When Your Baby Goes on Strike

Recently I had someone reach out to me about ways to help end a nursing strike.  This mother had been gone for 3 days on a much needed trip away and her baby, who is approximately 10 months old, and who had been exposed to the bottle for months, simply refused to nurse when her mother returned from her trip.

No amount of coaxing would work and they both were crying.  It was not a good situation for either of them.  I shared my best tips with her, and am going to share them with you as well.  However, it is important to note that even with all the tips in the world, some babies continue to strike and then tough decisions sometimes have to be made. 

One suggestion you may hear, and not one that I am a personal fan of, is to just refuse to feed the baby and they will eventually get hungry enough that they will nurse again.  I only know a few people who have done that and while the baby did eventually go back to nursing in all the cases, it is incredibly emotionally hard on both parent and baby and it is never guaranteed.  I am going to share the tips that I have seen work in the past that do not have to involve making everyone miserable.

Before I jump into those tips, however, I am going to make sure and state what seems like the obvious to me but is often overlooked; consult with your lactation professional to ensure there are not any problems that have developed just to rule that out. 

1.  Lots of skin to skin. Babies instinctively find the breast right after birth if they are provided the opportunity and skin to skin is super beneficial to making that happen (did you know a new mom has scent producing glands on the breast that baby can smell and respond to?) Skin to skin can help that instinct to kick in again.

2. Hand express onto your breast/nipple to raise the scent and also provide instant taste (reward). Your milk is still their favorite and the enticement of it already present may be just what it takes.

3. You can also put a favorite food directly on your nipple to entice the baby if they are eating other foods. Avocado, banana, whatever works!

4.  Try using a nipple shield to mimic the ease of a bottle nipple and then after a minute or successful feeding, slip it off and latch the baby right back on.  Hopefully they will seamlessly continue to eat. If you have not used one before, seek the guidance of your lactation professional. 

5.  Switch up positions. Sometimes just that change can make all the difference.  Normally sit in a cozy chair? Try laying on your back up against a pillow in bed and lay baby on your chest. 

6.  Nurse when your baby is falling asleep or even sleeping. I have seen this one work really well and baby goes right back to normal nursing with the next feed. 

7.  Minimize distraction (almost impossible with a preschooler, right?). Hard, but important, so find a quiet spot, put your partner in charge of your preschooler and the dog… you get the idea.

8.  Even if using a bottle, put the baby up against your bare chest, start them out and switch mid-way through. Much like the nipple shield switch, sometimes this works once baby is in the middle of feeding.

9.  Get in the tub naked with your baby (if your baby likes the tub/warm water) when she’s hungry. Water fixes lots of things and this can be one of them! 

10.  Swaying or bouncing while nursing sometimes helps (but I find this works more with younger babies). 

11.  Protect your milk supply through pumping and/or hand expression to continue to meet babies nutritional needs even if they are on the bottle and also to reduce your risk of issues including mastitis.

Nursing strikes can be very challenging and emotionally painful, but in many cases, with patience and by trying some of these tips, that strike will end in just a few days. 

Co-written by Tonya Sakowicz of Newborn Care Solutions® and Jodi Congdon of Hip to Heart.

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