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Ansely's Nursing Strike

Lisa Olschewske
Marietta GA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 6, September-October 2000, pp. 156-59, 145

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

I have trusted my instincts since our first child, now four, was born. So when Ansely, our 17-month-old, went on a nursing strike, I knew something was wrong. There seemed to be no way she could be weaning. Since birth, Ansely has lived in the sling and nursed on demand. She never went more than two hours without nursing. She has always slept in my arms or by my side, because she wouldn't sleep any other way. Ansely did not start nibbling from my plate until after she was a year old, and she still doesn't eat very much.

One morning, all that changed. Ansely was nursing and started biting a little. I did not react strongly. I simply inserted my finger in her mouth to take her off the breast. I have always done this with her, since pulling her close to my breast (another technique for discouraging biting) didn't work. Then it happened. Ansely started arching her back and screaming while I tried to offer my breast. Not only did she refuse to nurse, but she also refused to let my husband hold her. What was I going to do? I was used to nursing my children to sleep. I put her in the sling and rocked her until 2 AM when she finally stopped fighting me and fell asleep. She did nurse in her sleep at 4 AM and 6 AM, but once she woke up and realized she was nursing she pulled away and said, "No!"

The next ten days were difficult. I had been nursing for four- and-a-half years and had many problems with my first child: cracked and bleeding nipples for two months, mastitis, slow weight gain, and thrush. Yet, this was the hardest of all. It is emotionally painful to have a happy little nursling refuse to nurse. I knew inside that something was wrong. Some Leaders told me that abrupt weaning happens sometimes, but I knew it was not right for my child.

I was trying to pump as often as she had been nursing so I would not become engorged, but like many mothers who don't pump on a regular basis, I find that pumping doesn't work well for me. My baby is the best pump. Now I know how uncomfortable knots in your breasts can feel.

Since Dehvin, my older child, is also nursing, she was more than willing to relieve my engorgement. I still pumped so Ansely could receive my milk, since she wasn't eating many solid foods. Any milk I was able to pump, she drank happily. The hardest part was when she was tired. She would ask to nurse and lie in my arms, but as soon as she saw my nipple she would say, "No!" and pull away. She would lay her cheek on my breast, but she would not nurse. If she did try to latch on, she would bite me. The only way to get her to sleep for naps during the day was to put her in the sling or in the car. Nighttime was the hardest. Ansely would do the same thing over and over again: arching, screaming, and biting, until she finally fell asleep in my arms. As soon as she drifted off to sleep, she would latch on and nurse all night in her usual way. In the morning, however, when she realized she was nursing she would pull away again.

I did everything I could to try to figure out what was wrong with Ansely. I took her to our chiropractor, who has helped our family in many situations. She gave Ansely an adjustment and observed that she had started to cut her second year molars. We tried giving her some homeopathic remedies and cold things to chew on to ease the teething pain. She still refused to nurse. A nurse at our local children's hospital suggested that it might be an ear infection. I didn't think this was the case, since Ansely seemed healthy.

Still, I decided to take her to our pediatrician, who confirmed that she did not have an ear infection. The pediatrician recommended that we see our pediatric dentist to rule out any trauma to her mouth About a week and a half before the nursing strike, Ansely had fallen and hit her mouth on the windowsill. She had bitten her lower lip and torn the skin on her top gum. When this happened, she nursed immediately which applied enough pressure to stop the bleeding. The dentist checked her mouth and took x-rays to see if there was any root damage or other trauma. He found nothing.

Since Ansely was in perfect health, we still didn't know what was causing the problem. As we investigated ideas, we realized that our lives had been stressful lately. We had recently moved, and were in marital therapy. Her sister Dehvin had also been biting and hitting her, although that has since improved. Perhaps these things contributed to her strike.

After a ten day nursing strike, Ansely started nursing again and proceeded to make up for lost time. I don't think we will ever know exactly what caused her to stop nursing. This seems to be the case with many nursing strikes, no matter how old the child. As with any part of mothering, trusting my heart got me through this difficulty.

I encourage all mothers, no matter what the age of the child, to remember that weaning is a gradual process. Any abrupt refusal to nurse needs to be explored further, especially if the child is unhappy about the situation.

Reprinted from an issue of Dogwood Blossoms, the Area Leaders' Letter for LLL of Georgia.

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