MUM SAYS My baby self-weaned suddenly

Mum Nadia Azmi chronicles her experience when her baby girl refused to breastfeed suddenly…

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“It happened without warning. It happened so fast, like a Band-Aid being ripped off. It happened just hours after my baby turned exactly a year old.

It was a typical morning at my in-laws’. We were watching TV after breakfast when Naura started getting fussy. Instinctively, I offered to nurse her.

But she turned away.

It was a bit odd, I thought. She hardly refuses to nurse. If she wasn’t that hungry, she would simply latch for a little while before deciding she had enough.

Never mind, I thought. I can’t force her. She’s probably still full from the overnight nursing sessions.

She’ll be back to normal once she wakes up, I told myself.

But it was nearing noon and still, she did not want to nurse. I started to get really worried because the last time she nursed was at 7am that morning.

Then it began: Naura got really cranky. She cried incessantly, along with her screaming. I thought maybe she was finding it hard to fall sleep – indeed, this was sometimes the case.

“Let’s take her out for a ride,” my husband suggested. I laughed knowing that it was just a cover-up for his craving for rojak. The quick joyride led us to a nearby restaurant.

We had hoped with all the distractions the outside world had to offer, Naura would eventually get tired and snooze. We thought it was just one of those situations where her body was tired but her mind was fighting against the need to sleep. That was normal, wasn’t it?

But when we got back home, she was still cranky. She did eventually, close her eyes and fall asleep in front of the TV.

I was relieved. She’ll be back to normal once she wakes up, I told myself.

But no. She woke up and there was more inconsolable crying and screaming. She was still refusing to nurse.

What was going on? Find out next!

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A few days earlier, I had learnt of something called a ‘nursing strike’. A nursing strike can occur due to discomfort caused by various reasons like an ear infection or teething. This discomfort could also be caused by ulcers or sores in the mouth, which would be a nightmare because this might also be a sign of hand, foot and mouth disease. I quickly ruled this out, because Naura did not show any other indications of the disease – no fever or red spots whatsoever.

She was her usual active self except for the fact that she just did not want to nurse. And that made her very fussy.

Was Naura on a nursing strike? Why though? The only logical explanation was that she may be teething.

I knew she liked the taste of oranges and decided to squeeze some orange juice to feed her. She had a field day sipping on the juice, so teething couldn’t have had a role to play since she still ate and drank as usual. The only thing she refused was direct latching.

It was getting late in the day and I was being as attentive as I could to steer her away from further crankiness. Her uncle was doing all he could to entertain her. But nothing we did could make her nurse.

Was something still wrong with my baby? Why doesn’t she want me?

Next, we gave her water. She drank it like a pro – there was no doubt she was thirsty. My husband, mother-in-law and aunt were baffled. What was going on?

By this time, my breasts were getting engorged and sore, so we rushed home as I badly needed to pump.

I had exclusively breastfed Naura for a year. It had mostly been direct feeding, though she did take a bottle of breastmilk when I had to work, so she wasn’t a stranger to bottles.

I quickly pumped and bottle-fed my poor, thirsty baby. She took the bottle without hesitation, as if she wanted to say, “Well it’s about time, Mummy!”

But I felt sad and rejected.

Did I do something wrong? Was something still wrong with my baby? Why doesn’t she want me? I didn’t do anything differently, so why was this happening? How long will it last?

I sought advice from my sister who is medically trained, my cousin who had worked in paediatrics and other mummy friends – basically anyone who could shed some light.

I read article upon article. Whatever research I did always brought up two words: ‘Nursing Strike’.

Everyone told me not to worry too much, since Naura was her normal self, minus the nursing bit. I was told to just wait it out.

Some of the articles I read stated that a nursing strike could last anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks. Sometimes, the reason remains unknown. I also read that it was rare for a baby under the age of 1 to self-wean. Was my baby really self-weaning?

I kept offering her the breast later in the night and the next day. But she never once took it.

I desperately wanted to bring her in to the clinic or the emergency room, even though she looked perfectly fine.

Thankfully, she had a doctor’s appointment the very next day.

Click ahead to hear what the doctor had to say!

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‘There has been an interesting development,’ I told my baby’s paediatrician.

When I told him what had happened, he didn’t seem surprised. He explained this could be self-weaning but we could only confirm it in a few days. He then conducted a routine check-up, but nothing raised a red flag.

The doctor also said that as my baby had already hit the 1-year mark, she could now eat whatever we ate, though we had to watch out for things with bones and too many spices, for example.

My baby had never been a big fan of baby food. She was initially excited about homemade puree, but gradually became nonchalant because she wanted more. She wanted something with more texture, and more taste. We started giving her baby biscuits, which she loves. The doctor also recommended giving my baby fresh milk as she’s ready for it.

I had to accept the reality that soon, I would not be able to fully rely on breastmilk like I used to.

Sometimes, I do believe there’s too much unnecessary societal pressure for mothers to breastfeed. Of course, mummy’s milk is the best, but mothers who resort to formula do have legitimate and valid reasons. At times, it’s not even a choice. We should not be punishing them but rather, give them even more credit for trying.

Honestly, breastfeeding makes life a lot easier: There’s easy access to milk – anywhere, any time. Preparing formula milk requires more work… and the need to actually get up in the middle of the night.

I had tried offering her the breast on a daily basis, but the moment I placed her in the nursing position, she either turned away or found it amusing.

A week went by and Naura still refused to be nursed. I had tried offering her the breast on a daily basis, but the moment I placed her in the nursing position, she either turned away or found it amusing.

Sombongnya [arrogant, in Malay]!” I would say to her.

By this time, I’ve come to accept the fact that my 1-year-old had self-weaned.

I could hardly believe it. I thought it would happen gradually. But no, my baby went cold turkey.

I guess I now need not worry about weaning her off, a process that could have become very difficult.

But I was fueled with a rollercoaster of emotions. I was sad, because as stressful as it was initially, I missed nursing. I felt stressed because I was unprepared. I was relieved, because it happened so easily. And I was tired from all the pumping.

I was happy, because this incident showed how independent and intelligent Naura is, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to bond with her the same way anymore. As it turns out, it was quite the contrary: She was in fact, more manja [loving] than ever!

Perhaps, it was truly a blessing in disguise.

I’m now exclusively pumping, on a strict pumping schedule. I pump every three to five hours, 24/7, round the clock. Each session would yield five ounces of milk on average, which is sufficient for one of Naura’s feeds. This meant I had to pump for every single one of her feeds.

Although I have grown accustomed to the daily routine of pumping, I am slowly introducing fresh milk to my little girl.

I’m grateful that although she refuses to be nursed, I am still able to provide her with breastmilk. That feeling of still being able to pump for a feed is priceless.”

Nadia Azmi, 30, is a TV news anchor and blogger and mum to Naura Zulaikha, 13 months. They are based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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