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Before it happened to me and my baby, I'd never even heard of a "nursing strike." My son was 11 months old and had been nursing like a champion since birth. Then, out of nowhere, he just stopped breastfeeding. Like, full stop.
So I did what any reasonable mom would do: I completely panicked. I wasn't ready to give up breastfeeding. So many tears fell. Not yet! My baby!!!
I was somewhat relieved when a quick Internet search indicated that most babies do not self-wean suddenly. The process typically takes place gradually over the course of a few weeks or months, or even years. I also learned it's rare for a baby to wean himself before he is 1 year old.
It appeared that what we were experiencing was likely a nursing strike, when a baby stops breastfeeding as a result of any number of problems, a single cause or possibly a combination of several things such as teething, a stuffy nose, or the after effects of being startled – for instance, after biting his mom during a nursing session. Um, yeah: As it happened, we had all those things going on.
So there we were: Me, frustrated and feeling helpless because my baby wouldn't latch on to feed, and him, equally frustrated because he was hungry. And yet, confusing to us both was the fact that his body was telling him not to nurse, since, I guess, his teeth hurt, he was stuffed up, and maybe he was afraid I'd scream bloody murder if he bit me again. Confession: I probably would have.
Although Googling some info made me feel a little better – This is normal! – I wasn't convinced that everything would resolve within a few days like the experts said. I let myself spiral downward, fast. Certain thoughts just wouldn't stop plaguing me in my delicate mental state, including my persistent original panic: What if this is the end of the road for breastfeeding? And although I knew it was kind of irrational and more than a little immature, I also couldn't help but feel rejected by my son's refusal to breastfeed.
But the worst part, of course, was worrying about his well-being. I simply couldn't help him eat, even as I sat there with engorged breasts, dripping milk. He didn't want to. He wouldn't eat in the morning, or in the afternoon, or even before bed.
Meanwhile, the physical pain of him not nursing for 12 hours heightened my emotions. I mean, I was nearly catatonic. Nothing made sense. The one thing I thought I had in my control amidst all the changes of new motherhood was feeding my son, and now that was completely unpredictable. It's not an overstatement to say I slipped into a mini depression. This was all happening so suddenly, and I felt overwhelmed with fear, grief, and concern for my son. Did I mention I was a wreck?
Luckily, my husband was on hand to support me. Together, we developed a rational plan. I'd pump to keep up my supply of breast milk, assuming that this "strike" would eventually end. And we'd make sure our son didn't get dehydrated by feeding him with a bottle.
Except that he wouldn't take a bottle. Thankfully, he did eventually agree to sip a cup of water, and then breast milk from a cup.
My son's nursing strike went on for three very long days. Then, on the morning of the fourth day, he woke up and blissfully latched on. Like nothing had changed. The relief I felt was unlike anything I've ever experienced. I could have walked on air, I was so happy to have this part of him back and for the worry to be behind us. I just sat there and soaked in an all-consuming sense of peace that everything was back to normal. And from there on, it was.
To other moms out there who may be experiencing a nursing strike, I want you to know that this phenomenon is real. It happens, and the emotional toll can be rough. It's as if everything you thought you knew about breastfeeding, and therefore about your baby, goes right out the window. And you feel helpless.
It's a super scary time, but please know you are not insane for feeling so frightened or depressed. Get support. Call your pediatrician if you are truly worried for your baby's health. And above all, don't feel ashamed of the emotional roller coaster that can accompany a nursing strike.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.