My son woke up two weeks ago and did his usual morning nurse in bed with me. He then refused to nurse for the rest of the day. For the next week he only nursed first thing in the morning for five minutes, sometimes ten. Having already been underweight this was one of the worst possible times for a nursing strike.
My first instinct was to completely freak out. Even with his earlier weight issues we had never had to resort to giving him formula. (Just to clarify, I support women who choose formula, it just wasn’t what I wanted for my baby). He got two bottles of breastmilk a day, and two bottles of formula a day. I pumped with my commercial pump four or five times a day plus a middle of the night session. Eventually I rented a hospital grade pump. Then after a little more than a week he decided to start nursing again. I still think that teething played a huge role, but it feels good that the worst is finally over. But there were moments when I thought I would never nurse again and it really depressed me. But I tried to focus on his health first and deal with my emotions later.
Things I learned from my son’s nursing strike:
Pump, pump, and pump some more
The best chance you have to get back to nursing is to maintain your supply. If you can get access to a hospital grade pump for a reasonable price, it may well be worth it. I was able to pump more in a shorter period of time with the hospital grade pump which gave me more time to have a life while still pumping as much as possible.
Formula supplementation isn’t the end
I had to put my son on soy formula, which I had really battled against doing in the past, due to a possible dairy allergy. (We meet with the allergist for the first time this week). I didn’t like the idea of soy formula. I was worried about possible negative side effects. But when it came down to it, formula was preferable to starvation. In my case, my son already occasionally had bottles so letting him have bottles meanwhile worked. Some breastfeeding experts would say that a hungry baby will eventually nurse, just give it time. In most cases I agree with this. But my son was already underweight and losing weight. I couldn’t afford to wait for him to get over it.
I had almost stopped offering him the opportunity to nurse altogether during the day because I had gotten so tired of him fighting me and the defeated feeling every time he refused to nurse. I ached (sometimes literally) to nurse him but settled for giving him a bottle. Then I was out at a mom’s group when he seemed hungry. I had a bottle with powdered formula in my bag but I didn’t feel like running to get it right then. So I nursed him and he actually latched and nursed, even with all of the distractions of the room. I was ecstatic. An hour or two later he nursed again and so on until finally at bedtime he nursed to sleep for the first time in over a week.
Nursing strikes can be scary and stressful, but it doesn’t have the equal the end of your nursing relationship.