Thankfully, I had no problems breastfeeding my daughter when she was born. Then she went on a nursing strike and I panicked. It came, seemingly, out of the blue. One day she was nursing just fine, and then, that night, she did nothing but wail and refuse to eat. My husband and I had no idea what was going on. She wasn’t running a fever, she had napped for her usual three hours earlier in the day, but suddenly she was not only disinterested in eating, but totally distressed by it.
It was difficult to remain calm during this nursing strike of hers. The one thing I needed to do as her mom was to keep her alive, and I was apparently failing miserably. Our pediatrician ran through a litany of questions to assess her when we made that late-night call, but my daughter had no extraordinary physical symptoms. At a few weeks old, was she just f*cking with us?
There are a bunch of reasons babies go on nursing strikes, and in my daughter’s case, she may have just been showing the earliest signs of her soon-to-be-evident rebellious side. Thankfully, the strike barely lasted a day and just as suddenly as she stopped eating, she started again. She didn’t even seem that hungry when she decided to latch on again. The lack of explanation for this behavior frustrated me, sure, but I took it at face value and was simply thankful we were back to our usual nursing routine.
Though the incident was over nine years ago, it’s still fresh in my mind. It eviscerated me to see her so tormented by refusing to eat. In hindsight, I wish I remained calmer, if only to save the energy I would need when she started eating again. Instead, I pretty much responded to her nursing strike in the worst ways, like these:
This was really hard not to do. Actually, I would go so far as to say it's impossible, because I definitely blamed myself for my kid suddenly refusing to eat. Was I holding her wrong? Did I dress her with something itchy? Did I smell bad to her? What was I doing wrong, that nobody else could possibly be doing wrong, since I was her sole source of nutrition and she was only rejecting me?
Blaming myself did nothing but strip away any small amount of confidence I had at that point as a new mom. I learned the hard way, but blaming myself was a zero sum game. It did not blaze a trail towards successful parenting.
Get Angry At Yourself
Of course, as I’m blaming myself, I’m simultaneously getting increasingly angry at myself. “How could you let this happen?” I’d snarl, silently in my mind. It was years later, at a leadership seminar my company was kind enough to spring for, that I learned about “self-talk,” and that I should talk to myself the way I would (and should) talk to my friend. Would I go off on a friend if her baby went on a nursing strike? Hell no. I had to start treating myself right.
Get Angry At Your Baby
I wasn’t angry at my daughter, really. However, I can say that I was definitely frustrated. It was hard not to let some disgruntled thoughts about my newborn's behavior creep in. “Why are you doing this to me?” I remember cry-whispering to her, as she turned from my breast and wailed. Just the reaction you want when you expose yourself to someone, right?
Believe It’s Entirely Your Fault
It took having a kid for me to realize the world doesn’t revolve around me. Clearly I was the center of the universe, if everything that went wrong in my life was my fault. When I had a baby, and this baby suddenly refused to eat, I grew to understand there were some things that really were beyond my control. At a few weeks old, she was too young to play mind games with me, and way to young to try and make me feel guilty for her refusal to eat. This truly wasn't about me.
Feel Like A Failure
When a friend would come to me with an issue that made her feel like sh*t, my go-to response would be to tell her this one thing didn’t define her. It’s so easy to dole out advice, and so hard to take your own advice.
Why couldn’t I be logical about the nursing strike, and recognize that it was one thing that wasn’t working in a vast sea of so many other things that were perfectly fine about my baby in those first few weeks of her life? Why did I qualify my aptitude as a mom by this one temporary problem we were having? That is pointless, but I succumbed to it. I blame lack of sleep.
Think You Can Solve The Issue Immediately
When my daughter went on a nursing strike it was rather short-lived — about a day — but it felt like an eternity. I honestly didn’t know if it would end at all. So even just having her refuse to eat for a whole afternoon sent me into a panic.
While she came around in a relatively short time, it took entirely too long for her to do so (in my mind). Her strike was something I wanted to fix right away, and, as I gained more parenting experience, I learned that nothing with my kids happens whenever I want it to.
Try Feeding Your Baby Every 10 Minutes
This tactic only exacerbated my frustration, as well as the frustrations I assume my newborn was feeling, too. I’d put her to my breast, she’d explode in a fit of tears and screams, I’d cover up and walk around with her until she calmed down, and then we’d go through the whole routine again. And again. And again. I couldn’t get it out of my head, each time, that maybe this would be the time she decided to latch on. Nope.
Troll Parenting Messaging Boards In Search Of A "Cure"
Trying to find support is one thing. Trying to find the magic answer to this problem, however, is another. I was so desperate for my daughter to get back on track with nursing, that I obsessively scrolled through message boards on parenting and breastfeeding sites, searching for the one thing that would definitely get her to stay latched on again. This unicorn of information didn’t exist, no matter how fast I whipped down the pages of comments at 3 a.m. in the damn morning.
The one good thing that came out of this maniacal behavior is that I discovered I was definitely not alone. Other breastfeeding moms had babies on nursing strikes too, and just knowing they were out there offered me at least some comfort.
Assume A Nursing Strike Won't Happen To You
When my daughter went back to nursing regularly, I was relieved, but I was definitely wary. If it happened once, it could happen again.
While being a mom has earned me confidence I would have never been able to gain without the parenting experience, it has simultaneously humbled me more than anything else in my life (except for when my underwear fell down on stage rehearsing a play in fourth grade). Thankfully, my kids never went on a nursing strike again, but I was always mentally preparing for it to happen.