Nursing Strike


Monday at 4 pm Little Bear decided that he didn't want to breastfeed anymore. That was 5 days ago. Every time I lay him down to eat he rolls over, arches his back, and refuses to latch.

He's in a full-blown nursing strike.

For those of you who don't know a nursing strike is anytime a baby who was previously breastfeeding successfully suddenly decides not to nurse. This is different from self-weaning. A baby who is outgrowing breastfeeding will gradually wean himself off the breast by just eating less and less or eating less and less often. However, a baby who just suddenly stops eating usually means something is wrong.

The tricky thing is trying to figure out what exactly.

Ear infections, teething, disruption in schedules, stress, sickness, hormonal changes in the mom, or just plain stubbornness can lead a baby to give up nursing for a time. Nursing strikes can last 2-5 days on average, but I've been reading stories of babies who refused to nursing for anywhere from 10-30 days!

Ane while you as the mom can try to diagnose and treat the underlying problem, you can pump and give him milk through other means (bottles aren't preferable in this case), in the end your only real recourse is patience. You just have to wait.

It truly is a heartbreaking kind of patience. I see the frustration in his eyes when he looks at me. He cries and runs after me, just like he always has, but now when I sit down and snuggle him close he pushes me away and cries. When I pump milk he jumps with giddy excitement, and eagerly drinks down every last ounce I give him, but it's over too quickly. I just can't pump enough to satisfy him. I need him to nurse.

But he won't, and I can't make him.

I've prayed for days that God would make him nurse, to heal his pain, calm his fear, give me wisdom. I've also given thanks over and over again for the last 11 months of breastfeeding. It has truly been a gift.

Breastfeeding advocates will sometimes have you believe that breastfeeding is something moms should take pride in. We should feel good about ourselves because we are doing the best thing for our babies. It's an empowering message, but it doesn't always make sense.

I can't will myself to produce milk. I can't make my baby latch. I can't force breastfeeding.

I can choose to give of myself, give my body for the sake of my children, but in the end, it's only by the grace of God that I have anything to give.

These past 5 days have humbled me as I am once again reminded that even in this very personal decision, any glory I have truly belongs to God.

It's also softened my hearts to moms who have struggled. I can imagine the pain of holding a 2 week old baby who needs to nurse, but can't latch. I can imagine the fear that grips a mothers heart when all her dreams of "doing the best" just seem to be causing so much pain, when her little one eats and eat and eats and is never satisfied.

I know the pain of feeling like a failure and of being rejected, the fear of wondering if her child really is going to be okay.

It may seem dramatic to some, but for many moms those late night struggles with breastfeeding bring out emotions and fears that seem so big and overwhelming. You feel so helpless and desperate to do the right thing, if you can ever figure out what that is!

This past week has challenged me to stop taking the breastfeeding for granted. Those moments I have with my children, the bond we share is a precious gift, and it's only by the grace of God I've enjoyed it for so long.

It's also reminded me that my identity as a mom isn't wrapped up in how I feed my children. I know it  seems obvious, but sometimes when we face these kinds of emotional challenges it's easy to forget. In many ways breastfeeding defines the way I care for my babies. It's my go to method for feeding, comforting, and bonding with Little Bear.

However, with that being temporarily taken away, I've had to stop and remember that there is more to our relationship. He still needs me and nothing can ever change the fact that I'm him mom. I know him best and love him the most. He still cries for me and finds comfort giggling in my arms. He still wants to be with me every minute he's awake, and when he gets stuck under a chair while chasing a roll of toilet paper, I'm the one who comes to get him out. 

He's still my baby and he still needs me. He'll always need me, whether he keeps breastfeeding or not. 

*Update: It's now been two weeks and Little Bear is officially weaned. I'm pumping for now and offering milk in a cup after each of his nap times. The first few days of his nursing strike were hard for him, but he seems to have adjusted really well to not nursing and doesn't have any interest in going back. It's NOT how I would have chosen things to end, but God seems to be using this little boy to teach me that things don't also work out like we plan (remember my birth story saga? Not what I'd planned!)

However, God is still good. While I hate pumping,  I love the new freedom I have not always having a baby with me. Each of my other children weaned just a few months before I welcomed the next on into the world. This break wasn't something I planned or even wanted, but now that I have it I've set my focus on enjoying it. 

I don't know how much longer I'll pump. That itself could be an entirely different blog post! I keep reminding myself that this is just one more way I can give my life and my body for my children. I am just trying to love him well as long as I can. I'm sure this season will come to a close soon, and we'll start a new adventure as a family. I can't wait to see what God has for us! 

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