The nursing strike

When a baby who’s been breastfed without problems suddenly refuses to nurse and you feel that they are unhappy about it, it can be stressful for the mom who wonders what could have happened to make her baby refuse to drink and be so frustrated by an experience that was formerly so tender and loved. Sometimes, even newborns refuse to suckle with rage and there aren’t any external causes that can explain this behavior.

How can you tell if it’s a nursing strike?

Remember that if your baby is less than a year old and they don’t eat solids yet, it’s unlikely that they are ready to wean themselves off breast milk. You can also rely on their mood when you try to breastfeed them as they may be visibly frustrated if they are hungry but refuse to drink your milk. It’s actually their way of telling you that something is wrong and they need your help to find that comfort nursing used to bring them. Christelle Adam, counselor for La Ligue La Leche and Coordinator at C’Maman, a breastfeeding support organization in St-Hyacinthe, explains that there are several possible reasons your baby could « go on strike » and summarized the most common.

Possible causes of a nursing strike
  • An ear infection, nasal congestion which can cause your baby to feel pressure, pain or have trouble breathing when nursing;
  • Too many distractions or interruptions during feeding;
  • Bad position that could be uncomfortable or painful;
  • Frequent use of a pacifier or bottle which can lead to a breast/nipple confusion or decrease your production;
  • A return of your period after giving birth or ovulation which can change the taste of your milk;
  • If you regularly make your baby wait when they are hungry;
  • Too much stimulation, stress or tension;
  • If you had an intense reaction or you screamed while nursing, it’s possible your baby associates this emotion to breastfeeding;
  • Too long of a separation between the mother and the baby.
How to get through this difficult period

It’s normal for you to experience certain feelings if your child suddenly rejects the intimate relationship you experienced with them when nursing. It can make you feel frustrated, rejected or even guilty. This sense of failure that you may be feeling can be combined with a worry that your baby is not being fed properly. To reassure you, Christelle suggests you count the number of wet diapers. 6 to 10 wet cloth diapers or 5 to 6 wet disposable diapers are a sign that indicates your baby is getting enough fluids.

During this period, she also advises you to pump your milk as often as your baby would have been drinking it so that your breasts don’t get engorged and uncomfortable, which could lead to an obstructed duct or a breast infection.

How to persuade baby to nurse again?

In general, a nursing strike can last from two to four days and can sometimes stop without you having found the cause. If you are unable to determine the reason, you can try some basic solutions like spending more time with your baby and increasing the frequency of skin-to-skin contact.

Christelle also advises you to try to breastfeed your baby when they are sleepy and in a place void of distractions to promote a relaxing atmosphere. If you think the position might be at play, try to vary positions to find one that better suits you and your baby. You can also nurse them as you rock them gently or in a relaxing bath. The important thing is to create a serene environment that will put your baby at ease and to be patient and persevere. If you feel frustrated or you find that your baby is not receptive to your efforts, it’s important that you stop any attempt to nurse and that you take the time to comfort them to prevent them associating nursing with dissatisfaction.

You can also try to give your baby milk using something else than a bottle – using a cup for example – until they are ready to nurse again. Christelle explains that the cup will not satisfy your baby’s need to suckle, which will motivate them to resume nursing faster. Your baby might be more willing to latch on if you express a little milk for them to smell first. You can even express your milk directly in their mouth using breast compression.

Be reassured that fortunately, most nursing strikes usually resolve themselves quickly. With a little patience, perseverance and confidence, your should be able to get your baby to nurse again in no time so you can continue to enjoy these moments together and all the wonderful benefits that come with breastfeeding.

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