Breastfeeding: The nursing strike

Here are some tips for dealing with a common problem in breastfeeding – the nursing strike.

You have been breastfeeding for many months and everything seems to be going along fine, but all of a sudden your baby doesn’t want to nurse. These nursing strikes can last for a day, a few days or even longer. My daughter refused to nurse during the day for over a week and would only nurse in the middle of the night. I thought she was trying to wean herself because I didn’t think a nursing strike would last that long.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what causes your child to quit nursing. La Leche League lists these as common reasons for a nursing strike:

  • Mouth pain from teething, an injury, a cold sore or a fungus infection, such as thrush.
  • An ear infection, which may cause pressure or pain while nursing.
  • Pain while being held in the nursing position, perhaps due to an immunization or an injury.
  • A cold or stuffy nose that makes breathing difficult while nursing.
  • Too many bottles, overuse of a pacifier or frequent thumb sucking, which may lead to a reduced milk supply.
  • Regular distractions and interruptions while nursing.
  • An unusually long separation from mother.
  • A strong reaction to a baby's bite.
  • A major change in routine, such as moving or traveling.
  • Limiting or rigidly scheduling feedings.
  • Talking in a loud voice or arguing with other family members while nursing.
  • Overstimulation, stress or tension from an overly full schedule or an upset in the home.
  • Repeatedly putting off the baby when she wants to nurse or letting her cry.

Here are some things that helped me get through and be able to continue nursing my baby.

  • Relax. Your child really is in control on this one. You cannot force them to eat if they don’t want to eat. My daughter would bite when she didn’t want to nurse, so sometimes I was scared to even try. If they are hungry but won’t nurse, give them a bottle of expressed milk and pump to protect your milk supply. Yes, it’s a pain, but if you keep the refusal as stress-free as possible, they are more likely to come back to the breast.
  • Try nursing in different locations than usual and eliminate as many distractions as possible. A different position can also help.
  • Keep the nursing sessions calm.
  • Talk to other moms, a lactation specialist or a Michigan State University Extension or WIC breastfeeding peer counselors.
  • Try to maintain a regular schedule, even if traveling or there is stress in the household. Make sure to pump if you miss a nursing session or get uncomfortable in order to maintain your milk supply.

I really thought this strike was going to be the end of my breastfeeding time, and I wasn’t ready. I stuck it out and we are happily back to nursing regularly. Listen to your baby, they really do know what they need.

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