Breastfeeding Mom & Baby

How to Survive a Nursing Strike

Tips and tricks for getting through a nursing strike and breastfeeding your distracted baby

There are many hard things about becoming a mother. The exhaustion, the unknowing, the lack of self-care. Breastfeeding was an ongoing challenge for me as well. I wasn’t one of those moms who had a baby that just “got it” when it came to nursing. There were some definite struggles all the way up to that one year mark.

The worst, by far, is the dreaded nursing strike. With both of my children, we had a lot of these moments. Whether they lasted a day or a week, it was basically miserable for everyone in the household. I can’t tell you how many times my husband would try to help and then just give up. It’s tough, mama, when it feels like the pressure is all on you. The personal responsibility of being an exclusively breastfeeding mother is terribly overwhelming. When your baby doesn’t want to nurse you feel helpless, frustrated and upset.

There’s many reasons a baby may begin to reject the breast and nailing down the exact cause isn’t always the answer. A lot of infants will just decide that whatever was bothering them before is fine now, and will happily return to nursing regularly. Other times it’s more complicated. It could be reflux, even silent reflux. It could be gastrointestinal issues or painful gas from something in your milk. It could be a tongue or lip tie issue. Maybe you have an over-active letdown response. Once when nursing my son, he fell asleep and accidentally bit me. I yelled in surprise and it startled him so much it began a nursing strike. My point is, it could be anything. What’s really important is doing what you can to get them back on track.

In most situations a nursing strike will typically last less than a week. I say this because eventually by this time, something’s gotta give. Either you switch to formula or are exclusively pumping by then, or the baby has figured himself out and is back on the breast. Making the decision to give up nursing your baby can be extremely emotional for many mothers. So don’t thrown in the towel just yet. There are a number of things you can try first to help get your baby back on the breast.

How to Survive a Nursing Strike

Skin to skin

Spend some time wearing just a bra, or nothing at all, and keep your baby in a cloth wrap facing your chest. He may begin to seek your breasts again as he feels both comforted and hungry. You can also try nursing in a warm bath, or even the shower!

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Find a new position

I knew a woman who once told me her baby only wanted to nurse laying down while flopped over her shoulder, with his body alongside her head. It was frustrating but she made it work because, well, #momlife. If you normally nurse lying down, try sitting on the couch in front of the tv. Go to a different room, or use a different hold, the like the football hold. You can try feeding them standing up with a baby carrier on or while walking around the park.

Go into a dark room

Some time around 3-6 months babies begin to really discover the world around them and nursing becomes less interesting. Both of my kids were super distracted nursers. As isolating as this may sound, I spent at least 50% of my nursing time in a dark, quiet room. I would even put the sound machine on for my daughter so that she couldn’t hear my noisy toddler. Taking away all the other distractions may help your baby to focus on the good stuff – food!

Express some milk

If your baby is often impatient, as well as on a nursing strike, try to get things going by pumping first. Express some milk and dab it on your nipple so when the baby is attracted and latches on, the breastmilk will be immediately available instead of him having to work to initiate your let down.

Keep the fullness as bay

If your find yourself getting engorged (and you will), then use a hand pump to pull off some of that watery foremilk and soften the breast. A baby who is hungry and also upset may find it more frustrating while trying to latch to a firm, over-full boobie.

Offer when the baby is sleeping

Most moms I’ve talked to, as well as myself, have survived the majority of a nursing strike in this way. Whether your rock your infant to sleep, or go and get him from the crib while already napping, a sleepy infant is more likely to take the breast than one fully awake and irritated. If night nursing needs to be the norm for awhile and you’re willing to make the sacrifice, then there is the likely chance your baby will make the switch back to day nursing sooner than later.

Try, try again

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to just keep trying. Offer your breast as frequently as you can and try different methods. Like I mentioned before, it’s not uncommon for a baby to randomly decide that he’s ready to nurse again. It IS however, pretty uncommon for a baby to wean himself before one year of age. So you’re chances of success are working with you. Don’t quit! Keep at it until your baby is back on board and both of you can feel whole and happy again.

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Another important thing when going through a nursing strike, is to keep your supply up. If your baby isn’t taking any milk during the day, you’re going to need to pump. You can bottle feed, or even syringe or cup feed. If you’re bottle feeding though, you may want someone else to offer this. Use nipples with the smallest hole, level 1, or even preemie nipples. I know Dr. Brown’s bottles has this nipple size. It may discourage the baby from preferring the bottle and instead encourage him to get back to the good stuff.

If nothing else works and it’s been over a week, you may have to consider switching to bottles full time. Some women do persist past this time and manage to make it work, but it can really begin to wear you down. And with that being said, never forget that your emotional state also matters. No one has that perfect breastfeeding journey. Many do end sooner than planned but that doesn’t mean you failed. If you find that you are feeling beyond hopeless and just plain miserable, then it’s time to throw in the towel and move on with you life. Baby will still be fed and you will still be his loving mama.

Also, please be sure to always check with your doctor if feeding issues continue or arise suddenly. It could be a sign of a deeper issue such as reflux or a protein intolerance. You can read my post about infant protein intolerances here.

I wish you the best on this journey and as I always remind myself: this too shall pass. The stages of motherhood are never stationary. Things are always changing and your baby is always growing. You’re going to get through this and be stronger on the other side!

Have you ever suffered through a nursing strike? How long was it? How did it resolve, if it did? What helped you through?

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