Navigating a Nursing Strike!
Nursing strikes can be incredibly stressful for breastfeeding moms! After all of the hard work that goes into establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship, watching it come to an abrupt halt is not only confusing but also heartbreaking. If you feel like this has happened to you recently, don’t feel discouraged; there are steps you can take to help your baby get back on track! In this blog post, we will discuss how navigating a nursing strike can make all the difference in helping your baby resume regular breastfeeding and provide helpful tips from experienced lactation consultants along the way.
What is a nursing strike?
A nursing strike is when a baby who had been previously nursing well suddenly and completely stops breastfeeding. When a baby goes on a nursing strike many parents wonder if the baby is actually weaning. However, if the baby is under one year of age it is unlikely that the baby is self-weaning. Another factor that distinguishes a nursing strike from the natural weaning process is that the baby is usually upset.
How long will a nursing strike last?
Typically nursing strikes last only a few days but can last as long as 2 weeks and can require some major patience and creativity to get feeding back on track!
What causes a nursing strike
This is a tricky question! Sometimes it can be fairly clear what caused the strike like an ear infection or illness but other times it can be much more difficult to identify a clear cause.
According to Nancy Morbacher IBCLC and author of Breastfeeding Answers here are some common causes of nursing strikes.
- Ear infection, cold, or other illness
- GERD or reflux
- Very fast milk flow causing stressful feeding
- Food intolerance of allergy
- Pain when being held at the breast like from a birth injury
- Mouth pain from teething, thrush, or mouth injury
- Reaction to new products like deodorant or laundry detergent
- Stress, upset, overstimulation, or a chaotic environment
- Feeding on a strict schedule, timed feeding, or frequent interruptions of feeding
- Baby left to cry for long periods of time
- Major changes in routine like traveling, a household move, or parent's return to work
- Augments with others or yelling while nursing
- A strong reaction when baby bites (this is hard cause I know it hurts!)
- A long separation between mom and baby
If you suspect a physical cause behind the nursing strike reach out to your pediatrician to evaluate and treat the baby.
How to manage a nursing strike
No matter the cause the focus on getting the baby back to the breast will be the same. We will explore several strategies and I want you to remember 2 main things
1) We do not want to pressure the baby!
2) Every baby is different and sometimes it is just a process of trying things and setting what works!!
We want to go back to latch fundamentals here. Babies will do better when they are put in the driver's seat and not forced to the breast. So lean back, full body contact (skin-to-skin ideally) we want to give the baby a lot of stability to do the work of latching on their own. For more on how to latch check out this blog.
Lots of low-pressure body contact - give baby access to the breasts with skin-to-skin cuddles, baths, or skin-to-skin contact naps. The point of this is NOT “get the baby to latch” but rather just connection and positive association with the breasts.
Drowsy feeding- offer the breast when baby is sleepy before naps or just upon waking
Trigger a letdown before- take the waiting away and try to elicit a letdown with your pump or by hand before latching to give your baby an immediate reward
Add in movement - try latching will walking, swaying, or bouncing. This can serve as a distraction and help with reluctant latchers.
Try nursing in the shower or bath- I once worked with a mom who was dealing with a 2-week nursing strike and what ended up working for her was latching in the shower. We eventually were able to transition to in the shower with no water, in the bathroom itself, and then just back to normal feeding. It took a while but this mom was determined, patient and compassionate with herself and the baby and it made all the difference!
Here is from Mama in her own words:
"When baby H turned 7 months, she started to get very distracted when she would breastfeed. One morning, she unlatched and upon relatching she bit me. I yelped which made her cry then she refused to relatch which then made me cry. This was the start of our nursing strike.
Baby H went to daycare so I was only nursing her in the morning and in the afternoon but both of those times she refused to nurse.
Two days into the nursing strike, we took a bath together and she latched on and promptly fell asleep. I thought "We solved it!" The next day, she again refused to latch so we tried the bath again but she was not having it.
That was when I decided that I needed help so I made an appointment with Kelly. Kelly and I created a plan to get her back to the breast. We tried it all! nurse while sleepy, take baths together, hang out with my shirt off, etc. Nothing seemed to work We even brought baby H to the pediatrician to have her ears checked.
When we got about 2 weeks in, I thought maybe our breastfeeding journey was really over. I wanted to give it one last effort so Kelly and I kept working together on the plan we set in place. I saw on a website that a mom was successfully nursing her child in the shower so I decided to give it a try.
I didn't have high hopes for this since nothing seemed to work but once we got in the shower baby H latched and nursed for over 30 minutes. I was shocked! I thought it might be a fluke so I tried it again the next day and it worked again. Kelly suggested I try to nurse her each time in the shower so one Saturday (2 weeks after the nursing strike started) I took three showers and she nursed each time.
The next day, I moved out of the shower and into the bathroom which also worked. Over the next couple of days, I slowly moved out of the shower, out of the bathroom, and into her room. Now we are 2 months away from the nursing strike and she is still nursing like a champ. It was a long and stressful process but I'm so glad I didn't give up and that I had support from Kelly to keep trying."
Try a nipple shield - this can be helpful especially if you think the strike is related to increased bottle consumption. This makes the nipple more like the bottle texture (you can even express some so the shield is full when you latch the baby).
Mix it up!
If you always nurse in the rocker try latching in your bed or while you are bouncing on a yoga ball something to change the association.
If your baby is crying just seeing your boobs then I would suggest taking a day or 2 off from trying to latch and just focus on a low-pressure body-to-body connection. Think skin-to-skin bathing, showering together, lots of snuggles, and contact naps skin to skin but don’t try to latch directly.
Protect your milk supply
If the baby is not nursing, it is essential to express milk to maintain milk production. Try to mimic your baby’s feeding patterns by pumping at the same frequency.
You can never starve a baby out of a nursing strike
We never want to withhold bottles to try to get the baby, “hungry enough to nurse.” This will backfire and only further stress out the baby and make them less likely to return to the breast. Our job is to keep ourselves regulated and calm and connect with our baby, easing them back to our breasts by giving them lots of low-pressure time to build up trust. We never ever force and we never withhold food.
Navigating a nursing strike with your baby is never easy, but with the right knowledge and proactive measures, it can be done. If possible identify what is causing the nursing strike and work to quickly resolve it. Working closely with your IBCLC to come up with a feeding plan that works best for both mom and baby is key. Additional sources of support—such as lactation consultants or breastfeeding support groups—may also help you feel less isolated as you navigate this challenge.
No one knows better than a mother what her baby needs; listen to your instincts even when things seem confusing. Remember different things work for different babies so feel free to experiment with the above suggestions or modify them to make them work for you.
Finally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by caring for a newborn during a nursing strike, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help from an IBCLC to help come up with a tailored plan for you. An IBCLC can help you navigate this emotional journey and help come up with a pumping plan to help support your milk supply. If you are overwhelmed by a nursing strike our team of compassionate IBCLCs offers consults to help support you and your baby.
I designed my breastfeeding program, boob school, to give you all the education you need to meet your breastfeeding goals with confidence. I also know that breastfeeding comes with a lot of unknowns so we offer live support in our private Facebook community and weekly calls. I promise you it's not the “stuff” that makes your breastfeeding journey. It is having access to the RIGHT education and support to navigate every bump along the way.
Cheering you on, always!
Boob School Founder and CEO
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