What’s a nursing strike? What La Leche League told me…

I couldn’t write about this when it first happened, and like so much of what happens to me personally (especially in the realm of vulnerability) i question whether i should blog it.

Alas, i like to acknowledge people and i believe sharing experiences is sharing knowledge, which may help to alleviate someone’s suffering, somewhere.

About 2 months ago whilst our son was nearly 1 year young, i left him with whanau from 5pm-10pm whilst i went to a ‘food event’. My tentative reasons for going were to a) have me time and fun time and b) i was considering a creative slash business opportunity.

It was the first time and not the first time that he’d been with other people (rather than Mama) since his arrival on this planet. He’d been with his Dad and sisters at home for a few hours without me, and also our dear friend who cares for our trio once a week. But he’d never been without me at this particular time of day, and never without his sisters and without his whare.

It worked out okay and it didn’t work out okay.

I arrived home to him crying gently (not hysterically), but the relief i felt in his body when he started to feed and then drift to sleep was immense.

The next day we travelled back to our hometown and he seemed unphased. That night the nursing strike struck.

What is a nursing strike?
When baby spontaneously refuses to feed.

This is what Joanne from La Leche League told me was happening when I phoned her on Monday morning worried my bubba wasn’t feeding for no apparent reason. He didn’t have a temp, he wasn’t having problems drinking water or eating…
What a gem that Joanne is.
A rare precious gem.
She listened to my voice feigning calm and lightness and after giving me some information stopped to ask
“How are you coping?”

Before this moment i hadn’t thought about myself. I was worried about my baby. But when she asked me this the stops came unstopped and i realised i was feeling sore with engorged boobs –  i was producing milk that wasn’t being sucked . I was also feeling desperately rejected and guilty. I felt i’d really let him down, that i’d put myself before him at a time/stage that wasn’t appropriate for him.

When i read the googled literature on nursing strikes i could tick the list next to possible:
“an unusually long separation from mother.”
“a major change in routine, such as moving or traveling”

Searching for reasons i also recalled starting to feel his teeth more when he fed and had i reacted to this abruptly?
“a strong reaction to a baby’s bite”.

That Sunday night when i’d got home i was tired and i begged husband to try and settle our son so i could sleep, so could i have “put off the baby when he wanted to nurse”.

I’d also read if we eat or drink something unusual it can set off a ‘stand off’, which i had done that ‘big’ evening.

The shame and sadness i felt in what became 3.5 days was awful, made worse by the fact i felt alone, which was both metaphorical and literal as my husband was away for work and then when he returned, i felt wasn’t offering me support in a way i needed.

The second time i called Joanne, at about 9.30pm at night, i audibly cried/talked down the phone to her. She stayed calm and full of compassion. She ‘held the space for me’, in that at no point, did i feel hopeless about the situation whilst i was talking and listening with her. Her calm assertion that he would feed soon, helped me continue with the journey.

She asked me if i knew why he may not be feeding. I shared what i shared with you. She encouraged me to talk with our son. To apologise. To ask him if i’d ‘let him down’. To ask him if he felt unsafe or at least not ready to be without me in the manner i had left him. To reassure him i wouldn’t do it again (until he and i were ready). To ask that he forgive me and that we all make mistakes.

This was the greatest healing for me.

My husband questioned whether he was trying to wean?

I weaned our girls at 12-14 months mostly because we were wanting to conceive, and because mother friends had said they’d learned if mothers continued to feed after this time it can be more lengthy and ‘difficult’ to wean. The flipside of this was I had plenty of friends who were practising ‘extended breastfeeding’. I had absorbed over the years  how beneficial breastmilk was for brain and ‘social’ development. I also adore the intimacy of feeding, the gift to nourish (both psychologically and nutritiously) a child.

Breastfeeding wasn’t a walk in the park with me with our first born. I’d say it was the most confronting upsetting difficult part of ‘child birth’ for me. My breasts became engorged so much that i had no nipple to speak of and had to massage in hot showers and express in order to be able to feed. Our midwife was remarkable and came to our home and literally stood on the bed where i was fumbling to feed, and whilst i wept (with visitors in the lounge!) she had baby to my breast in an ‘encouraging’ position/angle for baby.

I got mastitis a few times with our first born too (mostly in the first few weeks). I believe the first time i got mastitis it was because my head was like “I should not have to be feeding this much.” Not only did I feel exhausted and drained (having to care selflessly for another and give more than i had ever had before) but i worried about the ins and outs of feeding. Am i overfeeding – books warn of this. Am i feeding on top of ‘wind’ – they cautioned against this at ante-natal classes. Is she crying from wind or hunger?

We listened to Dunstan Baby Language (and somewhere in week 6 or 10 husband and i could mimic and understand our baby’s cries for different things). Ooooh-wa meant food. Eeeea – meant burp.

All this aside, by the time i’d got round to baby number 3, i was like “Babies need to drink a s**t load.”

But back to the strike.

What other advise did  La Leche League give?
Keep offering the boob to bubba.
Stay relaxed, calm, lighthearted.
Have lots of skin on skin time.
Have baths together – make the boob fun and available.
Hold baby as much as possible (wear him/her) if possible.
Re-generate that bond, connection, trust again.
Be aware of baby’s sleep cycle and feed baby when he/she is just waking up (in that sleepy state you can kind of trick them, they often forget they’re on strike at this time).
Or try feeding them whilst they sleep.
Typically a strike can last up to 3 or 4 days, but sometimes longer.
Keep expressing milk (to keep your supply up and engorgement down).
Offer the expressed breastmilk in a sipper cup/bottle OR consider donating it to your midwife, local breastmilk bank, la leche league or freeze it.

Our son stopped feeding Sunday night. He fed Monday morning and then went on strike until Wednesday or Thursday (with one feed instead of 3 daily) during that time.

In talking with other people, one Mum had remembered that Plunket had recommended she didn’t feed her son any other food, so that breastmilk was his only option. Joanne said nothing about this ‘technique’.

I felt at the core of the nursing strike was our son trusting me again and having an outlet for his feelings of ‘abandonment’ or ‘stress’.

As a Mama, i felt sore, frustrated, guilty, rejected, weepy, worried and like my son and i were alone with the journey.

This stress also affected other relationships around me. I felt disappointed and angry that my husband wasn’t empathising with me more, or encouraging me more or offering to do more with the older kids so i could put energy into son and i.

What helped my son and i move through the nursing strike?
Talking aloud with him.
Empathising with him and what he experienced and ‘checking in with him’ (asking him if he felt this way).
Apologising, asking forgiveness and reassuring him i wouldn’t do it again.
Seeking empathy and information from people who can give it (La Leche League) rather than expecting husband to be ‘everything’ or ‘everyone’.

This reminds me of a Ho’ oponopono peace/forgiveness process i call on a lot in my life (especially as a Mum who makes mistakes).

I’m sorry. Forgive me. Thank you. I love you.

It’s a mantra that we can say whilst visualising an ‘episode’ we wished was different, were ashamed about, felt guilty about. It can help us forgive ourselves as well as gain forgiveness from those we inadvertently hurt.

I’m now reminded of a Buddhist teaching (and I’m finding it difficult to remember verbatim) about hurting another. The notion is this: People don’t intentionally go out of their way to harm another being, rather, each person is busy ‘being happy’ and sometimes ‘we’ get in the way of their ‘happiness’.

Not a very eloquent or complete way to make a final point, and maybe someone can remember how it goes and wants to add it to this post. What I like about this concept is rather than judging someone for ‘being mean’ and rather than taking it personally, remember most of us are innately and perhaps necessarily selfish or self-focused, and that we are just trying to lead a happy life and sometimes ‘you’ or ‘i’ get in the way of that happiness.

An added dimension to this post about baby’s who go on strike, mine then started to bite.
What a will, one may say.
Another call to La Leche League…
I was tolerating the puncturing to my nipple because i was so darned grateful he was on it. But as Joanne said – we don’t want him to damage my breast (and upon inspection i did indeed find a HOLE). No wonder it was painful. So, apart from telling baby you don’t like it when they bite, you can move baby’s face into your breast until they let go.

I’m all about segues and one thing sends me down another path cos that was an old postie trick too. If a dog is biting you (where you can) push the limb (site of the bite) into the dog’s mouth. This way they will let go. If we pull back trying to get away from the dog, they may be left with more of us than we’d prefer.

I’m all about talking with babies. I start even before they’re inside me. I talk (and sing) when they’re inside me. And I talk from day 1. A colleague introduced me to this notion from Emmi Pikler’s findings. I’ve read Magda Gerber’s books, Pennie Brownlee’s (NZ) books and also some writing from Aletha Solter. These women encourage/recommend we treat babies, infants, children like we would adults. We communicate with them as if they understand, because maybe they do. They at least understand the sentiment. They can’t talk with our words but how do we know how much they comprehend…

I’ll come clean. Being concise is not my forte. And whilst I have your attention I’m going to add a few other people/blogs i ‘go to’. Before i think of anything else i will say – baby is feeding sweet as now. Now it’s the choice when to stop feeding – i’ve always made this, will this be mine or his, this time round?

Tips and lists at a glance re: Breastfeeding
La Leache League  –  branches throughout Aotearoa and the world
Dunstan Baby Language  – to learn what baby’s cry means and what baby needs
Mastitis – take high doses of vitamin C and echinachea. Drink bone broth. Put a double mattress on the floor and sleep, sleep, sleep. Co-sleep with baby and keep feeding of the ‘sore’ side. Put cabbage leaves on breast as a last resort as it can muddle up your breast supply and create more milk. Keep your self very warm. Drink lots of warm water.
Milk supply issues – try fenugreek capsules from a health shop and some pharmacies. increase protein consumption. sleep more. exercise less. get those boobs out – be bold to be nourishing your baby. your body is beautiful.
Forgiveness mantra – Ho’oponopono

Parenting authors that have guided me:
Dr Emmi Pikler – The Pikler Collection
Magda Gerber – RIE (Respectful Infant Educaring)
Pennie Brownlee – A New Zealand Taonga
Dr Laura Markham from Aha Parenting
Janet Lansbury – I have yet to read this writer but am often recommended to
Nathan Mikaere-Wallis – a presenter with Brainwave Trust

You want to make a donation to La Leche League who give with abundant aroha? Click on the blue.

I love reading your comments, kia ora for taking the time to share your thoughts

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