Tips to Resolve a Nursing Strike

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Recently I had a visit from a working mother and her beautiful 9-month-old baby girl to discuss weaning. I had previously consulted with KC when her daughter was a newborn, and again at around 3 months of age. It’s always a delight to be able to reconnect with mothers and watch their babies grow.

KC told me she was concerned that Amanda was trying to self-wean. KC returned to work when Amanda was 3 months old, so Amanda received three bottles of pumped milk two or three days a week. For several days Amanda had been refusing to breastfeed at bedtime.

KC was heartbroken. Although Amanda was still breastfeeding a few times a day when they were together, KC had planned to continue to breastfeed for at least a full year, and had always thought the bedtime feeding would be the last to go.   To make sure Amanda was getting enough nutrition, KC was pumping her milk and putting it in a sippy cup for Amanda to drink.

It’s unusual for a baby to self-wean before one year of age. If weaning does occur, the AAP recommends babies receive infant formula through twelve months of age if breastmilk is not available. The WHO recommends breastfeeding for at least two years.

What Is a Nursing Strike?

KC’s story is not uncommon. Many mothers experience short intervals when their babies seem to lose interest in the breast.   These temporary lapses in breastfeeding are called “nursing strikes.” Anything that makes feeding difficult, such as a fever, cold, ear infection, sore throat or teething pain can cause breast refusal. As babies achieve developmental milestones, it is not uncommon for them to be too busy to sit still for breastfeeding. A change in routine, like a longer than normal separation from mom, can cause breast refusal. The freedom provided by a bottle or sippy cup can be very exciting too.

Tips to Resolve a Nursing Strike

Obviously, identifying the reason is the best place to start, but sometimes there is no obvious reason. Here are some tips to get breastfeeding back on track.

  1. Establish a routine around the most important feedings of the day and maintain that routine
  2. Minimize distractions at feeding time
  3. Offer the breast before feeding solids.
  4. If you baby is otherwise healthy, don’t be too quick to provide a bottle or cup for a feeding if you’d rather breastfeed
  5. At feeding time, try floor play, bathing together, or cuddling in a dark room
  6. Lie down with your baby at naptime and bedtime
  7. Protect your milk supply by pumping for a missed breastfeeding

I received a call from KC a few days after our visit. Amanda had a new tooth, and had returned to breastfeeding at bedtime.

Have you experienced a nursing strike? What was the cause? Did it resolve?

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