Depressed following baby's nursing strike

I'm a mother of an eight-month-old little boy. We'd been nursing happily until about two weeks ago. He just stopped nursing abruptly. I've read a lot about nursing strikes and self weaning, but I'm at a loss. I've been trying to get him to nurse in his sleep and at night as he's falling asleep. A few days after he stopped that worked, but not again. I feel terrible about the situation. I feel rejected and think about this all day. Please help.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

A nursing strike can sure leave a mom feeling miserable. Everything seems to be going well with nursing -- both you and baby enjoying your special relationship -- and then all at once it appears to be over.

It's quite normal to be depressed and feel the need to grieve over the loss of this special relationship. (Or, even to grieve over the thought that this might be the end.)

A nursing strike can lead to premature weaning. Often, what a baby perceives as a negative situation leads him to abruptly stop nursing. This abruptness, and usually a baby's unhappiness, helps to distinguish a nursing strike from baby-led weaning. It can be quite a challenging time as you encourage your baby back to your breast.

Skin-to-skin contact, with a generous amount of holding, stroking and cuddling can work wonders for both you and your baby. Carry your little guy as you go about your daily rounds -- holding him against your body, dressed only in a diaper (using a baby sling). Nap together, share a bath, give him a massage. Pull him into bed with you for some nighttime closeness Offer your breast if he seems interested. Try nursing your little guy when he is drowsy. A sleepy baby will often forget he's "on strike" and will begin to nurse. Most of all, be patient.

During a nursing strike it is very important to express your milk as often as your baby would typically nurse. I am not recommending this only to preserve your milk supply. When your baby is not at your breast, and no milk is expressed, your body gets the message to stop milk production. While a lowered supply can be a problem, particularly with a young baby, depending entirely on breastmilk, it is not as much of a concern with an older baby.

An important, and often ignored issue, is the taste of your milk when no milk has been expressed for several days. When no milk is expressed, and the baby is not nursing, breasts begin to involute ("dry-up"). During this "weaning" process, the sodium content of breastmilk rises. Babies generally do not like salty breastmilk! So, a baby who is being wooed back to the breast following a nursing strike, may expect to taste your sweet milk, and be surprised (and very unhappy). You want to avoid this situation. If you have not been regularly expressing your milk, taste a bit of your expressed milk before putting your baby to your breast. Even if your milk now tastes salty, the process of involution can usually be reversed. Begin to regularly express your milk and after a few days your milk should taste sweet again.

It is common to have strong feelings of rejection during a nursing strike, especially one that ends in premature weaning. Along with your feelings of sadness, you may very well be experiencing the abrupt physiological changes that go along with sudden weaning. It is important for you to realize that you have done all you could possibly do to woo your baby back to your breast. Nursing is a partnership. You can't (and shouldn't) force a baby to nurse.

To help yourself heal, spend lots of one-on-one time with your little guy, just as you did when you were nursing. If you are now feeding him with a bottle, you can both still enjoy skin-to-skin contact. Bottle feed against your bare breast. Carry your little one around during the day in a sling or backpack. Share sleep. Allow yourself to enjoy the closeness you have always shared. All babies thrive when they are held close, cuddled and adored!

My best wishes in mothering!

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