the nursing strike

A number of babies may at some stage become disinterested in breastfeeding. This commonly occurs at around 3-4 months and again at around 7 months. Your baby may look hungry and want to feed but quickly becomes unsettled when trying to latch. Most often, this nursing ‘strike’ will last only a few days to a week but it may also last for up to four weeks. Many mothers could see this time as a sign that her baby wants to wean from the breast, however, this is not always true.

The Nursing Strike

A nursing strike may occur for a number of reasons:

          Your baby may be distracted by objects or activities around him – in this case, move away from the distraction or end the feed and resume when your baby seems to be more interested. Alternatively, shift positions to allow your baby to see the ‘distraction’ while feeding

          Your baby may simply be able to obtain enough milk in a shorter period of time – if your baby is thriving, producing an adequate number of voids and stools and you are not feeling overly full or engorged then this may be the case

          Is your baby feeding more at night? This feed could be the cause of a dropped feed during the day

          Has baby’s routine changed? Sometimes a big change in your baby’s life may cause disinterest in breastfeeding until his new routine is well established

          Is your baby sick? Nursing with a blocked nose or ear infection can be very difficult and uncomfortable for baby. Nursing your baby in an upright position helps to take pressure off your baby’s ears and facilitates nasal drainage. Massaging your breasts and expressing a little milk before a feed will promote letdown making it easier for your baby to nurse during this time. Seek medical advice if you are concerned about the health of your baby.

          Is your baby teething? This can make suckling uncomfortable and your baby may want to ‘chew’ at the breast to alleviate sore or itchy gums. Offer various teething tools such as cool teething rings or a cold damp wash cloth. Beware of using too many teething gels / creams as this may numb the gums and mouth too much to be able to feed efficiently.

          Occasionally a baby may reject the breast because sucking needs are met by other means such as a thumb or dummy. If you suspect this, limit dummy use or put your baby to your breast when she is showing signs of needing to suck.

          Are you pregnant or menstruating? Hormones can cause your milk to do funny things – in this case your milk may change in taste causing your baby to go off for a while. If you are menstruating, things should go back to normal once menstruation ends. Should you be pregnant, your baby may get used to the new taste of your milk and resume feeding normally after a few days, if not, you may need to consider an alternative feeding method. Please consult your clinic sister, lactation consultant or paediatric dietitian before doing so.

This can be a very trying time for you as the mother as feeds could become extremely stressful and unenjoyable. You may feel emotionally drained from constantly trying to satisfy your baby with little success. Try to relax in this time, gain support from those around you and learn to read your baby and respond to her needs in other ways. Give your baby plenty of skin-to-skin time which will allow the two of you to bond even without your usual feeding regime. Follow the guidelines above and should all of these fail, try to express here and there and let someone else offer your baby her milk through another feeding device. The ‘strike’ will soon be over and your baby will be back to her normal self in no time.

During a nursing strike, you may become uncomfortable due to overfull breasts. You may also find that your milk production drops due to lessened feeding duration or number of feeds. Compensate for this by expressing either manually or with the use of a breastpump after feeding or attempting to feed your baby. This milk can be stored and used at a later stage.

Article by breastfeeding consultant Jenna Richards