If breastfeeding has been smooth sailing since the moment your baby was born, but your baby suddenly refuses to nurse, you could be experiencing a nursing strike. But do you ignore a baby's nursing strike? How do you get your baby to accept the valuable nutrition your body has worked hard to make? This confusing (not to mention extremely frustrating) phenomenon can hit you like a ton of bricks, and lead to an onslaught of panicky questions about how to continue your breastfeeding journey.
The concept of ignoring your baby may seem harsh at first glance, but considering how difficult it is to be a new mom, wondering if you should ignore something like a refusal to nurse makes complete sense. Your baby's finicky personality is just one part of new motherhood, and ignorance is bliss right?
Possibly. Kristin Gourley, an IBCLC with Lactation Link, LLC explains that sometimes ignoring your baby's nursing strike can be the right call, but there are a number of factors to consider before making that decision. "It really depends on the baby and how long the strike has been going on, why it's happening, and how averse they are to the breast," Gourley tells Romper. "It's always good to offer without any expectation and being completely willing to stop at any point if baby gets upset. Forcing it will not help and may make it worse."
Before you decide if ignoring your baby's nursing strike is the right way to proceed, you'll want to try to determine what the cause of your baby's nursing strike is. Gourley recommends that moms who notice their baby going through a nursing strike seek help "right away with an IBCLC," adding that "they may be able to help with the root cause and get baby back to breast."
Nursing strikes can dash the spirit of any breastfeeding mom, but nurse and lactation consultant Tera Hamann tells Romper that they can be a common occurrence, especially with older babies. "The most well known 'nursing strike' happens around 8 to 10 months. Keep in mind that all babies are different so it may be a bit earlier or later," Hamann says. "They are bursting with development and the world around them is getting bigger. They are often starting to get the hang of solids, and that is a fun and exciting thing. There are so many distractions. It’s not that they don’t want to nurse, it just falls down the priority list to all the new and exciting things they are learning and doing."
Aside from development and growth, the reasons for your baby's nursing strike could be any number of things, according to Gourley. "Sometimes babies strike due to flow — if the milk flow is either too slow or too strong. Sometimes they were scared at the breast or have some sort of negative connotation (like if you yelled at the dog while they were nursing and it scared them, for example)," Gourley tells Romper. "Sometimes there is a physical reason — ear infection, neck pain, teething, etc. Sometimes it's more of a bottle preference or distraction issue. Some babies even get particular if mom has changed soaps or perfumes."
Obviously you're not a mind reader and your baby can't talk quite yet, so figuring out the why behind their nursing strike might take a little bit of investigative work. Can you see a tooth poking through? Did you use a new body wash yesterday? Was your toddler relentlessly pulling on your baby's onesie the last time you attempted to nurse? If you can pinpoint a potential reason, you might be able to take a breath and just ignore the strike until it passes. You can occupy your toddler, ditch the body wash, or wait until the tooth comes through.
There are a number of ways to get through your baby's nursing strike — including ignoring it — but Gourley's top advice is not to force it. "Do offer and make the breast available but don't get angry, and don't push baby to breast if they don't want to be there," Gourley recommends. "Try nursing in the bathtub, when baby's really sleepy or just waking up, and/or nurse in a baby carrier. Lots of skin-to-skin, even with an older baby, can help make the breast a place of comfort again. If possible, snuggling and playing topless with baby for a bit could potentially help. Do be sure to protect your milk supply by pumping if baby is not removing milk and be sure that baby stays fed."
The questions that arise during a nursing strike are numerous, so Hamann suggests moms remember that asking for help can be incredibly helpful. "It is never a bad idea to reach out for help. There are lots of in-person and social media support groups," she tells Romper. "There are other moms who can commiserate with you and maybe offer suggestions you haven’t thought of. Seek medical help if you ever have any medical concerns. Refusing any intake, no wet diapers in more than six hours, anything concerning. We have instincts for a reason and it’s never bad to trust them."
Kristin Gourley, IBCLC with Lactation Link LLC
Tera Hamann, BSN, RN, IBCLC