How do I know the difference between weaning and a nursing strike?
A baby who is truly ready to wean will almost always do so gradually, over a period of weeks or months. If your baby or toddler has been breastfeeding well and suddenly refuses to nurse, it is probably what is called a “nursing strike” rather than a signal that it’s time to wean. Nursing strikes can be frightening and upsetting to both you and your baby, but they are almost always a temporary reaction to an external factor, although sometimes their cause is never determined.
What can cause a nursing strike?
- You’ve changed your deodorant, soap, perfume, lotion, etc. and you smell “different” to your baby.
- You’ve been under stress (such as having extra company, traveling, moving, dealing with a family crisis).
- Your baby or toddler has an illness or injury that makes nursing uncomfortable (an ear infection, a stuffy nose, thrush, a cut in the mouth).
- Your baby has sore gums from teething.
- You’ve recently changed your nursing patterns (started a new job, left the baby with a sitter more than usual, put off nursing because of being busy, etc.).
- You are using bottles or soothers more than usual, could have reduced your milk supply.
- You reacted strongly when your baby bit you, and the baby was frightened
- You started on the birth control pill or some other medication. Some medications can reduce your milk supply.
Information about medications and breastfeeding can be found at MotherToBaby: a U.S. based website. Our Canadian website Motherisk is no longer active.
- You have been eating a new food. Some foods can effect the taste of the milk. Your baby may just need time to adjust.
- You recently started your period or you are pregnant.
How do I cope with a nursing strike?
- Getting over the nursing strike and getting your baby back to the breast takes patience and persistence.
- See if you can get some extra help with your household chores and older children so that you can spend lots of time with the baby.
- Try to relax and concentrate on making breastfeeding a pleasant experience.
- Stop and comfort your baby if he or she gets upset when you try to nurse. Remember that your baby isn’t rejecting you, and that breastfeeding will almost always get back to normal with a little time.
- Extra cuddling, stroking, and skin-to-skin contact with the baby can help you re-establish closeness.
- Some babies are more willing to nurse when they are sleepy.
- Sometimes it helps if you are rocking or walking around (in which case a sling or cloth carrier can be useful.)
- Try nursing in a quiet room with the lights dimmed to avoid distractions.
- You can also try to stimulate your let-down and get your milk flowing before offering the breast so the baby gets an immediate reward.
- You will need to express the milk the baby would have normally eaten, to avoid feeling uncomfortably full, as well as to keep up your milk supply (especially important in a nursing strike that continues for more than a day or two).
- You can feed the baby your milk with a cup, eye-dropper, feeding syringe, or spoon. Avoid bottles at this time if possible.
- 6 wet diapers in 24 hours is a good indication that baby is not becoming dehydrated, however if you are concerned, an assessment at a breastfeeding clinic or your physician may be helpful.
La Leche League International has many stories from moms who have experienced nursing strikes
Reviewed January 2020 – KS