Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sleep, Nursing Strikes, and Teething

Remember how I was trying to get Chase to sleep in his own bed? Talk about bad timing guys! ::headdesk::

OK, so I couldn't figure out why I had so much success followed by so. much. FAILURE. We were making great progress, but unknown to me, Chase was working on top teeth. We had several nights of extended midnight parties, then Friday all the poo hit the fans. He was up for three hours, wouldn't nurse to sleep, wouldn't do ANYTHING, and was a crab monster. It then occurred to me he hadn't actually nursed (other than a very short dream feed) since 2 that afternoon...then he was up and wild for three hours that night. He woke up and partied AGAIN at 3 and AGAIN would not nurse. I was growing more and more concerned, my breasts were growing fuller and fuller, my heart was starting to panic. Saturday he would not nurse and was struggling with sleep...then I looked at his top gums.

The face of one seriously teething baby.
Oh dear. They were so so swollen and it looked like at least FOUR teeth were trying to come through.

At this point I throw in the towel on the bed switching because he clearly needed to be with me, and I needed to be sure that if he was willing to nurse, that he could. He did NOT have ample wet diapers on Saturday...and I watched the hours tick by without him taking the breast. In fact, aside from a few sips from a sippy, and three different bottles, he wasn't drinking anything! We gave him some advil in case the homeopathics weren't strong enough for him in the hopes that he would nurse. At nap time (about 24 hours in) I got naked, got him naked, and snuggled him in the dark for nap time. I got him to take 4.5oz from a bottle because he still refused to nurse.  It was kind of tricky because he had wanted nothing in his mouth all day, so as he was sucking his fingers, I dribbled milk between the two fingers so it would slowly go into his mouth...this worked, he relaxed, and I was able to trade the bottle for his fingers. Then I laid down with him in bed...and he latched on.

First nursing in 24 hours.
 Cue giant sigh of relief. 24 hours without actually nursing...I actually cried. The whole situation was so stressful. We napped, but he would not nurse again. We took a bath with some calming essential oils, and went about our day. He did not nurse again the whole day, in fact. We limited his solids, and offered breastmilk as well as water in varies sippy cups and bottles as well as offering the breast but he definitely wasn't taking in enough. I probably pumped 28 or so oz and he didn't even take half of that.

Then it was bedtime. I didn't give him advil since it didn't seem to help any more than the homeopathics and I don't like OTC pain meds for little kids (or myself if I can help it actually). We started bedtime late because of a MASSIVE storm that knocked out our power and that was rumbling away still at 9pm. But again, I got naked, got the baby naked, offered the breast and just let him snuggle with me to see if he would calm enough to dream feed. He was clearly tired but could not settle, I'm assuming because he was hungry. So...I snuck the bottle in his mouth to get him some milkies in the hopes he would settle down with just a little then go on to dream feed. He did half the bottle (maybe 2oz) then wanted no more. He just snuggled there next to me sleeping and I was just rocking and relaxing with him when suddenly...VOILA! He latched on and nursed like he meant it. FINALLY!

We got into bed and snuggled down for the night. He woke at least 3 or 4 times to nurse during the night (1 time to party, and the other time to cry as hard as his darling little body could cry...poor guy). I kept up with his homeopathics during his wakings and he nursed thoroughly. I thought we were over it. But this morning he refused to nurse again. I offered him a sippy of breastmilk with his breakfast and again, as before, he would take only sips. So I went to pump, filled a bottle, and we went out to run errands as a family. While we were out he started getting cranky in the Ergo and wanted to nap but clearly was hungry. I decided to go to a quiet spot and offer the breast again to see if he would take it. Thankfully he did, but not for long. I think just enough to take the edge off his hunger so he could sleep...but it was progress. He did not want the bottle or a sippy (all this wasted milk!) so I let it go and he took a nap. Once we got home it was obvious it was time for a solid nap. So, again, I took a bottle to the room just in case, bared the boobies and the baby, and rocked him...and he nursed....nursed NURSED!

He had two boobs for nap time then slept almost two hours. I think after 48 hours I'm ready to call his strike off. His teeth have not erupted yet, and he's clearly still uncomfortable, but he's back to breast right now. Clearly this is calling the victory a little early and I'm kind of tentative. I am, however, hopeful that our strike was only 2 days and we will nurse happily ever after from here forward. This was probably the hardest two days I've had with Chase, and that's saying a lot. I cried several times, I was so concerned I was destined to be stuck to a pump for weeks waiting for him to come back to breast full time. I was worried that I wouldn't have the stamina to see it through. I was terrified he was done, even though I know better.

The thing that is difficult to convey in the telling of our very stressful 2 days is that whenever I offered the breast I did so calmly and gently. If he didn't want it right away, he wasn't going to, so I didn't force the issue on him since that would only frustrate him further and perhaps create an aversion. It took a lot of deep breathing and talking myself down from panic about the whole situation. I was a bit of a wreck on Saturday and I was very lucky to have friends reminding me that it was a phase, that it would pass, and to just take care of him and keep pumping until he came back to the breast. Another reason why it is SO vital to have a solid support system behind you when nursing.

Tonight he will probably go back into his crib, depending on how the rest of the evening/afternoon goes. We'll stick with the homeopathics and nurse as much (or as little if that be the case) as he likes. I would say his latch is not so hot right now because he is trying to get I'm a little bit sore between that and the pumping. It's nothing a little nipple butter won't smooth out though.

Nursing strikes can be very worrisome and stressful. It is important to remember, however, before 1 year of age, if a baby stops nursing, they are NOT self-weaning. Weaning indicates that a baby is slowing reducing the amount and frequency of their nursing. Few children self-wean prior to the age of 2 although there are some opportunities to gently wean when baby is busy busy busy after the age of one. If your baby is not nursing as they seem like the should, do not automatically assume baby is weaning, first assume it is a nursing strike and work on breaking the strike. Make sure you get lots of support from your fellow mamas online or in real life because this is an emotionally difficult time. Our No Time For Nursing post has some wonderful tips compiled from personal experience as well as research to help with a baby who is refusing to nurse. I would like to add a few tips to this that I have learned (and been reminded of by my dear mama friends) during the last two days.

  1. As difficult as it is, try to remain calm, cool, and collected. Your baby can sense your mood. Before offering the breast, take some slow, deep breaths, try to get some snuggles in with your baby, laugh and tickle and cuddle.
  2. Get Nakey! Or at least topless, and get your baby, no matter his or her age, down to diaper. Skin to skin is calming for babies of all age. If you bedshare, nap with baby if you are able, the closeness and availability of the breast will encourage breastfeeding. Taking a warm bath helps to calm your nerves and baby's nerves as well as provide more skin to skin time.
  3. Don't force the baby to the breast. If baby isn't going to take the breast right away, generally he won't do it in 5 minutes or 10 minutes either. Just be cool about it. Give baby a kiss and send him on his way.
  4. Make sure baby is getting fed...sippy, cup, bottle, whatever. You don't want your baby getting dehydrated in the process.
  5. Protect your supply. Make sure you are effectively and regularly expressing milk (hand, pump, whatever works for you). Any refused feeding should be replaced by a thorough pumping. If you allow the milk to fill your breasts, your body will assume that it no longer needs to make that much milk. So make sure you keep removing the milk.
  6. You can diagnose the cause of the strike to death, but it won't do you any good. Just be persistent, calm, cool and collected. So many things may cause a baby to refuse nursing. In Chase's case it was encountering pain from teething while nursing, so that even when he wasn't in pain, he was afraid he would be at breast. Sometimes babies get startled when you gasp or jump because they bit you and are afraid to nurse. Often, there is no reason that anyone can put their finger on. Maybe a cold? Sore throat? Headache? Whatever, it doesn't really matter. Moving forward do lots of things to make it a pleasant and enticing experience. Sing to your baby, snuggle and tickle, play little games, chomp on little fingers and toes.
  7. Be patient. Chase's strike seems to have been short, but some last a week, two weeks, a month! It is very trying, it's emotionally exhausting, it's physically exhausting, but sticking it out, protecting your supply, and letting the baby come back to breast on his/her own terms will yield great payouts for you and for your baby.
Here are some resources I hope you will find useful should you find yourself in the midst of a nursing strike:

  • Kelly Mom (of course!): Regards any age baby not nursing, it isn't necessarily directly about nursing strikes, but the tips here are VERY useful if you are in the midst of a nursing strike. It also has helpful hints and techniques if you have a very young baby refusing the breast for any reason.
  • Mother and Child Health - Surviving a Nursing Strike, I am not all that familiar, but this article seems to have some good tips though some seem to be more appropriate for younger babies than mine. If I gave Chase my finger to suck on, he would bite it off. ;)
  • La Leche League:
  • Dr. Jay Gordon's Site: Nursing Strikes
  • I recommend checking out The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding for great information on strikes. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers also has some good tips, but in general I do not recommend this book to moms, it's too much reading. It would serve you well to go look at the section on nursing strikes while you are in the book store or library and just leave it at that.
  • And for a little hope that THIS TOO SHALL PASS...Chronicle of a 40-day Nursing Strike
I hope that you find some helpful tips here and that this can help you weather your own situation. It's OK to KNOW that your baby isn't weaning, to KNOW that this too shall pass, to KNOW that this is temporary and still feel totally overwhelmed by emotion. I was shocked by my own reaction not only by Chase's refusal to nurse, but by the fact that each time he HAS nursed that I have cried a little and breathed a huge sigh of relief...that's I've felt tension and anxiety melt out of me with each successful nursing over this period of time. I felt like I held my breath for two days, but to me, no matter how long this could have lasted, it is worth it to see it through.

We here at The Good Letdown are here for you too, if you are in the middle of a strike and need mamas to reach out to, information, support, someone to tell you that it's going to be know where to find us!


  1. did you freeze your extra milk? you can always offer it up as a one time donation on human milk for human babies (eats on feets) never know there might be a mama in need near you.

  2. I didn't have much for a donation, I've been offering it to him here and there with his meals. I did donate several times through HM4HB though!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this! My mom has been pestering me lately about starting my 9 month old on formula now, because I supposedly weaned myself at 10 months and I need to prepare myself if my daughter does the same thing. My daughter has never even had a bottle before! Much less formula! I refuse and I told her about a Nursing strike and how you just keep offering and she thinks I'm crazy. (Of course she also thinks I'm crazy because I'm a cloth diapering, babywearing, co-sleeping, amber necklace using, baby-led weaning mama lol). But I'm going to save this post so If my daughter does go on a nursing strike, I will know where to come for comfort! Thank you again! :)

  4. Could you tell me what homeopathics you use for teething? My son is actually teething FAIRLY well - he does have at least 6 teeth in the process of coming in at various stages - but we do use OTC's for the times when he's so uncomfortable he can't sleep. If you notice they're working equally well as homeopathics I would rather use those. Thank you!

  5. I use Hyland's Teething tablets (which are back on the market now)...right now he is working on molars so at night I use ibuprofen and the hyland's as the hyland's helps with soothing more I think. The ibuprofen alone does not keep him chill enough.

  6. I have been combing the internet looking for something, ANYTHING to give me peace of mind. This article is the only thing I can really take solace in, I guess because it's a personal account, and I've met you before. My problem is that mine immediately bites me when I offer the breast. I have called out in pain, set him down calmly saying "later", and set him down calmly without speaking. He still bites every time though. This has been going on for two days. I'm trying not to lose it and cry my eyes out but it's hard. He has taken a sippy of expressed milk, but I fear it encourages the biting. I should explain he has a tooth erupting, still hasn't broken through. Tips, suggestions are appreciated!

  7. It can be a helpful guidelines when it comes on the baby teething problems. Now, this will be a nice day to know these things because I am planning to have my wedding next year and having a baby. Thanks.

  8. Super helpful article! My daughter is 8mo. And hasn't nursed in over 36hrs, I feel like I've tried everything and it's so saddening when there's nothing else you can do. I'm starting to get most worried tho because her diapers
    are becoming dryer and dryer and am super worried she might be dehydrated. I think it may
    be time to visit the dr tmrw.

  9. Soo day two of no nursing..she's not even slightly interested. She will lunge herself back and cry when I set her on my lap and get her close to my breast. I've been so afraid she maybe dehydrated. What's worked best has been the bottle with cold milk even tho we've never succeeded with the bottle before. Then this morning I thought I'd give one more thing before taking her to the dr, and it worked! Who would have guessed a Tylenol surenge would be worth it's weight in gold! I'm so happy something is finally doing the trick well enough to know she will be ok and get thru this. Good luck mommies and whatever you decide to try be as patient as you can with your little ones (it's rougher for them going thru this) and don't give up!