The bond between a mother and her nursing baby is like no other. To be able to provide your little one with all the nourishment they need to grow healthy and strong is an amazing experience. They are such sweet, special moments until your baby refuses to breastfeed and goes on a nursing strike.
There are various reasons and situations that may cause your baby to refuse to breastfeed. It can be frustrating and upsetting, but don’t worry too much yet. Your baby isn’t done with breastfeeding for good if you don’t want them to be. It’s just a small hurdle that you’ll have to get over in your breastfeeding journey.
My experience with nursing strikes
Both of my two babies went on nursing strikes. They refused to breastfeed at different ages, but for similar reasons: they preferred the bottle because it was easier.
My first experience was when I went back to work after my first baby at 6 weeks postpartum. Since I was away from her all day, she was taking bottles very soon after birth. After a couple days, she just developed a preference for bottles over my own nipples. This definitely caused some stress because it required much more pumping, but we eventually got through it and she started to breastfeed again.
With my second baby, I didn’t go back to work right away like I did with my first. Therefore, I was almost exclusively breastfeeding him everyday. After a few months of him not sleeping well at night and realizing he wasn’t getting a full feeding of milk at each nursing session, I started giving him bottles after each feeding. This was just to ensure he was taking in the maximum amount of milk as possible.
Once I started feeding him bottles more frequently, his desire to nurse became less and less. At this time, I also switched his bottle nipple to a level 3 because he was almost 6 months. The faster flow nipple would help him drink more milk quicker, but it is much easier than sucking the milk out of a breast nipple.
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Tips to end your baby’s nursing strike
If you’re having a similar experience, have no fear. You CAN pull your baby out of a nursing strike! You just need to find out the cause and trial different strategies to determine what will be successful at bringing them back to the breast. Of course, determining the cause may not be so clear, but hopefully by now you kind of understand what your baby is trying to tell you.
If your baby has already been breastfeeding for awhile and you’re experiencing the new challenge of breastfeeding refusal, here are some ideas that worked for me.
As you get more comfortable with breastfeeding, you may start making your baby more uncomfortable. You’re probably multi-tasking (on your phone, walking around, making dinner) which can cause your baby to not nurse as easily. Examine the position you are putting him in and think back to how you first started teaching him how to latch.
- Is his head awkwardly tilted?
- Is his body in line with his head?
- Is his neck supported well?
Those are some of the things to look for to make sure your baby is positioned well.
I typically hold my baby in the cross cradle hold when nursing. However, when he’s refusing to breastfeed, I sometimes switch to the football hold and he will latch quicker that way.
The angle at which the breast goes in the mouth tends to be a little more comfortable for them in the football hold and they can more easily latch. However, if you normally use the football hold, give cross cradle a try.
Changing locations may also put your baby more at ease. If you’re trying to nurse him at the kitchen table while you’re eating your lunch, he may feel uneasy about it. Try using a more comfortable chair, rocker, couch, etc. Some babies will also like the calming, rocking motion of being in a glider or even walking around.
Change the bottle nipple
As your baby grows, you would typically increase their bottle nipple. Most newborns start with a Level 1 nipple. Around 3 months you can increase to a level 2 and around 6 months they can move up to a level 3. The higher the level number, the faster the flow of milk.
Your breast nipple is probably similar to a level 1 for them. So if you’re up to a level 3 bottle nipple, they’re going to have a much easier time getting their milk out this way. Once they realize they don’t have to work so hard for milk out of the bottle, they’ll start to refuse breastfeeding.
Try reverting back to a lower level nipple (they even have a preemie nipple which is the slowest flow). This may frustrate your baby at first, but possibly going to your breast from the slowest flow nipple would be easier.
Offer the breast often
Don’t just wait until the 3 hour mark to try to feed, but constantly offer it to them. Not in a forceful way, but just in a hey, do you want some of this? way.
Both of my babies never really showed hunger signs until I offered them a meal. Then they were savages! Your baby may be the same way and you are offering him the breast when he’s not that hungry so of course he won’t take it.
I know it may sound tedious, but offer him the breast every 15-20minutes when he’s on strike. Especially if you know it’s been 3 hours and he should be eating soon, keep offering it to him until he gives in.
Nurse when your breasts are full
My son only wanted to nurse when I had a full breast and he could get the full let down which is a more foreceful flow of milk. Again, it’s easier for him to get the milk out that way. Therefore, I just had to make sure I didn’t pump right before I tried to feed him.
Related Post: How to Make Breastfeeding Work as a Busy Mom of 2
Take herbal supplements to increase supply
Perhaps your breastmilk supply has taken a dip and your baby isn’t getting as much as he used to. You may realize this if your breasts aren’t filling up as they were before.
It’s very normal after a few months for your supply to lessen, resulting in your baby having to suck a lot harder to get even less milk. Try natural, herbal supplements, such as fenugreek and blessed thistle to increase your supply. They really do work!
Don’t give in to the bottle
Don’t offer your baby an alternative to the breast if he is refusing to breastfeed. If you just give your child a bottle for every feeding, he’s never going to go back to the breast and you’re just reinforcing the behavior that you want to end.
What worked for me is only offering the breast and no other option. Once my baby was hungry enough, she all of a sudden would take a full feeding from the breast.
This is not saying to starve your baby!! However, only try this if your baby is gaining weight steadily and regularly. If he refuses one feeding, don’t offer the bottle at that one and wait until the next feeding to offer the breast again.
You may have to deal with a little fussing and protesting at first, but after a couple hours they should be hungry enough to eat from wherever they can get it from.
This tip is definitely for babies who have previously been breastfeeding and moms who know that their baby is physically able to nurse. Do not go longer than 2 meals without feeding your baby. Feel free to read my disclaimer.
If they will take a pacifier, place it in their mouths first to get them to start sucking. Bring the baby close to your breast and quickly replace the pacifier with your nipple. It may not work every time but it’s worth a shot! You can also try expressing milk on your nipple to make sure they can smell and taste it first to know it’s there.
If your baby no longer wants to latch at feeding times, try nursing him at time when he needs comfort. For example, if he is crying, right before bedtime, in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning.
I notice my son doesn’t mind nursing when he’s really tired because he is more comforted by it. However, when he’s wide awake, he prefers the bottle.
Unless you’re trying to directly coax them onto your nipple, you want to keep your baby away from other items that will give them a sucking fix. This includes pacifiers and bottle nipples. If he’s very much dependent on a pacifier, try to get him to suckle on your breast first in order to calm him.
Start pumping before they nurse
If your baby is too impatient to wait for your letdown to begin, try pumping for a very short time just to get the milk flow started. The electric pumps are made to stimulate the nipple in such a way that they will initiate a letdown reflex quickly. Just help get it started so your baby doesn’t have to work so hard.
Tips while your baby is refusing to breastfeed
Until your baby is nursing from your breast again, make sure you’re following the tips below. This will help to maintain your supply and maximize the potential for him to go back to breastfeeding soon.
If you’re supplementing by offering a bottle, make sure you pump every time your baby won’t breastfeed and you feed him a bottle. The last thing you want is your supply to dip while you’re on this nursing strike.
Confirm that there is no medical issue
Make sure that there is no underlying cause of your baby’s nursing strike. They could be teething, have an ear infection, or another illness. Consult with your doctor if none of the above methods seem to work and you think there might be a bigger issue.
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Pace feeding is a way of giving your baby a bottle that is more similar to nursing for the baby. Drinking from a bottle is normally very easy and they don’t have to work too hard at sucking to get the milk out.
Pace feeding is a way of holding the bottle and pacing their feeding that forces them to eat more slowly and work harder. This is a great site for more details and a great video about pace feeding.
As your baby is getting older, they are starting to take in more of their environment and the world around them. They may be distracted by the littlest sound or visual stimulation. Try to nurse in a quiet, dim lit room with no distractions (ie. television, phone, other people etc.)
Skin to skin
Maintain close skin-to-skin contact with your baby even if he is not breastfeeding. Take off your shirt and his top and just hold him close. Wearing your baby in a wrap is a good way to keep them close and they may want to breastfeed in there.
This will help with the bond your baby is feeling if there’s an emotional reason he has stopped breastfeeding. If perhaps you have been away for awhile, he may have just become detached. However, you can get him back to feel safe with mom again.
Keep your baby calm
If they are upset often, they are more likely to refuse the breast because it’s usually harder for them. Try to comfort them as much as you can. That may mean you could be holding them more, placing them in their swing, or putting on their favorite tv show. A calm baby will nurse a lot better than a frazzled baby.
Don’t force it
The last thing you want to do is get your baby more frustrated than they already are. Offer the breast, but don’t force him on it. Keep your hands off their neck and head so they feel that they have a bit of freedom.
Try not to stress
I know this can be a stressful time, thinking that your baby is ready to ween too soon. However, you have more control than you think! Keep trying the tips above and find what will work for you and your baby. Getting yourself worked up about it will just make your baby refuse to breastfeed even more.
If your baby is refusing to breastfeed, don’t worry! You will get back to it soon if you follow some of the above mentioned tips. Just be consistent and work with your baby’s cues and you will end this nursing strike for good!