse a little. The next time was better. The third try, some hours later, was even better. Over the next few days she continued to bite, but I tried to consistently react in a gentle, smiling manner and her biting went away along with her temporary resistance to nursing. After feeling so hopeless I was ecstatic to have my nursing baby back!

Ardie Keck
La Grange KY USA

Last updated Wednesday, October 18, 2006 by njb.
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