Nursing Strikes

My nursing relationship with my daughter has not been an easy one. While she loves to nurse, she also, well, doesn’t at times. Due to a breast reduction some years ago, I’ve had to supplement with about 25% formula from the time my daughter was 4 weeks old. She’s had nipple preference since; and gets extremely frustrated when my let down slows down, screaming and refusing to nurse to get the next one. It’s required a tremendous amount of patience, but I continue to push forward and to encourage her.

Recently, with the onset of teething, she’s been refusing to nurse consistently unless she’s tired. I continue to offer her the breast every hour, which is easy for me since I work from home, but it’s been incredibly challenging. She’ll get one let down per side, scream, and then it will take another 15 minutes to get her ready to nurse again. Nursing strikes seem to be incredibly common, especially when teething, but it can be heartbreaking and frustrating for any mom.

A nursing strike happens when your baby all of the sudden refuses to take the breast, often times for no apparent reason. I’m grateful that my daughter hasn’t refused to nurse for days on end, but her constant pushing away and tantrums has sent me looking for help.

While it does take an incredible amount of patience and determination, there are some things you can do to help with a nursing strike:

  • Nursing While Drowsy—If my daughter is refusing to nurse, I’ll often give her, her supplement, play with her for a little bit, and then try again 15-20 minutes later when I know she’s getting tired and it’s near nap time. I continue to keep her nursing while she cats naps and keep encouraging her to suck and get milk. Sometimes, that’s all she needs, but other times it’s not as straight forward.
  • Different Nursing Positions — If I’m trying to nurse sitting up and she’s not having it, I’ll often go lay down with her in bed and nurse her while lying down. This will often eliminate any problems we’re having, but then some days it’s the other way around. If I try to nurse her lying down, she’ll do better nursing sitting up. The bottom line is that if I’m struggling in one position, I try to switch it up and many times that’s just what she needs.
  • Warm Bath — If my little one is incredibly worked up and will not nurse, I will run her a warm bath and give her some time in it. It’s enough to calm her down, soothe her, and get her in the mood to cuddle and nurse.
  • Frequent Offerings — If my daughter refuses to nurse, I keep trying again every 15-20 minutes until she’s ready to push through. Sometimes, I spend hours nursing for a couple of minutes on each side, but I continue to do it, so she can continue to benefit from breast milk
  • Elicit a Letdown — I will often do breast massage and breast compressions prior to nursing or pump a tiny bit to elicit a letdown. If she doesn’t have to work too hard right off the bat sometimes that helps with her nursing.
  • Breast Compressions Throughout
  • — When I do breast compression while she is nursing, it often helps her stay on longer and mitigates any tantrums. By helping her get letdowns, she doesn’t get as frustrated and it helps me relax so that my milk can let down.

While nursing strikes are never fun and they can make you cry and want to pull your hair out, there are ways to power through them. It never feels ideal or easy; and sometimes you may want to stop nursing altogether, but remember that your baby benefits from even the smallest amount of breast milk he/she is getting.

By Holly M.
BabyChatter Contributor