Nursing Strikes

  • Posted by Cheryl Taylor, CBE

The identification of a strike, versus weaning, is simple. Weaning is something that happens gradually over several weeks or months with baby or child dropping a single nursing at a time. A strike is something that happens abruptly. Baby or child is nursing several times a day and suddenly stops completely. Sometimes it is impossible to ascertain the cause of a strike, but the solution is the same regardless of the cause.

Things that can cause a strike:

  • A separation from mother that is longer than the child is typically accustomed to having between nursing sessions
  • An illness that is causing a stuffy nose, making it difficult to breath while nursing
  • An illness causing a sore mouth or throat
  • Nipple confusion caused by artificial nipples and/or pacifiers
  • Teething pain
  • Pain while in the nursing position, due to an ear infection or injury
  • Too many distractions in the nursing environment, such as other children, phone, etc. drawing the baby’s attention away from nursing
  • A dramatic reaction to baby having bitten you while nursing

Tips for surviving a strike to nurse again:

  • Don’t force it. Offer the breast OFTEN but don’t try to force baby to nurse if he doesn’t want to. Remain cheerful. Say “Ok, we’ll nurse later then.”
  • Do NOT offer any bottles or artificial nipples!!!! This is VERY important. If you want to offer some water or EBM, do so only in a sippy cup.  By keeping nursing as the only means by which they can meet their sucking needs, it will help to draw them back to nursing.
  • Offer the breast when baby is sleepy or even asleep. Sometimes “unconsciousness” allows them to forget why they refused to nurse.
  • If baby likes baths, get in with him and offer to nurse in the bath. Often times a change of pace/place will encourage a baby back to the breast.
  • DO NOT REPLACE NURSINGS WITH SOLIDS OR ABM (formula). He will not starve and he will not dehydrate in the few hours to couple of days it takes to break a strike. If you replace his nursings with other things, he has no motivation to return to the breast. He must grasp the message that his needs MUST be met at the breast. Your supply will not be irreparably compromised in the time it takes to break a strike, but you must commit to break it if you want to emerge on the other side nursing.
  • Sling him. If you don’t have a sling at least carry him often. Keep him close to you and close to your breasts. Try to sing to him to keep him calm and comfortable. Try walking with him in your arms/sling and nursing him while walking.
  • If your baby’s nose is stuffy, use a few drops of breastmilk in the nose prior to nursing. It will help to clear out the congestions by loosening it as well as provide some of the wonderful antibacterial qualities in breastmilk to fend off a sinus infection. A baby that is stuffy feels like they are being suffocated when they attempt to nurse. Alleviating that feeling that they will smother will help them latch on with less fear.
  • If you suspect teething is the cause for the strike, you may want to consider a pain reliever. Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen  (for babies older than six months) or a combination of the two in alteration may give enough pain relief that baby can latch on. There are other ways to get some pain relief, like putting a wet washcloth in the frig or freezer and giving to baby to suck on prior to attempting to latch. Some babies like their gums rubbed. Experiment and find a way to give some relief
  • Try other positions. Avoid the usual “nursing chair” because if he’s upset, he’ll associate you sitting in that chair with whatever’s hurting/uncomfortable about nursing.
  • Remember that a striking baby is no happier about the situation than you are. They want to nurse but for some reason can’t or won’t.
  • Try not to worry. This is HARD!!! You can feel rejected, hurt, scared, and confused. It’s normal. But remember – he’s uncomfortable – he’s not rejecting you. If you help him he will return to the breast. He wants you to help him through this. You must be more stubborn than he is.
  • This is not weaning. It helps to remember that. Weaning is a slow and gradual cessation of nursing. A strike is sudden and abrupt. He needs your help to return to the breast. He wants to, he just needs a lot of reassurance that it’s ok. It’s your job as a mother to know that it’s too early for him to wean and is in the best interest of his health and emotional welfare to return to nursing.
  • You may need to pump to keep yourself comfortable if baby won’t nurse at all. If you do, that’s ok. Just pump and store your milk, or hand express it if you don’t have a pump. You can offer it to him in a sippy cup or freeze it for an emergency stash. This will also help if you’re concerned about supply. But you’ll need to take care of yourself so you don’t get engorged and end up with plugged ducts or mastitis. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for any discomfort and don’t forget to keep drinking your water.
  • Try to nap/sleep with baby. A strike is an exhausting time for you and baby and you need to be well rested physically and emotionally to get through it.

3 Comments

  1. Sarah

    We have just come through a 7-day nursing strike (my baby is 11.5 months old), prompted by the hand, foot and mouth virus. I felt so awful when it started, as if he was rejecting me (we didn't know he had HFM until a few days later), and I had some bad advice about going cold turkey and letting him wean this way, leading to mastisis. Fortunately at that stage common sense kicked back in and I expressed at his normal feed times, and finally on day 7 he came back to the breast (and then spent all night attached….)

    The only other time we've had a strike is on the day when new teeth are erupting, but that only lasts 24 hours or so each time.

    1. Cheryl Taylor

      SO glad you followed your very good instincts and put baby back to the breast! It's so hard to deal with nursing strikes because it IS very hard to separate how it feels to your heart from what your brain is telling you is the cause of the strike. You did well to know that a sudden cessation just didn't feel right (and ended up painful for you!) and that weaning happens in a different way. Pain in the mouth is often the cause of a nursing strike whether it be from teething, HFM or injury. That doesn't make it any easier for Mom to know why when you're in the middle of it! The sudden stop of prolactin can send the mom's system into a tailspin as well.

      As you are looking at where you want to go, or where your baby needs to go, with nursing…keep in mind the major brain growth that continues throughout the second year of life and that breastmilk is the only way to optimally support that brain growth. Even 1 or 2 nursings a day continues to provide power packed immunities from a body that is biologically designed to concentrate what a toddler needs into fewer nursings. As you progress in this year bear that in mind. The weaning process is best for mom and baby if it's allowed to follow the path of natural weaning that takes a slow path with nursings gradually spreading out and dropping off one by one.

      http://www.kellymom.com/bf/bfextended/ebf-benefit

      1. Sarah

        Thanks. I'm not ready to give up my magic breasts yet – they send my little boy off to sleep nicely, so I'll be carrying on with bedtime and nighttime nursing for a while yet!

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