Baby boycotting the breast? Don’t panic—a nursing strike almost always ends. Learn how to keep baby fed, maintain your supply, & get baby back on the boob.
You finally got into a good breastfeeding groove, then—BAM!—baby refuses to latch. What gives? Is this because of teething? Does this signal the end of breastfeeding altogether? Or is it just a temporary nursing strike?
Here’s what you need to know:
- What is a nursing strike?
- How long do nursing strikes last?
- What causes a nursing strike?
- How to cope during a nursing strike
- How to end a nursing strike
- Plus, how to keep your cool
What is a Nursing Strike?
A nursing strike is when a baby or toddler who has otherwise happily breastfed suddenly and abruptly stops nursing (or is very uninterested in being at the breast).
The abrupt nature of the nursing strike is important to note, because many mothers confuse nursing strikes with weaning. However, true natural weaning from breastfeeding is almost always:
- A slow, gradual process
- Takes place over a period of weeks or months, not all of a sudden
- Usually happens when babies are at least 2 years old, unless initiated by mom
How Long Do Nursing Strikes Last?
The suddenness of a nursing strike is one of the reasons it can be so disturbing and confusing for moms. But take heart: Most nursing strikes are temporary and last between 2 and 4 days. There are some more difficult cases that last longer, but even those usually only last for a week or two.
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What Causes a Nursing Strike?
Although it might feel like your baby or toddler’s refusal to nurse is coming out of nowhere, there is always a cause—it just might take some digging to figure it out. Remember: Common nursing strike may be triggered by something happening with mom or baby.
If you’re in the thick of a nursing strike, you may suspect baby:
- Is going through a new social or developmental stage that causes them to want to play and look around more than nurse
- Has an illness (especially a stuffy nose or an illness that causes mouth sores like Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease) that makes nursing uncomfortable
- Has an injury that makes nursing uncomfortable
- Is frightened, because they bit you and you reacted strongly
- Has sore or inflamed gums from teething
If you’re in the thick of a strike and have ruled out the above issues, the nursing strike may be because you:
- Are using a different deodorant, soap, perfume, etc. and your baby is thrown off by the unfamiliar scent
- Have been under more stress lately and it’s affecting your supply
- Have changed your nursing patterns because of vacation, new job, move, or a different schedule
- Are pregnant and your milk supply is reduced
- Are getting your period and milk supply is temporarily reduced
- Have been sick and are dehydrated, and your supply is affected
- Are taking a medication (like a cold medicine with pseudoephedrine or a new birth control pill) that reduced your supply
When a nursing strike isn’t actually a nursing strike…
If none of the above apply, take a moment to assess whether what you’re experiencing is actually a nursing strike. (If you need help, a lactation consultant is a great resource.) There are times when it might look like your baby is striking, but what’s really happening is that they are breastfeeding more efficiently and for less time. Many mamas make this mistake around 4 months or so, when those 20-minute breastfeeding sessions are often replaced with quicker 5 to 10 minute sessions.
What to Do if Your Baby Goes on a Nursing Strike
Besides not panicking (which can be hard, I know!), your top priorities when your baby is striking is to make sure they are well fed and that your milk supply stays intact. Here’s how to do that:
- For every nursing session your baby misses, pump or hand express your milk to ensure your supply doesn’t dip
- Feed baby the expressed milk using a method like paced bottle feeding to most closely mimic that of breastfeeding
- Count baby’s wet diapers—baby should have at least five wet diapers per day after six weeks
- Speak to your baby’s pediatrician or a lactation consultant if you have any questions about your baby’s intake or your milk supply
How to End a Nursing Strike
After you’ve covered the bases in terms of feeding and expressing, your next step is to gently and lovingly coax your baby back to the breast. Your top goal here is to remind your baby that the breast is a place of comfort, love, and food—and to help them forget about whatever triggered the nursing strike.
You need to figure out what is the magic ticket for your baby—and it might be a combination of “tricks”—but here things to try:
- Keep stress to a minimum if possible (practice deep breathing!); your baby can pick up on your stress
- Nurse in a dark, quiet room, away from any stimulation
- Nurse when baby is sleepy, right before a nap or bedtime, or just when they are waking up from sleep
- Try different nursing positions
- Nurse while babywearing, and add a little bouncing!
- Nurse skin-to-skin
- Take a “nursing vacation,” spending the weekend in bed with your baby, resting, doing skin-to-skin, and offering the breast
- Stimulate your let-down first, via pumping or hand expression, and then offer the breast
- Try co-sleeping
- Avoid pacifiers; instead, offer your breast for comfort, or let your baby suck on your finger
- Take a bath with baby and try nursing then
- Wear big, bright necklaces that baby can “play” with while nursing… sometimes you have to use the power of distraction to get baby to nurse!
How to Take Care of Yourself During a Nursing Strike
Being in the middle of a strike can cause you to stress out and even begin to question yourself as a mother. It’s so important to remember that you are not to blame. Nursing strikes are really common.
Practicing self-care during a nursing strike is so important. Here’s how:
- Make sure you are pumping or hand expressing often. Not only do you want to keep up your supply for your baby, but you want to avoid a clogged duct or mastitis, which will just make things more miserable.
- Reach out to fellow nursing moms for support. Knowing there are other moms out that who have been through a nursing strike and gotten through it can be so reassuring.
- Connect with a lactation consultant or breastfeeding peer counselor (at La Leche League, for example) who can arm you with confidence and information to get through the strike.
- Contact your pediatrician if you are concerned that your baby isn’t getting enough to eat or is on a nursing strike because of an undiagnosed medical issue.
You Will Get Through It…
Most of all, keep the faith. The first rule of nursing strikes is that they always end. So take a deep breath, muster up all the patience you can, and remember that this too shall pass.
How About You?
Did your baby ever go on a nursing strike? What words of assurance would you offer a mom experiencing this?