Chronicle of a Nursing Strike
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Chronicle of a Nursing Strike

So I have officially weathered my first nursing strike.  I would hear about them at La Leche League, or see a thread posted on a message board.  I would read them with a question mark over my head and nothing to say since nursing has been a dream since we started having the babies under chiropractic care from infancy.
I found out what a nursing strike is in a big way last week.  With our fourth child, the one who seems to be filling in any remaining gaps I had in regards to labor, and now breastfeeding.  I was in denial at first, then in despair, and now I am feeling relieved and grateful for the experience and for coming out on the other side with a renewed dedication to breastfeeding.
What a nursing strike is:  A baby who has been nursing well for months that starts refusing the breast.  To quote a La Leche League pamphlet, “A nursing strike is a baby’s way of communicating that something is wrong, and most babies who “go on strike” are obviously upset about it.”
What a nursing strike is not:  The end of breastfeeding.  With patience and persistence, most babies will come back to nursing.
Here is our chronicle. 
Day One:  It started with a bite from our baby in the middle of a feed.  I made an “ouch” face and then broke the latch and pulled baby off the breast.  I was with the other kiddos and they laughed at my “ouch” face, and the baby laughed…not quite the same reaction I was having to the incident!!
It continued like that the next time I put her to the breast, but being late in the day, we were able to avoid any more nursing sessions until bedtime.  Bedtime arrives and we have more biting.  I try a little “reset” and we are able to nurse at bedtime.
Day Two:  Baby would bite at the beginning of the feed.  Bite and turn around to see if her siblings had noticed, and see if they were laughing.  So my suspicion that maybe she is teething starts to come apart.  Ah ha – maybe it is an entertainment or a newfound skill of being able to control an interaction.  I did what our pediatrician had told me to do, and which had worked with the other kiddos – I had only needed to do it two or three times and the biting stopped.  He had told me to tap the mouth, say no firmly, and then try to nurse again.  The kiddos commented that I should not be hitting the baby!
No success with that attempt…another day without really being able to nurse her during waking hours.  I was only able to get any sizeable amount of liquid in her at night when she was asleep.  In her sleep, she wanted to eat, not mess around.  In this instance, it was a relief to have a learned behavior to fall back on.
Day Three:  The biting continues.  Now my breasts are sore.  It is more of a joke than ever.  I am able to get baby to nurse when she is in a sitting position, but not enough for her to get the fluids I know she needs.  She only nurses a minute before I get bitten and I need to pull her off the breast – after three times, I am done.
I am in denial.  I figure we are seeing our chiropractor that afternoon – I have faith he will have some answers.  We go in for our weekly visit.  He checks both of us and cannot find a physical or emotional reason on either of us.  Now I am starting to freak out. 
I get a suggestion from a trusted source to flick the baby on the cheek with my fingers when she bites.  This again throws all the kids into a panic that I am “hitting” the baby, besides the fact that it doesn’t work.  Even after the reprimand, I get bitten the next attempt to put her to the breast (within a minute).  I am definitely NOT interested in flicking this sweet child all day long, so that idea is out and I tell Bruss I think I am getting ready to quit and wean.
I start expressing milk into a sippy cup so that I know that she is getting some fluid during the day.  At my mom’s suggestion, we also start counting her wet diapers and make sure we are offering water when she isn’t drinking out of her milk cup. 
Day Four: We run into Debbie Gillespie, the IBCLC we know at Modern Mommy.  I explain our situation and ask her for input.  Since the biting is at the beginning of the feed, she says it’s probably not teething.  She wonders if maybe the baby is doing it for attention and maybe exercising a little “look at me!”  She suggests telling Angelika, “Ouch! Hurt Mommy!” and take her off the breast for ten seconds before trying to nurse again. 
Try that when we get home – not working.  Even though the baby asked for the breast three times, each time she bit me – HARD.  More night feeding – this time after the baby has cried herself to sleep – second night in a row that Bruss has to take her for a car ride to get her to sleep. 
The trust is broken.  I do not trust her not to bite anymore.  It broke my heart to have her cry herself to sleep, at the same time, I was relieved that she nursed in her sleep and at least I do not feel like a complete failure.
Day Five:  I have been contemplating what has been going on.  If the biting is not teething and really driven from the desire to illicit a reaction from siblings and me, then maybe we are better nursing off on our own.  I go into the bedroom, use the old standby of going skin-to-skin, and try again.  Baby wants nothing to do with the breast, goes so far as to arch her back and roll around as far away from me as she can.  This is not what I expected.  I really want to quit now.  I keep going back to the thought that this really can’t be it.  I can’t really be weaning our baby when her toddler brother is still nursing, can I?  I bring to mind the mantra, “I can do this for one more day.  I only need to do this one more day.”  I express more milk into a sippy cup and we head off to teach class.  We get home, from class and baby has fallen asleep in her abuela’s arms and later, gets put straight into the crib.  I am a little bummed that my mom did not bring her to me groggy, so I just go back to bed and decide to let it go because at this point, a good night’s sleep is what I need to keep things in perspective.
Day Six:  I do not even try to feed the baby.  I consider calling my La Leche League leaders, but I know the next meeting is in three days and I figure I do not want to bother them on a weekend.  By now I am sure this is a nursing strike and they are probably going to tell me to do the things I have been doing: skin-to-skin, change environment, change positions, be patient, “one more day” mantra that I learned at meeting…attendance does pay off (small consolation).
I decide that we both need a break since the breast is not a “happy place” for either of us right now.  If Debbie (our IBCLC) taught me anything, it is that we need to keep the breast a happy place if we have any prayer of nursing again.  I take my mom to the airport, go to a baby shower, and meet another mom who understands my sadness.  She gives me a piece of cake to drown my sorrows – perfect!  Just what I needed! 
I get to talk to the guest of honor who gives me some ideas to try (role playing), and then I run into our IBCLC again (one of the benefits of social calendar that includes events with your birth-/breastmilk junkie friends).  I ask her if we can set up a home visit for Monday, and she says I do not need her!  (Tears!) She suggests that we try Hyland’s teething tablets, and offers to send me some reading via the Internet.  I also tell her how the kiddos have objected to the physical reprimands (and confirmed my gut feeling that flicking or tapping is not for us).  She suggests pulling the baby’s nose into the breast to force her to open her mouth to breathe and let go if she bites.  She makes the analogy that it’s like a game of “chicken” to see who can hold out.  I know that I can handle pain if I know it’s going to end – this is something I can do.
I go home a little nervous that if Debbie does not think we need her we may be sunk, and with a little more spirit since I have some new ideas to try, and tell myself again, that I only need to do this for one more day.  “This” being expressing into a cup to see if maybe, just maybe the teething tablets will do the trick and ease our baby’s gums enough for her to nurse without biting.
On our way out that night, we pick up some Hyland’s teething tablets and give the baby her first dose.  We are still continuing with the nursing during sleep – still the only way the baby will take the breast without biting.
Day Seven:  We use Hyland’s teething tablets again.  Angelika is asking for the breast now.  I am nervous to feed since there is pain and emotion tied to the biting.  I try once and she bites.  We play “chicken” – she lets go!  No laughing this time – just a look of surprise before she goes back to nursing.
Baby asks for the breast again throughout the day.  Each bite is responded to with a pull into the breast.  Baby releases and then continues to nurse without incident – and she is nursing!!  I can’t believe it!!  By the fourth nursing session that day, there is no biting.  Just nursing.  Dare I hope that this is it?  We are nursing again?
Day Eight:  Baby is asking for the breast again.  Sometimes she bites and we play “chicken”, but she is getting a full feed.  We go see our chiropractor.  He looks in her mouth and declares that she is cutting molars.  What!  Did all this start with teething pain that turned into a seven-day nursing strike?  I try Hyland’s teething tablets again – this time she just spits them out and we are nursing without incident.
Day Nine:  Nursing is back on track.  I only had to pull her to the breast once today.  Done.  I am a nursing mom again.  Relief!  Gratitude!  Amazement at the process.
I go to our La Leche League meeting on that night.  On the table is a pamphlet, “How to Handle a Nursing Strike”.  Argh!  Where was this a week ago?  I read it when I get home.  It’s everything I needed to hear last week to confirm what I was going through and to encourage me not to give up yet and wean.  I am also encouraged that I did the right things – skin-to-skin, changing environment, trying different positions, nursing during sleepy times, keeping track of wet diapers, using a cup instead of a bottle for breastmilk…all of those are in the pamphlet.
I am lucky, blessed, whatever you want to call it:  I am a confident, supported mom.  I am glad that I have been attending La Leche League and that I learned the lessons that got me through the last week without this pamphlet. 
I am working on ordering this pamphlet and scanning it so that I can share it with other moms that may not have the experience or support system that I had to draw from.  What would my advice be to someone going through a nursing strike?  Take it a day at a time.  Own the mantra, “One more day – I only need to do “this” one more day.”
It’s been a thirteen days since the first biting experience.  We are now back to our regular nursing relationship.  We nurse in the morning, throughout the day for nourishment, at naptime, for comfort, and then again at night.  The week-long nursing strike made me put away books and gadgets that I had gotten used to having during our nursing times and made me look at my baby.  It has reminded me just how precious this time is and not to take it for granted.
What is your experience with a nursing strike?  Any words of wisdom to share?
Bradley Method® natural childbirth classes offered in Arizona: Chandler, Tempe, Ahwatukee, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, PaysonThe material included on this site is for informational purposes only.
It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult her or his healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation.  Krystyna and Bruss Bowman and Bowman House, LLC accept no liability for the content of this site, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided.  This blog contains information about our classes available in Chandler, AZ and Payson, AZ and is not the official website of The Bradley Method®. The views contained on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Bradley Method® or the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth®.


1 Comment to Chronicle of a Nursing Strike:

Comments RSS on Tuesday, March 19, 2013 4:07 AM
em nursing relationship, and now we are in the toddler stage – probably my last!  I am definitely going for the encouragement these days!  Even with though I am on our fourth nursling, I am still learning since Otter has presented our own breastfeeding challenges. Preview:  Cassandra is planning to write about her experiences breastfeeding a toddl
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