Babies are notorious for fooling their moms into thinking they are weaning. Beginning at around three to five months or later, some babies abruptly refuse to nurse. Known as a "nursing strike," periods during which babies stop breastfeeding for several days can be caused by any number of factors, all temporary and surmountable:
~ A cold or stuffy nose, which inhibits breathing while nursing
~ An ear infection, which causes pressure or pain while sucking and swallowing
~ Discomfort from teething, a cold sore, or an infection (such as thrush)
~ A fever or a heat wave that makes bodily closeness less appealing
~ Fear that Mom may yell as she did last time he tested those new chompers on her
~ A new found preference for bottles (if your child is given frequent bottles, he may like the faster milk flow, have nipple confusion, or be reacting to a reduction in Mother's milk supply as supplementation impacts milk supply)
~ Overuse of a pacifier, which may meet some of his sucking needs, but leave him uninterested in the breast
~ A major disruption in routine, such as moving or mom returning to work after a maternity leave
~ A long separation from Mom - a business trip or a weekend away [For a securely attached baby, any time apart from mom often feels like an eternity]
~ Reduced milk supply - if you've been stressed out, your supply may be reduced
~ A change in the taste of Mom's milk, caused by the resumption of your period, spicy or unusual foods, a vitamin or drug, or a new pregnancy
~ A new deodorant, soap, or perfume applied on or near the breasts
~ Strong let-down - the milk may be letting down too quickly for Baby's liking, which may make him frustrated and refuse to latch on
~ Poor nursing habits - at around four months, when a baby begins to realize life is happening around him while he nurses, he may be squirmy or position himself awkwardly at the breast
~ Too much to do - busy six-to-nine-month-olds are easily distracted and often opt to "snack" at the breast over settling down for a full meal
~ And sometimes for no perceptible reason at all!
Nursing strikes can be trying to say the least. Mothers feel understandably anxious, rejected, and panicky about whether their babies are starving themselves. It is easy to jump to the conclusion that a baby who doesn't want to nurse is weaning himself. But if the refusal to nurse is sudden, it is not a sign of readiness to wean. A baby who is itching to wean will almost always do so gradually, over a period of many weeks, months, or even years. And it is highly unlikely that a baby under a year old [or even two years] will self-wean.
If your baby is on strike, now is a good time to reaffirm your commitment to breastfeeding. With patience and support, you can overcome the setback within five or six days:
~ Offer the breast frequently and give your baby lots of skin-to-skin contact. Wear your baby.
~ If you suspect strong let-down is the culprit (baby arches back, pushes away, or gags), express some milk (pump for a few minutes) before feeding.
~ Visit the pediatrician to rule out any medical causes (such as an ear infection or thrush) if suspected.
~ Pump milk as often as your baby had been nursing, which will help prevent plugged ducts or engorgement, will prevent milk supply reduction, and will provide your baby with the milk he needs in the meantime.
~ Don't be tempted to supplement with non-breastmilk items (baby won't starve himself - really!) and do keep him nourished by offering expressed milk in a cup, a spoon, syringe, or an eyedropper (if you must use a bottle as a last resort, opt for a slow-flow nipple that mimics the breast such as the Adiri, Breastflow, or Born Free).
~ Relax - it will help maintain or build up your milk supply and calm your baby.
~ Try nursing when your baby is sleepy and in an environment free from distraction (a quiet, dimly lit room). Lay down to nurse.
~ Vary your nursing position. Try nursing in a rocking chair or while walking around, as the movement may be soothing to your baby.
~ See your lactation consultant or contact La Leche League for advice and support.
Keep in mind that your nursing relationship will evolve over the months. It is natural for babies to have hungry phases and less hungry phases just as you do. And breastfeeding patterns change as babies move into various developmental stages (remember back when your now grinning, kicking, busybody of a nurser barely opened an eye when at the breast?).
Alisa Ikeda is a writer, certified instructor of infant massage (CIIM), and mother of three in Marin County, California. Visit her website at: AlisaIkeda.com
Additional Information on Nursing Strikes and Weaning:
La Leche League International Nursing Strike FAQ
Mothering Your Nursing Toddler (book)
Tips for Nursing Strikes
Help! My Baby Won't Nurse (KellyMom.com)
Surviving a Nursing Strike
Breastfeeding Latch Trick (if baby is young and latch is a problem)
When a Baby Won't Nurse
La Leche League International: Helping Babies Reluctant to Nursing
Toddler Nursing Strike
A Natural Age of Weaning
A Time to Wean
How Weaning Happens (book)
Natural Weaning Age (pdf) from The Baby Bond (book)
Do Babies Under 12 months self-wean? (KellyMom.com)
Breastfeeding Older Children (book)
Adventures in Tandem Nursing (book)
Breastfeeding mothers are welcome to join The Breastfeeding Group: FB.com/groups/Breastfed
My babies have never had this problem so it seems like such a foreign concept to me. I'be HEARD of nursing strikes but in much the same way as i've HEARD fir a thousand dollar bill, know what I mean?ReplyDelete
thank you for the information though!
My first never, ever had a strike,never any problems, he nursed to 2 yrs. My second baby was my fussy boy, it was always rough going, and at 9 months he went on a prolonged strike. Pumping doesn't help me, nothing comes out, so my supply was quickly gone. He just never liked nursing, from birth on every feed was a struggle, I don't think he missed it when he weaned. But I sure did. Nothing calms a toddler's tantrum like nursing.ReplyDelete
Yeup 3 months old went through a 2 day strike bc it ends up he is early teething once I put on some hylands teething gel when I figured out what was wrong he was back on the breast, the stuff works great for bf anf teething especially for little babies who cannot take the hylands teething tablets yet! It was hard though I used an eyedropper and that seems too work just took a little time and patience :)ReplyDelete
I recently got pregnant and miscarried shortly after and my 15 month old refused to nurse at all during the day for about 3 days. I think my milk changed when I got pregnant.ReplyDelete
I woke him up during the night to nurse and he would nurse well first thing in the morning. Now he's sick with a stuffy nose so he's not happy when nursing, though he tries valiantly.
I'll be glad when we're back to normal. I was so sad at the thought that I might not only have lost my pregnancy, but I might lose my breastfeeding relationship with my cruiser as well. It'd be another blow to me when I'm already suffering a loss. Things seem to be getting back to normal though, which is a relief. I'm not ready for him to wean yet. (Though if the pregnancy had stuck and he decided to wean I think I would have been okay with it as I would be looking forward to nursing the next baby.)
my 3rd son had a 7 day nursing strike at 9 months old; flu, christmas time, and an unwell grandma living with us for a month all combined to set him off. he refused to even look at me, did not want to be in the same room as me let alone have a bath together or sleep in our bed. if i picked him up he would fight me; kick, hit, scream and thrash around. it was a terrible week and the only thing he would have in his mouth was a wet flannel. we tried a cup, spoon, bottle, eyedropper, everything. everyone kept telling me to wean him but he hadn't even been introduced to solids then and i knew he wasn't ready. so i pumped for Britain and eventually, 7 days to the feed after he went on strike, he started feeding again like nothing had happened. my incredible La Leche League group got me through that terrible time and my son was exclusively breastfed until he was 14 months old. he had 3 more strikes later on but they only lasted 24 hours ,3 days and another 24 hours - easy to cope with then as i felt like an old hand by that stage. my son weaned himself quite happily at 22 months, when i was 16 weeks pregnant and he had been "dry-sucking" for a month.ReplyDelete
Oh my goodness,my son did this at 8 or 9 months so so stressful,I was so happy to be able to rely on my Le Leche league helpers.ReplyDelete