Looking Back: Ending A Nursing Strike

Barbara Upton, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania

Originally published in the July-August 1974 issue of La Leche League News.

Editor’s Note: The first issue of La Leche League News, the bimonthly publication for members, was published in 1958. The name changed to New Beginnings in 1985. New Beginnings continued to be published by La Leche League International until it was transferred to LLL USA in 2010. In 2014, it transitioned to its current blog format at www.lllusa.org/blog/.

Mother nursing her baby, sitting on couchYesterday morning Ian, six months, stopped nursing. At first, I was not concerned. I just figured that it was another one of those things he’s been doing lately. By this morning, however, I was ready to push the panic button. Not only was I getting very uncomfortable, but Ian also was obviously miserable. He would want to nurse, but when I’d place him in position he would just put his mouth (closed) to the nipple, look at me, and start to cry. I immediately set about trying to solve things.

First I inspected Ian. Was something poking him? Change position. Diaper? Dry. I hadn’t rearranged the furniture, changed my hairstyle, or put on glasses or makeup. I then reviewed the last few days and realized that a problem at nearly every nursing had been Ian’s occasional biting.

As I was always careful to treat biting consistently by removing him from the breast, telling him that biting was not allowed and then putting him down to play before resuming the feeding, I couldn’t see why this would cause a strike. But what else could it be?

Then I looked at Ian and I saw a baby – only six months old – and I was his mother, his whole world. And here was his world putting him down, rejecting him. He knew how to nurse, but he also knew that there’s more to it than food.

He had been responding to my voice and touch, he would pat my face and pause to laugh and talk, he would look around and then come back for another few sucks. Did he really know that he was biting me? How could I expect him to know about teeth and inflicting pain – a six-month-old baby? All he knew was that as soon as he began the closest expression of love that he knew, he was rejected. His solution was that by seeking to nurse he would be held and loved, but by not nursing he would not be rejected.

My problem was to get him over his fear. I took him into the living room, and remembering how skin contact helped him when he was a newborn, took off my shirt and bra, and stripped him to his diaper. Then I held him. I talked to him, put him into position holding him firmly but loosely, so he could squirm, turn away, or sit up, as he wished. When he would mouth my breast I told him it was all right, he could nurse when he was ready. We played “pat-a-cake” and “so big.” I beeped his nose, stroked his head, and tickled him. I hugged him and frequently changed his position from one side to the other. I took his hand and patted my face, playing all the little games that he played while he was nursing.

It took an hour and a half but he finally took the nipple. I smiled at him, he smiled back, began to suck, and soon contentedly nursed himself to sleep.


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