My baby is suddenly refusing the breast (nursing strike)

Nursing Strike

If you’ve been breastfeeding your baby for a few weeks, but 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 what is going on here. This is actually called a ‘Nursing strike’. If your baby is over two months old, and under one, it usually lasts between two to four days, sometimes longer, but it isn’t irreversible.

And coupled with this, you may be really concerned as to how your baby is actually going to get that milk now, and you may also be feeling uncomfortably full. Nursing strikes can be caused for a whole host of reasons, and it can be quite difficult to work out what that reason is.

So some of the potential reasons are the baby may be teething or maybe he’s had a cold or an ear infection. It might be the overuse of a dummy, or a bottle even. It might be that you’ve scheduled feeds and your baby has got used to that, and has suddenly stopped at the breast temporarily, for that reason. It can be due to an over-supply of milk. It may even be due to a change in your circumstances, it may be that you went away for a weekend, and did something very different, so the routine was different. Or there’s just been some un-rest 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. But whatever the cause, rest assured that your baby, certainly under the age of one, has a physical need for milk, and will be able to come back to the breast with a number of strategies. So in this video I’d like to talk you through six things that you can do.

And on the first one, a very important one, is to protect your supply by expressing your milk. Express your milk with an electric pump, preferably, every two to three hours to keep up that supply, and then your baby can have that milk. So the great thing is that your baby gets that milk, and your body continues to make that milk. But you might also need to use a little bit of hand expression, just with your hand if you feel uncomfortably full in the process, because your supply and demand will be slightly out of sync, and you may get a little bit engorged at times. You might not, but if you do, use your hand just to get a tiny bit of milk off your breast to keep you comfortable, and that will prevent you getting a blocked duct, if you actually feel uncomfortably full at any time.

And if you are offering your baby this milk, please look at the video relating to alternative feeding methods. And also, if you are going to offer your baby a bottle with your expressed milk, have a look at the video relating to that as well.

So the first thing is pumping your milk with an electric pump to actually get that supply up. Secondly, you’re going to hand express to keep yourself comfortable in the process, between those pumping sessions – if necessary. Third point here is to spend lots and lots of time doing skin to skin with your baby. So, strip your baby down to the nappy, lying against your bare chest. All of that will help to boost the hormones that make milk so that when you’re pumping the milk, there will be more available milk there, because prolactin hormone, which makes milk, gets a real boost in skin to skin. But predominantly, you’re bringing the 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 might be that even go do some co-bathing with your baby, just nice and relaxed. Even, I think really just bringing your baby to the breast at first without any expectation of latching on, so that there’s that closeness and good communication going on between you and your baby in a nice, relaxed atmosphere and this area of the breast will be a comfortable one, not a battleground for your baby.

Another thing you can try is lots of different positions for feeding. It might be that you try positions that you’ve never even thought of before. But just be reassured that your baby can be fed potentially, all the around the clock face, with hundreds of positions. Have a good look at the videos relating to this, because babies can suddenly latch on unexpectedly when there’s something new going on. And you may also wish to try allowing your baby to self-attach while you’re even walking around with your baby in your arms. Sometimes that feeling of motion can just help babies’ innate reflexes to kick in, and for them to self attach.

If you find your baby is still really resistant coming back to the breast, one really good tool that you can try, temporarily, is called a ‘Nipple shield’. Now this is a thin, silicon shield which fits over the nipple and the areola area, and it really can be an excellent tool for helping babies to attach to the breast in many different circumstances. Please have a look at the video related to nipple shields for more information.

The final point I’d like to mention is to try using breast compressions when your baby starts to latch back on at the breast, with or without the shield, because the flow of milk may feel a little bit slower to your baby, and some babies get a little bit flustered when they start to come back again. Your supply may have dropped a little bit as well, so breast compressions will help your baby to get milk when he’s there, and also to keep your supply up until he starts to feed normally again.

And remember 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

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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