How to Deal With a Nursing Strike
Baby suddenly disinterested in breastfeeding? Learn about nursing strikes and what to do when faced with this situation.
You’ve spent months working on your breastfeeding relationship with your baby. Suddenly, you may notice your baby is not as interested in nursing. If your baby won't latch anymore and you're not actively weaning, you may be experiencing a nursing strike (when baby refuses to feed at the breast), which often happens when baby is 7 to 11 months old. If you've recently found yourself up late Googling things like, "my baby cries when I try to breastfeed", you're not alone.
What is a Nursing Strike?
A nursing strike is a period of a few days during which a baby who is not actively weaning becomes disinterested or outright refuses to breastfeed. Good news, though: they're usually temporary.
Are Nursing Strikes Common?
Yes, baby nursing strikes are relatively common, and many different things can trigger them. They usually happen when your baby is young, but can also occur with older babies and toddlers.
What are the Signs of a Nursing Strike?
Your baby may be on a nursing strike if they seem distressed during feedings, lose interest, or outright refuse to feed. Typically, nursing strikes last from a few days to a week but can run longer in some cases. Sounds scary, right? Nursing strikes aren't fun for kiddos or their mamas. Fortunately, most of the causes of nursing strikes are not necessarily bad and can provide some helpful insight into what's going on with your little one.
Why Do Babies Go On a Nursing Strike or Breastfeeding Strike?
Babies sometimes go on nursing strikes because of all kinds of normal changes. Changes in their environment, routine, or your milk supply can sometimes lead to your little one feeling frustrated or confused, making them not want to feed. Hormonal changes, medication, illness, or even changes in your diet can alter the taste of your milk, potentially making them want to nurse less. Sometimes they might even refuse to feed because you changed the brand of soap or deodorant you use. Yes, really!
Here's some common causes of nursing strikes to consider:
- Physical conditions: Things like teething, ear infections, or illness could make it uncomfortable for baby to breastfeed.
- Changes in routine: If you recently returned to work or school after you’ve been in a consistent breastfeeding routine, this may cause feeding disruptions for baby. If your baby is going to daycare or now has another caretaker at home, she may have an adjustment period as you introduce new feeding times.
- Hormone shifts: Changes in your body due to pregnancy or other hormone imbalances can change the taste or amount of milk you produce.
- Baby is growing up: Your little one is growing up and learning more! As babies grow and learn, they are more easily distracted and more interested in what’s going on in the world around them.
- Improved nursing skills: As you're learning more and getting better at breastfeeding, so is your baby. As your little one becomes more efficient when nursing, they may need less feedings that don’t last as long at each session.
How Do You Deal With a Nursing Strike?
Remember, a nursing strike baby is struggling to deal with some kind of change or issue. Be patient and try not to stress about it (as hard as that may be!), because your little one can likely feel your stress or frustration too. Most of the time, this is a temporary situation that will fix itself.
There are a lot of things you can try while breastfeeding to help manage a nursing strike:
- Encourage feeding at the breast by trying a different breastfeeding position that you haven't used before.
- If you find that baby is coming on and off the breast multiple times during feedings, try finding a calmer and more distraction-free environment where you can nurse.
- Give your little one lots of gentle physical affection, patience, and reassurance.
- If your baby bites, gently remove them from your breast and say "no biting" before placing them in a playpen.
- Continue to pump milk on your baby’s typical feeding schedule, as this will help you avoid engorgement or mastitis and maintain your milk supply. If helpful, download a copy of our breast milk storage guidelines (also available in Spanish) to remember when to refrigerate and freeze your pumped milk so you can use it to feed your baby later.
- Turn feeding into a fun game to encourage them to nurse or keep from making the times they refuse to nurse stressful and traumatic - If baby refuses to nurse, take a deep breath and just turn the moment into some special skin-to-skin time instead!
If the nursing strike continues more than a few days or you have additional concerns about your baby's health, reach out to your doctor right away. Medela also offers consultations with Certified Lactation Consultants who can give you professional nursing advice, work with you to find a solution, and get baby back to breastfeeding.
Remember, however you resolve your little one's nursing strike, let love guide your decisions. You'll get through it together and come out the other side with a strong, solid bond!