Nursing Strike – Why is my Baby Refusing the Breast?

Lots of breastfeeding moms may experience a nursing strike or breast refusal at some stage, and in most cases, it doesn’t necessarily mean that baby wants to wean.

It can simply be an indication that for some reason your baby needs more help, patience, and support through breastfeeding while they go through this phase.

Why do babies go on nursing strikes?

It’s though that depending on their age, a bottle-fed baby –given either expressed breast milk or formula can get confused by the different type of sucking that is used to draw milk from a bottle nipple, causing a breastfeeding strike.

The position that your baby may have been held in while being bottle-fed may also lead to breast refusal if they are held differently at the bottle than at the breast. And sometimes, babies get used to the speed of the flow from a bottle and find it hard to go back to the breast.

Other possible causes of a nursing strike

Anything that changes your smell, like chlorine, hair products, perfume, or a change in your diet, may be enough to cause breast refusal temporarily.

Having your period, being pregnant and some contraceptives can also cause your baby to refuse the breast. Some antihistamines and cold and flu tablets may cause your supply to drop and a drop in supply can also cause your baby to lose interest in breastfeeding.

Some tips for ending a nursing strike

Hand expressing some breast milk onto your nipple before breastfeeding can help your baby to latch deeper as the smell and initial taste of your breast milk may guide them instinctively.

From the time my eldest son was about two months old, he would refuse my breast whenever he was overtired. No matter how hungry he was if he was too tired he would get so distressed that he wouldn’t want to drink. I used to find it very hard to stay relaxed enough to even try to breastfeed him.

I found that taking his clothes off, leaving him in only his nappy, and holding him close to my bare chest –with a blanket around us if it was cold– would calm both of us down.

Lots of moms find that skin-to-skin contact, sitting in a quiet peaceful room, and talking or singing softly to their baby helps to calm them down so that they are more likely to take the breast.

You may find that your baby prefers to breastfeed from either your left or right breast. My boys only ever had one breast per breastfeed and so when I offered the second breast they wouldn’t want it.

In this case, it may not be breast refusal. It may simply be that your baby is content with the amount of milk they have had and you can try starting with the second breast for the next breastfeed.

If your baby always only eats from either the left or right breast, it may be that they find it easier to latch to their preferred breast, that that breast makes more milk, or that the timing of the let-down on that breast is more comfortable for your baby.

To help with one-sided breast refusal you might like to try and continue to offer both breasts, starting with the side they prefer and swapping sides just after your milk starts to flow. Sometimes something as simple as using different breastfeeding positions for each side can help.

If your baby has had injections or has an ear infection or something that will cause him pain on one side of their body it may stop them from feeding on that side until the pain subsides.

If this happens you might like to try and express the breast milk from the breast that your baby is refusing so that it doesn’t become engorged and you can always store the breast milk for use at a later date, you never know when it will come in handy.

As your baby grows you may find that feeding patterns change. Many babies will have shorter feeds as they get older, simply because they are a lot faster at drinking and removing the milk from your breast.

If you’re not feeling well your let-down may be slower, or if your illness is stressing you it may cause your milk supply to drop. Any drugs you may be taking may also change the taste of your milk or even the way you smell and sometimes it’s little things like that that can put your baby off for a little while.

It’s likely that your baby will still feed as often as they physically need to and once you get better, feeding frequently for a few days can help to build up your breast milk supply if it has actually dropped.

Nursing strikes in 6 months old babies

Babies around 6 months old can become very distracted while breastfeeding and would prefer to explore the world around them than be at mom’s breast. The trouble with this of course is that they may wake more often at night to make up for the feeds they are missing in the day. Very frustrating!!

I found that feeding my 6 month old in a darker or quieter room helped. Wearing a long necklace for him to play with while he breastfed also kept him busy, still, and interested enough to finish.

Sometimes having a breastfeeding routine where you play the same music or give your baby the same special toy while you feed them can make a difference. For many babies this stage is short-lived and they soon go back to having full feeds rather than interrupted ones.

Wrapping up

No matter what the reason for breastfeeding strike some good ways to encourage your baby back to the breast is by being calm –granted easier said than done, having lots of skin-to-skin contacts, trying different feeding positions, hand expressing before a breastfeed and relaxing.

Your baby may simply need your help and patience at this time. This may be their way of asking you for it.

Please always remember to consult your health professional to find out information that is relevant to your specific situation

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