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Talking to My Baby

Joylyn Fowler
Garden Grove CA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 1, January-February 2004, pp. 9

Janene was a premature baby who was always on the small side. My husband and I used to take her to the doctor's office to check her weight every two to three days. Luckily, my pediatrician was very supportive and never suggested that I try supplementing with artificial milk. I managed, just barely, to keep Janene growing at her own, below-the-chart curve.

Despite her small size, Janene was a very opinionated baby. She wanted only mother's milk, and from the original container-me. She always refused any liquid, even my pumped milk. This wasn't really an issue for me, even though I did go back to work when she was 10 weeks old. I was able to come home to nurse Janene during my lunch or on breaks. When I wasn't able to get away from the office, my husband, who watched her during the day, brought Janene to me every few hours.

Because my baby was so reluctant to try drinking my milk from anything other than my breast, you can imagine my surprise when Janene, at five months old, went on a nursing strike. I didn't know why she stopped breastfeeding. All I knew was that she would not breastfeed, and that even attempting to nurse was emotionally upsetting for both of us. She would arch her back, cry, and turn her head away from my breast. She did not nurse for over 10 days.

During the strike, I tried all the tricks-breastfeeding when we were moving, breastfeeding when we were still, breastfeeding in the sling, breastfeeding in a dark room, breastfeeding when she was half asleep, breastfeeding while other babies were breastfeeding, pumping first to get the milk to let down. No matter what I tried, she would not nurse while she was awake. Janene would only nurse when she was sound asleep.

Her reaction to seeing my breast was just heartbreaking. It was no longer a source of comfort and food for her, instead, it caused distress and crying. She lost weight. She still wouldn't take a bottle, a cup, or anything else, regardless of how we had offered my milk to her (fresh, cold, warm, or frozen).

I was concerned, as was my nurse practitioner. Artificial baby milk was not an option because Janene simply wouldn't take that, either. We looked at all possible reasons for a nursing strike. She wasn't sick, didn't have a cold, and didn't have a sore throat. And then I came upon a realization. Around the time she went on her nursing strike, her first tooth had surfaced. During one of our nursing sessions, she bit me, causing a painful, open cut. The cut was not the cause for the strike, but my reaction to her bite probably was. When she bit me, I yelped loudly. I believe that the shock of my yelp caused Janene, who is a sensitive child, to be afraid to breastfeed.

I decided to take action. I sat down with my baby in a quiet, dim, familiar place-our comfy nursing chair-and talked to her. I held her and spoke gently, telling her that I knew she didn't mean to bite me, and that I forgave her for doing so. I told her how important it was for us to breastfeed and how I would do my best not to yell out if she bit me again. I apologized and told her that we would handle the bites together and that I loved her and wanted her to feel comfortable nursing again. Then, I offered her my breast and she breastfed. Really, it was just like that. She latched on as though there had never been a strike at all.

I don't think that parents should underestimate the value of talking to their babies. While they may not understand every word, babies most certainly do understand intent.

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