By Jill Wilson, IBCLC
A nursing strike is when a baby suddenly refuses to breastfeed. Usually a nursing strikes lasts about 3-5 days, but can sometimes last longer. A nursing strike should not be mistaken for self-weaning. Babies under 12 months of age rarely self wean and if they do it is a gradual process.
There are several reasons why a baby might have a nursing strike. Many times a physical problem could be the cause. Stuffy noses, ear infections, teething pain, injuries to a baby’s mouth could all make them not so eager to nurse. For some babies a change in lotion, soap, or perfume can mask mother’s natural scent and can make the breast unappealing. Sometimes a baby will stop nursing if something upsetting happened during a feeding – perhaps mom yelped in pain if baby bit her. Sometimes the cause of a nursing strike can be a total mystery.
Even though the reason for a nursing strike might be unexplainable, there are many techniques that can be used to get baby back to breast. The first step would be to offer the breast frequently. Don’t wait until baby is overly hungry. If baby is too hungry, he/she might not be willing to work with you. If baby starts to become frustrated, simply stop and feed via another method.
Trying to feed baby when they are a little sleepy can also be helpful. Usually once baby is asleep, instinct will kick in and baby will start to nurse.
Skin to skin contact with baby can also encourage him/her to want to nurse again. Try taking a bath with your little one. Enter the tub first and have your partner hand baby to you once you are safely seated. Wearing textured massage gloves (available at bath and body stores) can allow you to safely hold onto a slippery, possibly squirmy baby. Fill the tub with warm water just below the level of your breasts. A bath pillow or rolled up towel placed under your neck may be helpful as you recline to breastfeed. Try to keep baby warm by keeping the lower half of her body comfortable under the water. Allowing them to explore the breast area without the pressure to feed can encourage them to start nursing again.
Changing the environment and switching nursing positions can also be helpful. Nursing in a quiet dim room can limit distractions and allow you to focus on baby and allow baby to focus on breast.
Pumping for a few minutes before a feeding will elicit a letdown, which is a quick reward for baby and can encourage them to latch and stay latched.
Having your little one looked at by their pediatrician can be helpful as well. This could rule out any medical conditions that might be contributing to a nursing strike.
When trying to manage a nursing strike, don’t forget to feed the baby. Offering pumped milk via other methods will ensure baby is getting the nutrition he or she needs. Expressed milk can be given via cup for babies 6 months or older or syringe, dropper, or spoon for younger babies. It may be a good idea to limit pacifier use while a baby is going through a nursing strike, as they may be more inclined to go back to the breast to satisfy their sucking needs.
When trying to end a nursing strike the most important thing to remember is to have patience. While a nursing strike may be frustrating for all parties, it is usually temporary. Perseverance, patience, and a little coaxing is typically all a mom needs to turn a nursing strike around and have a happily nursing baby once again.