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“Breastfeeding was going super well up until a few days ago. Now, my little one just refuses to nurse. And every time we try again, we both end up frustrated and near tears.”
If this sounds exactly like where you’re at, there’s one possible explanation: Your baby is likely going through a nursing strike. There’s good news, though! Nursing strikes don’t typically last very long at all. By being consistent and doing some digging to understand your baby’s sudden disinterest, you’ll be back to breastfeeding success in no time, mama.
As a note, nursing strikes can sometimes be mistaken for a baby trying to self-wean. Studies show that a baby will wean itself somewhere between two and four years of age. If your baby is younger than two, it’s probably a nursing strike.
Also known as a breastfeeding strike, this happens when your baby suddenly refuses to breastfeed after doing so successfully for a long time. Most of the time strikes come out of the blue, leaving you confused and frustrated.
Luckily, according to the La Leche League, most nursing strikes result in the baby going back to breastfeeding within two to four days. Remember, though, all babies are unique and will react differently. So don’t be alarmed if your baby’s strike is a bit shorter or longer than the average.
Refusing to breastfeed is your baby’s way of telling you that something is wrong or different. And to get both of you back on track, the key is to determine what that something is. Many different factors can cause a nursing strike. Let’s dive into a few of the most common ones.
Illnesses such as the common cold can make breastfeeding tough for your little one. For example, a stuffy nose can make latching difficult as your baby will have difficulty breathing. Other illnesses such as thrush (a fungal infection of the mouth) or a sore throat can result in mouth pain that deters your baby from breastfeeding.
Your baby is going through a lot as they grow. And some growing pains can result in discomfort that makes breastfeeding tough. For example, teething can result in pain that worsens when your baby tries to latch and suck.
If your current milk supply is lower than normal or if you’re experiencing a slow letdown, this might make it hard for your baby to draw milk from your breast. The result is a frustrated baby who may think breastfeeding is too much work. Your baby may wait until your supply increases to latch back on.
External things could also trigger a baby nursing strike. For example, you may have enjoyed some spicy tacos that changed the flavor of your breast milk. Or, you may be wearing a new deodorant or perfume that has changed the way you smell to your baby. If you’ve ever reacted strongly after your baby bit you while nursing, this too can cause your little one to back away when it’s feeding time.
There are additional reasons why your baby may refuse to nurse, even beyond these. According to one study, distractions, recent vaccination, use of a pacifier and stress of the mother were all common reasons for nursing strikes.
Again, nursing strikes don’t last, mama. And luckily, we have some tips and tricks you can try to get back to those beautiful breastfeeding sessions yet again.
We know this doesn’t necessarily help you. However, this may be exactly what your baby needs from you. If the baby nursing strike is simply due to a change in the detergent you use, your baby needs to get used to the new smell. Or, if it’s due to a spicy meal you ate, you just need some time for your breast milk to return to normal.
Consistency is key. If you have a breastfeeding schedule, continue to encourage your baby to breastfeed when it’s time. If you feed on-demand, now might be the time to schedule your feedings until your baby starts to nurse again. According to the CDC, most babies will need to breastfeed every 2-4 hours.
Until your baby starts breastfeeding again, you’ll need to express your milk by hand to feed your baby or pump. This ensures your baby is fed and that your milk supply doesn’t drop in response to your baby’s minimal breastfeeding.
You should pump as often as your baby typically breastfeeds. And if you end up pumping more than you need, you can easily freeze it for later. As soon as your baby starts wanting to nurse again, you can return to breastfeeding.
Note: Worried your baby isn’t getting enough to eat?Keep an eye on the number of diapers you’re changing. A well-fed baby will typically wet around six or more diapers each day.
If a medical condition such as thrush is causing your baby to skip meals, you should consider reaching out to your baby’s doctor for help. Some medical conditions require intervention and won’t necessarily clear up on their own. Your baby’s doctor can also deliver additional breastfeeding advice or provide information about lactation support near you.
An illness or even teething may cause your baby to feel uncomfortable in their typical well-loved breastfeeding position. Try new positions to see what best supports your baby. For example, you could try the football hold or the side-lying hold.
Some babies are simply easily distracted by their surroundings, especially as they get older. Try nursing in a dark room with minimal noise. This may help your baby to focus on the task at hand instead of everything else around them.
Breastfeeding is a journey full of ups and downs. You’ve got this! When you need support, Willow is here for you. For more breastfeeding tips and tricks, check out our blog.
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