A nursing “strike” is when your baby has been breastfeeding well for months, then suddenly loses interest in breastfeeding and begins to refuse the breast. A nursing strike can mean several things are happening with your baby and that she or he is trying to communicate with you to let you know that something is wrong. Not all babies will react the same to different situations that can cause a nursing strike. Some will continue to breastfeed without a problem, others may just become fussy at the breast, and others will refuse the breast entirely. Some of the major causes of a nursing strike include:
- mouth pain from teething, or from a fungal infection like thrush, or a cold sore
- an ear infection, which causes pain while sucking
- pain from a certain breastfeeding position, either from an injury on the baby’s body or from soreness from an immunization
- being upset about a long separation from the mother or a major change in routine
- being distracted while breastfeeding—becoming interested in other things around him or her
- a cold or stuffy nose that makes breathing while breastfeeding difficult
- reduced milk supply from supplementing with bottles or overuse of a pacifier
- responding to the mother’s strong reaction if the baby has bitten her
- being upset about hearing arguing or people talking in a harsh voice with other family members while breastfeeding
- reacting to stress, overstimulation, or having been repeatedly put off when wanting to breastfeed
If your baby is on a nursing strike, it is normal to feel frustrated and upset, especially if your baby is unhappy. It is important not to feel guilty or that you have done something wrong. Your breasts also may become uncomfortable as the milk builds up.
- Try to express your milk on the same schedule as the baby used to breastfeed to avoid engorgement and plugged ducts.
- Try another feeding method temporarily to give your baby your milk, such as a cup, dropper, or spoon. Keep track of your baby’s wet diapers and dirty diapers to make sure he or she is getting enough milk.
- Keep offering your breast to the baby. If the baby is frustrated, stop and try again later. Try when the baby is sleeping or very sleepy.
- Try various breastfeeding positions.
- Focus on the baby with all of your attention and comfort him or her with extra touching and cuddling.
- Try breastfeeding while rocking and in a quiet room free of distractions.
Ask for help if your baby is having a nursing strike to ensure that your baby gets enough milk.