Question: My daughter weaned herself when she was six months old. She would cry and scream at the breast, refusing to nurse. I tried everything under the sun to get her to start nursing again, but she just wouldn’t. After a week I gave in and started feeding her formula since she had to eat, and I was afraid she would lose weight if I didn’t. I even tried relactating a few months later to see if she was interested and she wasn’t. I didn’t have a good pump then, I don’t know if that would have helped. I am currently 12 weeks pregnant and want to nurse this baby, too. I am afraid that what happened with my daughter may happen again. What can I do to prevent this? I really would like to nurse this one for a year or more.
Answer: This much have been so difficult for you! Having a baby that won’t nurse has got to be one of the most frustrating experiences a new mother can go through. While it’s not uncommon to have an older baby who goes on a ‘nursing strike ‘for a few days, it is very unusual for a baby as young as six months to self-wean.
Babies this age are sometimes fussy and don’t nurse well when they are teething, but this is usually a temporary problem.
Babies who refuse the breast for a longer period of time usually do so because of a medical problem, most commonly thrush. Babies can have discomfort from thrush in their mouths even if you can’t see any white patches. The yeast infection can make them refuse to nurse because in order to breastfeed effectively, they have to move their tongues back and forth to compress the pockets of milk behind the areola. Babies with thrush will usually take a bottle just fine because they don’t have to move their tongues much at all in order to drink from a bottle.
It is often difficult to persuade babies older than six months to go back on the breast, especially after a period of extended bottle-feeding. In order to get them to nurse again, it helps to have a good milk supply built up. Otherwise you may have a very hard time convincing them to nurse – they are impatient, easily distracted, and used to having a steady flow of milk from the bottle without really having to work at it.
If your new baby does decide to go on a nursing strike, then you need to use a good pump to maintain your supply while you work to with your doctor to figure out what the problem is and resolve it.
If you aren’t able to convince your baby under a year old to nurse, you may want to pump and give her breast milk instead of formula, since the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding breast milk for at least a year, and waiting until she is a year old before introducing cow’s milk into her diet.
Develop a support system beforehand so that you can get help immediately if you do develop any breastfeeding problems. See if there is a La Leche League group in your area, and find out if there are any IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants) nearby.
Just make sure you have someone knowledgeable and supportive that you can call, and don’t be afraid to ask for help at the first sign of trouble, before little problems turn into big ones. Hopefully things will go much more smoothly this time around, and you will be able to enjoy a much longer nursing relationship with your new baby.
Anne Smith, IBCLC