Overcoming the Nursing Strike
I once heard that as a mother we are always saying in our heads "guilt, guilt, shame shame." UGH!! I know this shouldn't be the case but I so often feel guilty as a mom or ashamed of mistakes that I shouldn't have made with my precious children.
What Was I Thinking!?
I had such an experience when my second was about eight months old. I am passionate about natural birth and since the birth of my first child I very much wanted to become a Bradley Method (TM) natural childbirth educator. When my baby was around eight months I had the opportunity to go to a training. It did however mean that I needed to leave my baby and travel to another state for 4 days.
This was something that was so important to me and I worried that I would not get the opportunity again so I decided to take it, planning on pumping and leaving breast milk for her and pumping while I was gone.
While I was gone she did OK, taking a bottle from her dad and I was able to pump in my hotel room and keep up my milk supply to some degree. Meanwhile I was just so excited to be doing something that was important to me for a change after years of doing so much just for my kids.
The Strike Begins
I was so excited to return home and see my babies though, and when I first arrived the first thing I did was nurse my baby. She honestly looked at me with awe like she thought I had been gone forever and she had resigned herself to that reality.
I was surprised the next morning though when she refused to nurse! Let the guilt begin!!! My baby would not nurse because I had left her. Thus began the nursing strike and lots of tears for mom and baby.
This continued on for about a week. The first couple days were the hardest. At first I just sat with her trying to get her to nurse while I sobbed and she screamed at my breast. Not a good feeling for anybody. After some prayer it occurred to me how hard the whole situation must have been to a tiny baby who had no idea what was going on. I was busy feeling pretty sorry for myself, trying to force the baby to nurse, when she was really the one who had been through something hard. She thought she had lost her mother. At least I, as an adult knew that I would soon be home.
At some point I realized that she would only not nurse when she was awake and knew what was going on. She was angry at me! But- if she wasn't looking at me she would nurse for a while. This is when I began trying to nurse while she was asleep.
My solution was to catch her unawares. I started to get up a little before her so that I could pick her up and nurse her while she was still asleep. Towards the end of her long nap I would go get her and nurse her until she woke up. I would do the same in the evening, let her go to bed, and then pick her up before I went to sleep for a night time nursing session.
This was not the breastfeeding relationship that I had envisioned, but it did allow me to get 3 nursing sessions in a day so that my milk did not completely dry up and I could continue our relationship.
I know this will horrify some people, but we did continue to give her a bottle once or twice a day for a while. After having me gone my baby girl LOVED her daddy (and still does). They were much closer together after all of this. And- she wanted to sit with him every night and have a bottle. Truth be told- he loved it too.So, I tried to nurse three times a day, and tried not to stress out when she wanted her daddy instead of me or a bottle instead of the breast. I realized that I could not force her to forgive me or do what I wanted her to exactly when I wanted her too.
After about a week of this my baby would finally nurse when she was awake. I believe that she was truly mad at me and that is what had caused the strike. (She still has a little temper and occasional bouts of willfulness.) Despite all this, with some patience, persistence and prayer we were able to once gain establish a nursing relationship.
I will admit that she was never a comfort nurser and she really could have taken or left breastfeeding after that. I managed to nurse her till she was 15 months old, and the last few months were pretty much totally mother initiated. She did not even seem to notice when it ended.
This may not have been a perfect solution. But I am not a perfect mother and I did not necessarily make the perfect choices. It is possible however to regain the breastfeeding relationship after a nursing strike. It is also worth the struggle. All babies are different - some may be harder to get back. Some mothers I have talked to end up just expressing and bottle feeding to make it to the year mark. Whatever you choose- patience seems to always be a lesson taught to mothers.