Since starting solid food, C had had a remarkably relaxed attitude to breastfeeding: she never gave any indication she actually wanted to do it, but when offered the chance she was always happy to tuck in. This was particularly true when she was ill. Often she would go off solids, but would still be happy to breastfeed frequently, which reassured me she was receiving at least some form of nutrition.
When C was got a particularly nasty cold at around 11 months, I didn’t worry too much about her loss of appetite, assuming that I would be able to top her up with breast milk as usual. Unfortunately, C had other ideas. After a few tentative sucks, she turned her head and pushed me away with a resounding, ‘no!’ Although part of me was delighted at how well she had articulated her refusal, the rest of me was upset, almost alarmed at the suddenness of it. C had never refused to breastfeed before. Certainly, some days she was keener than others, but this outright rejection was completely new. Although the following morning I managed to feed her again when she was half-asleep, it was the only time she nursed in a 24-hour period.
This pattern repeated itself the following day, leaving me frantic with worry. What had happened to put her off? Was it something I’d done? Was it simply her time to wean? How would I know the difference? Obviously if C genuinely did want to wean, I didn’t want to pressure her to carry on breastfeeding, but as stopping was pretty final, I didn’t want to do it unless I was absolutely sure it was what she wanted.
I was shocked at how C’s nursing strike impacted on me emotionally. I was teary, overwrought and pretty much incapable of thinking about anything else. It seemed important to get it into perspective, however, so I eventually pulled myself together enough to consider the issue rationally. One major clue to the source of refusal was staring me in the face: not only was she shunning breast milk, but she was also refusing bottles, and with the exception of yoghurt, pretty much any food or drink. Whilst this was incredibly worrying in some respects, it did point to the fact that the problem may be less to do with breast milk, and more to do with consumption generally. I then started to think about the nature of her illness, and concluded her symptoms were pretty similar to the ones that I had at the time – a runny nose, cough… and a sore throat. I didn’t know whether C’s throat was also sore of course, but if it were, then it would be a pretty convincing reason for not swallowing unless it was absolutely necessary. The cold I was suffering from had left the roof of my mouth pretty tender too, which, if you think about it, could make breastfeeding particularly unappealing.
I continued to offer C feeds, which she would sleepily accept once a day, and after a week or so she was almost back to her normal routine. I can only assume that the strike occurred because of her illness, and now she was feeling better, she was happy to breastfeed again. Although the incident was traumatic in some ways, it did at least leave me confident that if C goes off breastfeeding because she’s ill, it’s something we can get through, and if she’s stopped because she wants to stop… well, that’s something we can get through too. When the time comes for her to genuinely wean herself, I now think I’ll be able to cope with it a little bit better, and simply be happy that she’s growing up and gaining independence.