Wednesday, September 28, 2011

He was refusing to breastfeed. What was I to do?

My baby refused to breastfeed at four months old. Was he trying to wean? 

I love breastfeeding my baby. Now that we have been doing this dance for over ten months, I can look back on our steps and see the areas where we lost our footing. Where we had become off-beat. How I was steadfast and determined, I simply didn't see any other choice and so I dug my heels in, turned up the music, and kept dancing, even if I didn't know what the dance was supposed to look like.

There have been moments where I was exhausted, confused, raggedly looking into the eyes of my friends and desperately pleading for a moment of sanity thinking - "Am I doing this right? Is this really how it is supposed to go?" Not knowing that when it comes to breastfeeding - and babies in general - there really isn't a "supposed to" about it.

When Desmond was four months old he woke up. That is, he realized he could see the world and couldn't tear his eyes away from it for one moment, not one. He only wanted to be held high enough to see over our shoulders, or facing away so that he could look look look at everything.

q u i e t n e s s
This made breastfeeding very hard. Friends would come to visit us and he would squawk, hungry like a tiny bird. I would gently bring him to my breast and he would hungrily root and latch. And then immediately become angry and arch his back away. Partly? This was a learned behaviour from the reflux. But mostly he did not want to look away from the world. He did not understand that snuggling into my breast meant he would no longer be hungry.

This was more than just a baby bobbing his head into the breast. More than just a baby pushing and pinching the breast. Those actions are signs of hunger often misinterpreted.

This was a baby, my baby, full on refusing to take the breast and suck or feed. This was a nursing strike. At a very young age.

I didn't know at the time but we were going through was something many women go through. At my LLL meeting, mothers saw him squawk in hunger, mothers saw him angry and refusing to be turned into the breast, angry at the suggestion that... maybe he'd like to eat? They offered their sympathy, they offered to help any way they could. Their eyes told me - "It's going to get better." As I packed up a finally full, finally sleeping baby to drive home in wintery darkness, Leaders would put a hand on my shoulder and thank me for being determined, for coming to the meetings. "Keep coming," they'd say.

Obviously I was petrified to leave my house to go anywhere else. How could I go to the grocery store? How could I go to the bank or the mall? My baby would become hungry, but what it took to feed him was at least a 15 minute ordeal that involved a lot of crying, a lot of that very screamy baby screaming that we call Code Red around here. And I was unable to juggle the two of us in any discreet kind of way. I couldn't very well plop myself down in the pickle aisle with my breast out and struggle with my screaming baby for 15 minutes. I wish that I could have, but people today wouldn't understand. Because What would people say? They would say breastfeeding is only okay if it is discreet. Right? We tell mothers No!

Not if a she needs to sit down on the ground and pull down her v-neck and leave it that way and THEN somehow finagle the L O U D E S T infant into quietness just so that she can get some fucking groceries, god dammit. No, not the mothers who really need it, not the mothers who are struggling. They can't be discreet so they are NOT OKAY IN PUBLIC.

There were only two things that I knew for sure in those days:
  1. A four month old baby is not trying to wean. A four month old baby has no concept of those things. 
  2.  A baby can't be distracted if it is already sleeping. 
And so we became very good at putting the baby to sleep without the breast at all. We wore Baby D and walked until he slept. We held him in our arms and danced around the livingroom until he slept. We held him to our chests and bounced gently on the exercise ball, humming and shushing, humming and shushing. Until he slept. And he would cry. But then he would sleep.
He sleeps.
Once his lungs were quiet and his eyes were closed, I could bring him to my chest and he would latch and he would suck and he would eat and eat and eat. And he would sleep. And I would visualize and take deep breaths, anything anything to get that letdown to come as fast as I could. Rushing rivers, gates opening, waterfalls of milks. Breathing deeply, my hand on his tiny head, celebrating; my baby is q u i e t.

We had cracked the secret code. And so all day I would feed him after he fell asleep. If he would fuss during a nap, I would lay beside him and let him eat. I would feed him again as he woke up. He started eating more over the course of the night to make up for the days. I didn't mind. Babies need to eat, and I wanted to feed him. I would breastfeed him anyway that we could make it work.

Every day it became easier until at one point - it stopped. He started making the connection and the dance became so much smoother, we were more than comfortable taking time-outs from the world to nurse. And then it was just gone. I can still remember the first day that he was happy and excited to breastfeed every. time. And I'm so grateful that I powered through that rough patch, that nursing strike, to emerge on the other side.

Now? Six months later I am even happier. This dance couldn't be any easier.


  1. Thanks, Liam! It is so much easier to write about while looking back. In the thick of things it was a very confusing and frustrating time.

  2. I wish I had been more involved on twitter, read more blogs, gone to a LLL meeting 3 years ago with my first. I didn't know much about any of those things. My just-turned 5 month old weaned...or so I thought. It probably was a strike, combined with lesser milk flow from a just returned period and first time Mom inexperience. I wish I'd known to power thru it. I felt guilty for a long time. But with my second kiddo, I am armed with more knowledge and have already met my 5- and 6- month goals. Now onto a year+. I am glad you were able to stick with it and find the support you needed. I hope that your post helps more Mothers know that they are not alone.

  3. I am so glad you stuck to it and made it through the other side!!