Babies usually love to breastfeed, so much so that some babies find it hard to wean. A happy, breastfeeding baby is often a sign of a healthy baby. But, sometimes, your baby can reject the breast abruptly and go on a nursing strike.
Babies of any age group can refuse to breastfeed, but it is rare for newborns to reject breastfeeding. If your newborn refuses to feed after the feeding routine is set, consult your doctor. Older babies, on the other hand, can go on a nursing strike for various reasons. Fortunately, it is a temporary phase, and with some effort, you can nudge your baby back to breastfeeding.
If your baby has suddenly stopped breastfeeding, read this post, as we talk about the reasons for a nursing strike in babies and ways to resolve it.
Nursing Strike Vs. Self-Weaning
A nursing strike refers to the period of time when a baby who has been normally nursing refuses to do it anymore. It is often confused with self-weaning. So, how can you tell if your baby is on a nursing strike or on the road to self-wean?
Self-weaning is when a baby stops to breastfeed on their own. This usually happens when the baby has started taking solid foods and has become more independent, which is likely to occur after one year. It is uncommon for babies under one year to self-wean.
Also, self-weaning happens gradually over time compared to a nursing strike, which generally occurs abruptly. If your little one was breastfeeding in the night and suddenly refuses it in the morning or vice versa, it could be a nursing strike.
How To Know If It Is A Nursing Strike?
According to the Australian Breastfeeding Association, a newborn needs eight to twelve breastfeeds within 24 hours, and it decreases as the baby grows. It is common for a baby of four months and above to refuse one or two feeds. But, if they refuse four or five feeds in a day, it could be a nursing strike.
Another sign that your baby is getting enough milk is the number of wet nappies you change in a day. If your baby has at least six to eight pale, damp cloth nappies or at least five heavy wet disposable nappies with pale and odorless urine, it is an indication that they are well-fed and adequately nourished (1)
Once you have identified it is a nursing strike, you need to understand the reason for it.
If you know the reason behind the refusal, you can work on it and get your baby to breastfeed again (2).
Why Do Babies Go On A Nursing Strike?
If your baby is four months and above, they might be refusing breast milk due to the following reasons. But these reasons may not hold true for a newborn. Talk to your pediatrician if your newborn is rejecting breastfeeding.
The reasons for a nursing strike can be grouped under three broad categories(3):
1. Infant-related reasons
This includes both physical and emotional, and has something to do with your baby. Here are a few things that could provoke your baby to go on a nursing strike.
- The baby might have nasal congestion, making it hard for the baby to breathe while breastfeeding.
- The baby might be experiencing gastrointestinal disturbances, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), constipation, or diarrhea.
- If your baby has a small cut or injury in the mouth or an ulcer, it will cause pain while breastfeeding, leading to rejection.
- The baby might be teething, which makes the gums sore and painful to breastfeed.
- Overstimulation or distractions may also cause the baby to reject breastfeeding.
- Fungal infections such as oral thrush can cause a sore mouth, making it difficult to feed.
- The baby may be feeling uncomfortable after getting
- Ear infection
2. Mother-related reasons
Sometimes, the baby’s nursing strike could be due to mother-related issues such as:
- The baby may get startled while breastfeeding because of loud noise or the mother’s involuntary reaction when the baby bites.
- The mother may be emotionally distracted or feeling stressed, and the baby can sense this disturbance.
- If the mother smells different than earlier due to the change in soap, deodorant, etc., the baby might reject breastfeeding.
- Sometimes, letting down the breasts slowly can distract the impatient baby, making them reject feeding.
- Change in nursing habits due to a new job or staying away from the baby for extended periods might also cause a nursing strike. This is commonly seen in babies of working women.
3. Milk-related reasons
Below are a few instances where the rejection could be due to the changes in breast milk.
- Changes in the milk’s taste due to hormonal changes or spicy food consumption may cause the baby to go on a nursing strike.
- Oversupply of breast milk could overwhelm the baby and make it hard for them to handle the flow, leading to a nursing strike.
- Insufficient breast milk can also distract the baby and make them reject the breasts.
- Pregnancy might reduce production and make the taste of milk different.
Once you have identified the cause, it becomes easy to make your baby breastfeed again. Remember that a nursing strike is a temporary phase, and your baby would quickly come out of it. Would you like to know how to end your baby’s nursing strike? Read on as we give you some tips that might come in handy.
How To End Your Baby’s Nursery Strike?
A nursing strike can be frustrating for both the mother and the baby. The baby might get fussy from being hungry and also miss out on essential nutrients, while the mother might face difficulties in keeping up with the milk supply. So, while dealing with a nursing strike, you need to keep two things in mind — one, maintain a healthy milk supply, and second, ensure your baby is well fed during the strike period.
If your baby’s milk intake has reduced due to the nursing strike, you may consider pumping the milk and feeding it using a bottle or a cup. This could be stressful as the baby might refuse the bottle or cup. Have patience and keep trying, as it is important to keep your baby hydrated and well-fed.
A nursing strike can affect your breast milk supply too. So, you might need to express milk by hand or a breast pump to signal your body to keep producing milk for the baby to breastfeed after the nursing strike.
Now that the two crucial aspects are taken care of, you can focus on how to get your baby to breastfeed again.
Tips To End Your Baby’s Nursing Strike
Here are a few tips and tricks that might be helpful. Note that these are general tips and may or not work for you, and you can always try new things as you would know your baby the best.
The first thing to keep in mind while trying to end a nursing strike is not to force your baby, which might lead to additional tension and rejection from the baby. Instead, have patience and take baby steps to make your baby latch on naturally. Below are a few tips to ensure this (1).
- Try feeding the baby when they are in a half-sleep state, as the baby’s natural instincts might kick in, and they might latch on.
- Try to feed your baby while walking around with them in an upright position such that the head is near your nipple. You can also try putting the baby in a sling and position yourself such that the baby’s face is touching your nipple.
- Try a different feeding position. You can tuck your baby under your arm, lie next to your baby without body contact, or just lie down and cuddle your baby. These positions might help the baby relax and latch on.
- You may sit inside the bathtub, with your baby on your chest, and give them some skin-to-skin contact.
- Try breastfeeding the baby after a warm bath, as it is the time when they will be most relaxed.
- If your baby is accustomed to the bottle, use nipple shields at the beginning of the feed, and gradually remove it once the milk starts flowing, and your baby starts sucking.
- Play with your baby by lying with them on the floor. After some time, offer your breasts.
- Soothe the baby by rocking them or singing them a lullaby. You can also offer a pacifier to suck, and then gradually remove the pacifier and offer your breast.
- Express some breast milk, put it on your nipple, and feed some to your baby before offering to breastfeed. A similar taste might help them latch on.
- If your baby is teething, freeze some breast milk and make your baby suck it. This will soothe the sore gums. You can then move on to breastfeed them.
- Try to breastfeed in a dark and quiet environment. You can also play soothing music to relax the baby.
- If your baby shows signs of GERD or other tummy issues, talk to your pediatrician and give them proper medication.
- If you spend a considerable amount of time away from the baby, make sure you take out some time to cuddle and offer skin-to-skin contact before moving on to breastfeed.
- Talk to your pediatrician or a lactation expert on how to increase your milk supply.
- If your baby has a nasal obstruction, talk to your pediatrician and use saline drops with a bulb to suction out the mucus.
- Restrict your diet and avoid eating spicy foods to prevent a change in the taste of your breast milk.
A nursing strike is a temporary phase, and your baby will start breastfeeding with some effort from you. However, If you have tried most of the above tips and still your baby refuses to breastfeed, it is best to talk to your pediatrician to ensure there is no underlying issue.
When your doctor has ruled out any medical condition, and you have tried everything, it might be the end of your breastfeeding journey. Do not feel bad it ended. Think back to the fantastic journey of how you nourished your baby all these months.
2. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk; Pediatrics – Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics
3. Fatemeh Nayyeri, et al.; Frequency of “Nursing Strike” among 6-Month-Old Infants, at East Tehran Health Center and Contributing Factors; Journal of Family and Reproductive Health