Q&A Cafe: Dealing with a Nursing Strike

Nursing Strike

Q&A Café: Dealing with a Nursing Strike

This week’s reader question comes from Gena:

I was hoping you or your readers could help me with my dilemma. My son just turned 6 months old. About a month ago he started getting really frustrated when I fed him: He would latch on and suck two or three times and then pull aways and cry. It was so frustrating for us (probably mostly for me) that I started pumping and feeding him via bottle – he took to it. He still breastfed at night when we (middle of the night and then in the morning). Now he has been sleeping through the night more and as a result the night breast feed is no longer. I have been trying to nurse him in the morning, but he no longer even wants to latch on. Is there something I can do? Am I doing something wrong? I don’t mind pumping and bottle feeding him, but I worry that my milk won’t be the right kind for him (I’ve heard that their saliva dictates what goes in breastmilk). Do I have hope of nursing my little stubborn angel again?

Thank you for your question, Gena! I hope that we will be able to help you.

First of all, kudos to you for pumping for your son! Exclusively pumping is no easy task! And I’m sorry to hear that you are struggling to get your son back to the breast. It can be a difficult road, but it is definitely possible – especially as your son has not been off the breast for a very long time.

Firstly, you will want to ascertain why he was becoming fussy at the breast. How long was he behaving like this before you started pumping for him? Fussiness at the breast at various stages is very normal and can be down to a lot of different things.

nursing strikeThe fact that your little man was quite happy to continue to nurse at night makes me think that the problem is probably not much to do with anything physical – such as overactive letdown or over/undersupply –  and is probably a nursing strike.

I’ll just take this opportunity to explain nursing strikes, for those who may not know what they are. Nursing strikes are when a baby will stop nursing for a period of time. They are common, and usually very temporary lasting no longer than a few days at the most (although I have heard of some babies and children striking for weeks!) Nursing strikes in older babies are often mistaken for early self-weaning – however, self weaning generally happens gradually over a period of weeks or months. If a baby abruptly stops wanting to breastfeed, it is more likely to be a nursing strike.

Nursing strikes can be caused by a myriad of things – baby might have gotten startled at the breast, and now relates the breast to feeling scared. They may have an injury that could cause nursing to be uncomfortable (in younger babies, birth trauma. In older ones, perhaps a bump to the face/jaw). They may have a tongue-tie.  You may be pregnant, and as such your milk’s flavour has changed.  You may never pinpoint the reason why it happened – I certainly couldn’t when my monkey went through a nursing strike at 7 months.

So, from the information you’ve provided, I would certainly hazard a guess that this is what was going on with your son. And now he is used to the bottle (which is much ‘easier’ to feed from than a breast), which adds another dimension to your issue. He is a little old to be suffering with true nipple confusion – it’s more ‘nipple laziness’ by this point.

There are several ways you can go about tackling the issue. Below are some tips that you may find helpful.

How to deal with a nursing strike

  • Firstly, relax! I know this is way easier said than done. There is very little that is more stressful than when your baby refuses to nurse. But forcing the issue is not going to help, and any extra tension in the air will simply add to the problem. Take any and all pressure off of yourself and your baby – this alone will make the nursing attempts a lot less stressful.
  • As you’ve already discovered, even babies who point blank refuse to nurse during the day will often still nurse when they are half-asleep. You’ve said that he mostly sleeps through the night now, so obviously you won’t be wanting to wake him to nurse him. You might try laying with him during his naps so you can offer him the breast when he is asleep, or if this isn’t possible you can dash to him before he fully awakens after his nap to offer the breast. If you catch the right moment (still half asleep but stirring a little), you may find he will latch on and suckle. This will help your supply, and will ensure that he won’t fully ‘forget’ how to breastfeed.
  • Instigate skin-to-skin sessions with no pressure to breastfeed. Strip off the baby and lay them on your bare chest, or snuggle up together in bed under a blanket. Make the breast available, but with no pressure to actually latch on to feed. Just enjoy the snuggles – this alone will help boost levels of oxytocin which is one of the important breastfeeding hormones (and it makes you feel happy!). You may find that, during one of these cuddle-fests, baby latches on of his own accord!
  • Offer the breast as often as you normally would, unless baby gets distressed. The last thing you want is for the baby to associate breastfeeding with stressful feelings. Watch baby carefully and if you feel your offering is becoming stressful, stop and try again a few hours later.
  • Before offering the breast, hand express briefly (until letdown if you can) so that the baby doesn’t have to ‘work’ too hard for the milk. Also, a few drops hand-expressed onto the nipple can work well to entice them to suckle.
  • You may find that offering the breast in a darkened, quiet room is more fruitful than in a busier part of the house. If there are no distractions the baby will be more likely to latch on.
  • When working through a nursing strike, it is generally recommended to avoid bottles, instead giving the baby their milk via a cup, syringe or spoon – this is to avoid nipple confusion (or nipple laziness in older babies).
  • If bottles are used, as in your case, be sure to stick to the slowest flow teats you can get. Also, using a bottle such as the BreastFlow bottle will encourage the baby to use a similar sucking technique as they would if they were nursing. If you can replace some or all of the bottle feeds with cup feeds (at his age he will probably be able to manage quite well, with your help, with a free-flow sippy cup) this will certainly be beneficial.

In addition to all of the above, the following point – TIME – is probably the most important one. It may take a while for him to become interested in nursing again, and that’s okay. This process taking time does not mean that it’s not working. He may respond very quickly, or it could take weeks – but it will happen eventually. Keep the process as relaxed and positive as you can, for your sake as much as for your son’s.

I have already shared these links with you privately via email, but I will share them here again for the benefit of anybody reading this who may be experiencing this problem.

Good luck, Gena, I really hope this has helped! Please feel free to comment below with further questions or information that could help us help you better. And, of course, we’d love to know how you get on!

Readers, can you help Gena? Have you ever dealt with a nursing strike? How did you battle through? What tips were you given, and which ones were the most helpful?


image: daquella manera @ flickr


  1. Passionate Mama says

    Hi, I haven’t read this blog fully but wanted to quickly contribute that to me he may be showing a need to release some feelings. This is my immediate thought in terms of how I would handle the situation with my little one. Since, Gena, you mentioned him pulling away and crying, I would sit with him, look into his eyes and tell him I’m listening and that I want to know how he is feeling and that it’s ok to cry as it will help him feel better …something like that, that is true for you. I believe that supporting our children in expressing their emotions in this way is meeting another attachment need (rarely mentioned) that is just as important as being breast fed. And, I would guess that after a big cry or two that he will eagerly latch on again and feed really well. For more on this I recommend reading The Aware Baby and/or Tears and Tantrums by Aletha Solter. The concept of a breast feeding strike is completely new to me but I’ve been reading lots of comments about them online lately so they are obviously very common. I suspect my practsing Aware Parenting may be the only reason I haven’t experienced this with my son. Before we started allowing him to have his feelings heard in our loving arms he did have some breastfeeding challenges (in part due to too much milk) where he didn’t latch on well, was restless when feeding and on and off (all prior to 8 weeks) but I learnt that when this happened that he had feelings that were stopping him from being able to feed well and he would feed well again only minutes later after me offering my complete presence so he could let out the cries and tears he needed to, to relax his body enough to feed and digest well. I’d love to hear if this resonates at all for your little one Gena. All the best.

  2. kristy says

    I’m going through the same thing. I am not sure if its because she’s suddenly very distractable, teething or both. My advice is PATIENCE. Follow the advice from the article. I noticed nursing her while laying down helps a lot and PUMP. Don’t lose your supply. All we can do is be patient with these little ones :)

  3. April says

    I’ve had this happen a couple of times. So, my husband would give the baby a bottle of only 1-2 oz, then, I’d take the baby to a quiet, dark room and offer the breast. Sometimes, he’s just really impatient and doesn’t want to wait for my breast to let down. He will usually latch on after having a little bit from the bottle. Also, manually getting the milk flowing first helps him remember that there is milk there and not to pull away.

  4. says

    Thank you all! He is slowly starting to nurse again. Some days are better than others. I have been trying to make it fun and happy. I just figured out why he might have gone on strike! I’m pregnant again!!!


  5. Passionate Mama says

    :-) Congratulations Gena!! That is such a wonderful explanation! A friend of mine’s son weaned suddenly and young (around 14mths I think) when she became pregnant. She was sad about him weaning at first but decided to trust that somehow he knew that her body needed all her energy for the new baby. All the best for a joyous and healthy pregnancy.

    • says

      Yes, it can happen like that. My son self-weaned when I was about 14 weeks pregnant, however he had only been having one feed per day for months in the lead up, so I think he would have weaned by himself not long after that if i hadn’t been pregnant.

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