My baby is suddenly refusing the breast (nursing strike)
If you’ve been breastfeeding your baby for a few weeks, but have now suddenly found yourself in a situation where he is refusing to latch on at the breast, it can be really tempting to feel very distressed and wonder why this is happening.
This is called a ‘nursing strike’. If your baby is over two months old, and under one year, it usually lasts between two to four days, sometimes longer, but it isn’t irreversible.
Coupled with the distress of this, you may also be concerned as to how your baby is actually going to get that milk now, and you may also be feeling uncomfortably full.
There can be a whole host of potential reasons why this has happened, and sometimes it may take a while to work out what that reason is.
- It may be that your baby is teething or he has had a cold or an ear infection.
- It could also be the overuse of a dummy, or a bottle even.
- It may be that you’ve got into a habit of offering scheduled feeds and your baby has got used to that and has suddenly stopped at the breast temporarily for that reason.
- It can also be due to an oversupply of milk.
- It could even be due to a change in your circumstances. Maybe you went away for a weekend and did something very different, so the routine was different.
- It may be that there has been some unrest in the house or some extra noise that isn’t normally there.
It can be a whole host of different things, so you may not get to the bottom of it. Whatever the cause, you can rest assured that your baby, especially if he is under the age of one, he has a physical need for milk and will be able to come back to the breast with a number of strategies.
So I’d like to talk you through six of these strategies.
Expressing your milk
First of all, protect your supply by expressing your milk. Express your milk with an electric pump, preferably, every two to three hours to keep up your supply, and then your baby can receive that milk. It’s good to know that your baby can still have your milk, and at the same time, your body will also continue to make milk.
The second thing is that you may need to use a little bit of hand expression if you feel uncomfortably full in the process,(between the pumping sessions) because your supply and demand will be slightly out of synchrony, and it’s possible to get engorged at times.
This strategy will help to prevent a blocked duct – so this is an important preventative measure as blocked ducts can lead to mastitis.
If you are offering your baby this milk, please look at the information on alternative feeding methods, or if you prefer to offer your baby a bottle with your expressed milk, learn about how you can offer the bottle in a breastfeeding-friendly way.
Skin to Skin
The third point here is to spend lots and lots of time doing skin to skin with your baby.
This means stripping your baby down to the nappy and lying him against your bare chest.
All of that will help to boost the hormones that make milk so that when you’re pumping your milk later, there will be more available milk there. This is because the prolactin hormone, which makes milk, gets a real boost in skin to skin.
You’re bringing your baby back into his natural habitat, where all his innate reflexes and pre-feeding behaviours will kick in, and help him to start thinking about latching on again.
It may be useful to do some co-bathing with your baby, bringing your baby to the breast without any expectation of latching on. This will promote closeness and good communication between you and your baby in a nice, relaxed atmosphere.
Change your position
Another thing you can try is lots of different positions for feeding. It may be that you try positions that you’ve never even thought of before. Just be reassured that your baby can feed, potentially, all around the clock face of the breast, with hundreds of potential positions.
Babies can suddenly latch on unexpectedly when there’s something new going on, so you may also wish to try allowing him to self-attach while you’re walking around with him in your arms. Sometimes that feeling of motion can help a baby’s innate reflexes to kick in, helping him to self attach.
If you still find that your baby is really resistant to coming back to the breast, something you can try, temporarily, is called a ‘nipple shield’. This is a thin, silicon shield which fits over the nipple and the areola area. This has been found to be excellent for helping babies to attach to the breast in a variety of circumstances.
The final point I’d like to mention is to use breast compressions when your baby starts to latch back on at the breast, with or without the shield. This is because the flow of milk may feel a little bit slower to your baby, and some babies get frustrated when they start to come back to the breast for this reason.
Your supply may have dropped a little bit as well, so breast compressions will help your baby to get milk when he’s attached, and also to keep your supply up until he starts to feed normally again.
Most importantly, remember that this is a temporary hurdle.
You and your baby will be able to get back to breastfeeding with a little time, patience and perseverance using the measures that I’ve outlined.
Review dates, references & further resources
Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022
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