I breastfed each of my older two children for the first year of their life, so I certainly wasn’t a nursing newbie with my third baby. The easiest nursing times were when my babies were between six months and a year old. By then my milk was established, I had worked through most latching, mastitis, and sore nipple issues — we were pretty much cruising until they could drink regular milk out of a sippy. So when my third baby, Tennyson, reached 6-months-old, I relaxed — surely he would follow the same pattern…
At seven-months-old, he just started crawling and saw that there was a whole new world out there that he could explore, plunder, or terrorize (specifically the dog).
My Experience With a Nursing Strike
We were going on vacation … and breastfeeding on long road trips is never easy. So, of course, this was the time Tennyson decided everything around him at gas stations and rest stops was so much cooler than breastmilk.
I was getting really cranky at each stop when just as he latched on and my milk let down, he would pull away arching to see what brother and sister were up to, what was going on through the windshield, or (as was the case once) a ten-year-old boy staring in through the passenger side window while I struggled to cover up. (Yeah. That happened.)
It didn’t get any better in hotel rooms. I’d turn the lights down and the television off, make my husband and older two children leave the room, and try to nurse Tennyson. Unfortunately, he would scream and arch away from me before I could even unsnap my nursing bra. He wasn’t sick, because he was eating cereal and vegetables, and he would drink breastmilk or formula out of a bottle — when he was sitting on my lap and he had a full view of everything going on around him. I knew my milk would diminish if he didn’t nurse regularly, especially since I don’t have a hospital grade breast pump to help keep my supply up.
“You must nurse! If you don’t, the bar will be closed — for good!” I cried over Tennyson one evening before my husband reminded me that I was thirty-six and he was eight-months-old. My husband also reminded me that he was completely formula fed as a baby and managed to attend law school. Oh, and he also knew this person who was completely formula fed and became a Rhodes Scholar.
“No!” I wailed. “I have to breastfeed Tennyson, because he’s my last baby. I’ll regret it forever if I don’t keep this up for a year.”
Every night of vacation I would lie awake, hoping that Tennyson had consumed enough calories during the day. And every day I thought that the problem would get better.
I assured myself it would be over once we got home from vacation, but noooooo, the great nursing strike of 2015 continued. Then, two days after we returned from vacation, he woke up one morning with a bone dry diaper.
Advice from a Lactation Consultant
I called my lactation nurse and tearfully explained what was going on. It took a few phone calls and visits with her and my pediatrician’s nurse before we got through this bump in the road. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Call a lactation nurse. Lactation nurses want you to be successful at breastfeeding. It’s their job. Whenever there’s a lactation problem, I call my nurse, and she talks me through it. They also know all the science about milk supply and your baby’s developmental and diet issues.
- Don’t force your baby to nurse. My lactation nurse told me not to force Tennyson to nurse because that’s “just weird.” If your baby doesn’t want to nurse, don’t keep pushing it. Particularly if you have a strong-willed baby — this can just make the problem worse.
- ENJOY your baby. If the breastfeeding becomes too stressful, step back. Both my lactation nurse and my pediatrician’s nurse said that I needed to enjoy Tennyson. There would be no benefit to nursing him, if I was just stressing myself (and him) out.
- Some babies wean early. My nurse told me that some babies wean earlier than others. If Tennyson wants to stop breastfeeding earlier than my other two children did, this isn’t a bad thing; in a professional way, she essentially told me to chill out. She encouraged me to keep offering him the breast, but if he wanted formula in a bottle or sippy, not to stress about it.
- It’s not about you. This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. I realized that the night I started crying to my husband that I had to feed Tennyson because he was my last baby was more about me and not about him. I started to understand that all that mattered was my son recieve the nourishment he needs whether it’s from breastmilk or formula.
So Where Am I Now?
Everything has been better since I’ve let Tennyson lead the breastfeeding/weaning process rather than me. I stopped stressing when he didn’t want to nurse and readily gave him formula in a bottle. I kept offering him the breast, and I pumped a little to keep my milk up. I was glad I did this, because a few weeks after the great nursing strike began, he got a cold and wanted to nurse more. Now, he’s almost nine-months-old, and we’re doing a combination of nursing and bottles of formula. My milk has gone down a little, and I don’t think he’ll make it quite to a year with the breastfeeding. But we’re both happier, and that’s what matters.