So, you've gotten over the learning curve of breastfeeding in the early weeks and months, and nursing is humming along without much drama. Then suddenly, your baby refuses to nurse. Full stop.
It's likely that you're experiencing a nursing strike. A nursing strike is typically a sudden refusal of a baby to breastfeed, often out of the blue. It's not the same as self-weaning, which is generally a much more gradual process, and according to kellymom.com, it's uncommon for self-weaning to occur before 18-24 months. Nursing strikes can occur at any time and are often triggered by something specific, though sometimes they occur for no discernible reason.
Nursing strikes can be stressful and frustrating, but they usually don't last too long. To help you work through a nursing strike, we offer these tips:
1) Feed your baby and protect your milk supply. While your baby is on strike, it's important to maintain your milk supply. As you know, your milk supply is based on the amount of milk removed from your breasts. So during a nursing strike, your milk supply can decline if milk isn't frequently removed. You may also be at a higher risk of discomfort from plugged ducts or being overly full. Pumping, ideally as often as your baby would normally be feeding, is important. Obviously, you'll need to make sure your baby is fed while you sort out this nursing strike. If you're able to pump, you can use your pumped milk to keep your baby fed. See this post for more tips on maintaining your milk supply while your baby won't nurse.
2) Figure out the cause. While you're working to protect your milk supply, try to figure out what may have caused the nursing strike. Here are a few things that can cause a nursing strike (though they can sometimes occur for no clear reason):
- Pain from teething, earache pain, thrush in the mouth, or nasal congestion.
- A major change in routine, such as travel, a move, a new day care or caregiver, you returning to work, or a change in nursing patterns.
- A new fragrance in a perfume, deodorant, soap, etc.
- Something startling that happened while nursing, maybe it was your reaction if bitten, or a loud noise.
- A change in the taste of your milk (such as in after mastitis) or a sudden change in your milk supply.
3) Work on getting your baby back to the breast. Work on bringing your baby back to the breast, starting with any changes you can make that responds to any cause you can identify. Bringing a baby back to the breast may require some patience and persistence, as it often happens gradually. Here are a few tips:
- Have plenty of skin-to-skin contact. You may want to try an extended period of skin-to-skin contact, known as a “babymoon”.
- Try laid-back breastfeeding positions and baby-led breastfeeding.
- Keep it casual. Never try to force your baby to nurse. If you or your baby are getting frustrated, take a time out and try again later.
- Try nursing when your baby is sleepy, such as when she is waking up or going to sleep.
- As long as you don't have an oversupply of milk, use breast compression when the baby does latch on in order to entice the baby to stay latched.
- Time your attempts when the baby isn't very hungry, as hunger may make him more impatient and less willing to try to nurse again.
Expect gradual progress. For some babies, a measure of success might be that your baby gets to the breast and doesn’t scream or cry, or your baby might stayed latched on for more than a minute. This is all a progression toward the goal of your baby returning to the breast.
4) Get help. A sudden, unexpected cessation of nursing isn't generally the result of chronic low milk supply, but if you suspect that the strike has something to do with low milk supply, be sure to connect with a lactation consultant (IBCLC), a La Leche League leader, a Breastfeeding USA counselor, or your local WIC office breastfeeding peer counselor for help. This is also the time to call on family and friends to help lighten your load so you can focus on getting your baby nursing again.
This post is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. For help with any health concern please consult your healthcare provider.