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We were on our third day of four-month-old Andy’s refusing to nurse. Every time I would put him to breast he would scream, cry and push away. The first time OK, what’s the problem? But by day three, I became very discouraged. Now my baby just wanted to suck on his hand and avoid the breast at all cost. I was at my wit’s end. I was in pain from engorgement. Nursing was no longer enjoyable. In fact, I became frustrated and angry. My milk was becoming less. I turned to giving him the bottle because I didn’t want to starve my baby. There was no obvious reason for this sudden stop in nursing.

Has your baby been refusing to nurse?

Many moms aren’t sure how to handle this kind of situation. However, there is documentation of events like this taking place at around 3 months and/or 8 months.

So you might ask why is my baby all of a sudden refusing the breast? We may not know for sure but there are some ideas floating around. Some of the more common reasons might be related to your baby’s health. Is your baby teething? Does your baby have a cold? Is their nose stuffy or are they having difficulty breathing? Sometimes an ear infection can cause pain when they swallow. Perhaps they have painful herpes sores in their mouth or a sore throat. All these things can be uncomfortable and lead to a nursing strike.

There can be many factors to consider

Other factors that can lead to a nursing strike include lifestyle changes usually for mom. Has mom changed her diet? Is she eating spicier foods or adding something new that she had been avoiding when first nursing? Or has mom started introducing solids into the baby’s diet? Is mom pregnant? Is mom easily distracted or interrupted while trying to nurse her baby? Is mom trying to lead when the baby should nurse or allowing the baby to lead in when to nurse? Has there been a prolonged separation between mom and baby? Has there been any major change in routine? Is the baby getting too many bottles and not enough nursing time at the breast? Is the baby at a new point in development such as crawling, standing or walking? Are the parents trying to stretch out the feedings or train the baby to sleep more at night? Is the baby being repeatedly ignored when crying? Has mom increased her activities during the day creating a schedule that is too busy Has mom returned back to work? These are stressors for both mom and baby and can affect both and lead to a nursing strike.

Other components that can change the taste of mom’s milk include hormones, medications or illness. Has mom been anxious, frustrated, angry or extremely stressed out about something? These emotions release hormones that can change the flavor of mom’s milk. Is mom sick with a fever or cold? Has mom developed mastitis? Has mom started taking birth control pills? Is mom on any kind of medications? If mom has a cold, is she taking over-the-counter drugs, like Benadryl or Sudafed. Is mom on a diuretic? These drugs can dry up a mom’s milk supply and impact the smell and taste of her milk.

One other element to consider is the quantity of mom’s milk. Is mom’s milk supply starting to dwindle? Is the baby regularly being given a pacifier? Is the baby getting more of their nutrition through the bottle than the breast? If mom feels like her milk supply is reduced, she can increase or restart milk production by putting baby back to breast every 3 hours. Mom needs to make sure she is drinking and eating well. If mom drinks 500ml of liquid, she should be able to pump or nurse the baby and have some milk produced within 20 minutes after drinking. Another good option is the SNS (Supplemental Nursing System), which you can purchase from La Leche League. This is a way to provide extra nutrition for your baby while increasing time at the breast in order to help the body start producing more milk for your baby.

Things to remember

Now that we have talked about the reasons for a strike lets talk about a few things to remember during this time. A nursing strike does not mean your baby is ready to wean, especially around 3 months. Normal weaning time is usually between 8 to 12 months. A nursing strike usually only lasts a few days to 2 weeks. During this time, if the baby only feeds 3-4 times in a 24-hour period, this is OK. The baby should have at least 6 wet diapers in a 24-hour period.

So what can you do? One idea might be to cut back on your activities and focus the next few days on you and your baby. Put him in a baby carrier so he is close to you. Cuddle him, stroke him, sing to him, talk with him, have skin-to-skin time with your baby and re-establish bonding in a relaxing way. You can try to change positions when nursing. If you normally use a cradle hold, try the football hold or try walking around the house with your baby in the breast feeding position until they are sleepy and then try to help them latch onto the breast. Just like a dark, quiet room helps a mom in labor relax, try setting an ambiance for you and your baby to create a relaxing atmosphere. Offer the breast when baby is sleepy, either just before falling asleep or just before they are fully awake. Don’t forget to use compression of the breast so they get a steady flow of milk. Use compression especially if you have been giving your baby the bottle. Your baby will be used to not working so hard to get his food while sucking the bottle. It will take more work when at the breast. Often nighttime feedings will be better than daytime. Instead of giving your baby a bottle to make sure his nutritional needs are being met, you can try spoon-feeding or cup feeding your baby. This will prevent poor latch or inefficient nursing when at the breast.

Don’t give up & don’t be discouraged!

Nursing strikes will come and go. Do not be discouraged, you have everything you need to handle this situation. Learn to listen to your baby and your body. Remember babies are limited in how they can communicate their needs with you. Don’t be afraid to tell your baby you are trying to figure out what the problem is. It is one way for you to learn how to fine-tune your skills as a parent.

By Lisa Newsham, RN BSN