Nursing Strike

My baby is suddenly refusing the breast

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’ or a ‘breastfeeding 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.

Along with the distress of this, it may concern you as to how your baby is 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.

For instance:

Baby refusing to feed on nursing strike
  • Your baby is teething, or he has had a cold or an ear infection.
  • You have used a pacifier/dummy or bottle too often.
  • You and your baby have got into the habit of offering scheduled feeds, and it has suddenly stopped for some reason.
  • An oversupply of milk.
  • A change in your circumstances, such as going away for a weekend or you did something very different, and therefore your routine was different.
  • There has been some unrest in the house or some extra noise that isn’t usually there.
Baby crying on bed

It can be a whole host of different things, so you may not get to the bottom of it.

Whatever the reason for your baby refusing the breast, you can rest assured that your baby, especially if he is under the age of one, has a physical need for milk and will be able to come back to the breast.

So let’s consider six strategies that will get you through a nursing strike.

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, so your baby can receive that milk. It’s reassuring to know that your baby can still have your milk, and at the same time, your body will also continue to make milk.

Hand Expression

Secondly, 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.

Hand expressing your milk will help to prevent a blocked duct – an essential preventative measure as blocked ducts can lead to mastitis.

If you are offering your baby this milk, please consider alternative feeding methods, or if you prefer to offer your baby a bottle with your expressed milk, learn about how you do that in a breastfeeding-friendly way.

Skin to Skin

The third strategy to get you through a nursing strike is to spend lots of time doing skin to skin with your baby, stripping your baby down to the diaper, and lying him against your bare chest.

That will help to boost the prolactin hormones that make milk so that when you’re pumping your milk later, more milk will be available.

All because of doing skin to skin.

Mother and baby skin to skin

You’re bringing your baby back into his natural habitat, where all his innate reflexes and pre-feeding behaviors 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, as it promotes closeness and good communication between you and your baby in a pleasant, 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.

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.

Nipple Shield in the palm of a hand

Nipple Shields

If you still find that your baby is resistant to coming back to the breast, something you can try temporarily is called a ‘nipple shield.’

A nipple shield is a thin piece of silicone that fits over the nipple and the areola area.

Some find it to be excellent for helping babies to attach to the breast in a variety of circumstances.

Breast Compressions

The final point to mention is to use breast compressions when your baby starts to latch back on at the breast, with or without the shield. Sometimes 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 when your baby is refusing the breast, this is a temporary hurdle.

You and your baby will be able to get over this breastfeeding strike and 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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