Breastfeeding Strike

By Jill Wilson, IBCLC

A breastfeeding strike is when a baby suddenly refuses to breastfeed. Usually this lasts about 3-5 days, but  can sometimes last longer. A breastfeeding 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 breastfeeding 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 breastfeed. 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 breastfeeding if something upsetting happened during a feeding – perhaps mom yelped in pain if baby bit her. Sometimes the cause of this can be a total mystery.

Even though the reason for a breastfeeding 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 breastfeed.

Skin to skin contact with baby can also encourage him/her to want to breastfeed 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 breastfeeding.

Changing the environment and switching positions can also be helpful. Offer the breast in a quiet dim room. This helps limit distractions and allows you to focus on baby and allows baby to focus on the 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 breastfeeding 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.

The most important thing to remember is to have patience. While this is frustrating for all parties, it is usually temporary. Perseverance, patience, and a little coaxing is typically all that is needed to turn things around and have a baby happily breastfeeding once again.