A nursing strike – when a baby completely refuses the breast – can be upsetting and frustrating for baby and mom alike. Your breasts ache. Baby’s crying. And unlike an elementary schooler who pushes their plate away, you can’t ask a baby why they’ve suddenly stopped breastfeeding.
So why do nursing strikes happen, and how can a mom deal?
According to Colette Acker, executive director of the Breastfeeding Resource Center, sometimes nursing strikes can happen for unknown reasons.
Other times moms report baby refusing to breastfeed after he (or she) has been startled by something at the breast.
“Mom may have raised her voice at other children, or the baby may have clamped down on the breast and mom yelled out,” Acker tells SheKnows.
If you can’t pinpoint such an incident, Wendy Wisner IBCLC offers a few more possible reasons a nursing strike could occur: Babies, especially between 4 to 7 months, can become easily distracted, making nursing tricky. She also notes that nipple preference can play a role, as some babies grow to prefer pacifiers or bottles than a human nipple.
“Stress and upheaval at home, and teething or illness in the baby,” can factor in as well, Wisner says, and notes that often, “…it’s a combination of factors that puts things over the edge.”
The good news is, most nursing strikes last only a few days, and often baby will return to a regular breastfeeding schedule. Ackers stresses that two things need to happen during a nursing strike in order to preserve breastfeeding: feed the baby and maintain milk production.
Here are the experts’ tips to help get through a nursing strike with your baby:
1. Try to latch when baby is sleepy.
You can try as they are falling asleep or just as they are waking up.
2. Keep your milk supply up.
You don’t want your supply to plummet while your baby refuses to nurse. Hand-express or pump milk to encourage milk production.
3. Stay close.
Do a lot of cozy snuggling to make that area a nice place to hang out again! Also, try to get as much skin-to-skin time in as possible to encourage nursing. A warm bath can also help. The combination of the water and the skin-to-skin closeness helps get babies back to the breast.
4. Remove nipple confusion.
If possible, try to ditch bottles and pacifiers, and instead feed your baby with a cup or spoon until nursing resumes.
5. Seek help.
Find a breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant nearby. Wisner stresses that “you are not meant to do this alone!”