Breastfeeding during the first year of life is a learning experience for mommy and child. Throw in developing and sticking with feeding schedules, understanding feeding cues, modifying feeding positions as your little one grows…the list goes on! But what happens when the baby (or toddler) throws a real wrench into your established breastfeeding routine?
What happens when they go on a nursing strike?
Before we dig into what to do when this happens, it’s important to learn what a nursing strike entails and when to seek medical attention. There are many reasons why your little one may go on a nursing strike, and you may need to learn how to deal with engorgement and how to keep up your supply of breastmilk. Finally, the team at 1 Natural Way has compiled some tips on how to encourage the baby back to the breast with some emotional and physical techniques.
What is a nursing strike?
Nursing strikes involve a baby or toddler suddenly refusing to breastfeed. They are clearly upset and will not accept your nipple. It can be a frustrating time for you and baby, to say the least. Nursing strikes come out of the blue and are not associated with weaning. Weaning occurs gradually, where a nursing strike is abrupt. It can last for a few days or up to a week.
Why do nursing strikes happen?
Clearly, something occurred to make your child suddenly stop breastfeeding. It will take time and patience to come to some conclusions as to what – emotionally and/or physically – occurred to cause your little one to modify their feedings so rapidly. Take this time to surround yourself with family and friends for support as it can be frustrating for both you and your child.
A nursing strike may occur due to the following physical factors:
As it relates to MOM –
- A modified standard scent or a different smell. Think deodorant, perfume, laundry detergent, body wash, etc.
- Letdown that is too slow (inpatient baby) or a letdown that is overwhelming (fast and uncontrollable).
- Your milk can change the taste because of medications, hormones, or foods you may have eaten.
- Reduced milk supply due to infrequent feeding/pumping, breastfeeding while pregnant, experiencing sickness or illness, ingesting certain medications or breastfeeding while you are ovulating.
- Nursing less frequently due to an illness.
As it relates to your INFANT or TODDLER –
- Teething pain (soreness in their mouth and gums).
- Pain from a minor mouth injury (cut), sore throat, a cold sore or thrush. Learn more about the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of thrush.
- Discomfort from an ear infection or difficulty breathing due to a cold or stuffy nose.
- Soreness due to an injury (affecting the breastfeeding position).
- Beginning or current symptoms of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease or chickenpox.
- The position the baby is in – try putting it in a nursing chair and get it used to one – check out some of the best choices here.
A nursing strike may occur due to the following emotional/mental factors:
- A major feeding schedule disruption, which promotes anxiety or uncertainty. Examples of disruption include going on vacation, prolonged periods of time with a babysitter or in daycare (if not used to the environment), infrequent or irregular breastfeeding schedule.
- Feelings of fear or anxiety due to loud noises, distractions, the presence of uncertain individuals or animals, or your reaction (yell or scream) from nipple discomfort or nipple biting (hello teeth!).
- Your breastfeeding child can pick up on physical and emotional cues surrounding stress, anxiety, anger, and sadness. These can all influence the development of a nursing strike.
When to seek medical attention?
Mothers know their little ones best. You are more attuned to any physical and emotional changes your little one experiences. Parents also have a better understanding of what may have occurred shortly before the nursing strike began. If you feel something is truly problematic, your child is not eating and drinking as they should, or the strike lasts longer than a few days, we urge you to visit your primary care doctor or your child’s pediatrician.
Avoiding engorgement and maintaining your supply
While the baby is on a nursing strike, it is extremely important that you effectively and frequently express your breast milk. If you do not hand express or pump your milk, engorgement, clogged milk ducts, or mastitis may occur. The best part about pumping during a nursing strike is that you can still produce and store milk to encourage the baby to feed or you can keep the frozen breast milk for the future. Also, if your supply is low, take a look at the guide we’ve put together for increasing your milk supply with pumping.
Even if you are planning on breastfeeding once you bring your newborn home, having a back-up milk expression plan is always key.
Getting baby back to breastfeeding
Although the baby may be refusing to breastfeed, you can still use your hand expressed and pumped milk to encourage them back into the routine. Fair warning: pack your patience and persistence.
Here are some ways to utilize your pumped or hand expressed breastmilk:
- Take your breastmilk (from a cup) and feed it to your baby with a syringe, eye dropper or spoon.
- Create frozen breast milk popsicles or ice cubes (depending on your child’s age).
- Consider bottle-feeding only with bottles designed to mimic a nipple, along with paced feedings. Although this may cause nipple confusion, making sure your child is receiving vital nutrients is what is most important.
If you think that your baby is not getting enough food, keep track of the frequency of their wet diapers and bowel movements. If you find there is a noticeable drop in frequency and/or quantity, contact your child’s pediatrician.
Thankfully, many mothers who have experienced nursing strikes are eager to share their lessons learned or best practices when it comes to plugging through this tough period. Most of these suggestions are ideal to enact during your child’s normal feeding time:
- Let your nipples fly free (at home and, we know, easier said than done)! With a button-up shirt open or your nursing bra folds down, utilize this skin-to-skin time to rock the baby in a feeding chair, or lay down with them on the floor or bed. Your baby may instinctively latch on due to the visual cues provided by you.
- Try feeding in a room void of distractions – think quietness, calming music or a sound machine, drawn blinds and curtains, dimmed lights, and minimal to zero foot traffic or needy pets.
- Try nursing the baby as they are just waking up, drowsy (about to fall asleep) or while they are sleeping.
- Modify feeding positions and change up where you feed (think different room and different chair).
- Utilize a sling or cloth carrier to nurse while the baby is in motion. You can also use these products to keep baby close during your feeding attempts.
- Develop ways to trigger your let-down, stimulate your nipples and get your breast milk flowing before feeding. This is a great tip if your let-down is slow and your little one is impatient!
- Take a warm bath together. This gives the two of you a chance to relax with minimal interference in a calming environment. It also promotes skin-to-skin contact and ensures that breasts are easily accessible.
- For older children that model their behavior off others, join other nursing mothers’ playgroups or lactation groups so your little one is reminded of what they are missing.
- Have your spouse or other support system help you with daily tasks so that you can spend more time helping your little one get through this nursing strike.