7 tips for ending a nursing strike (and getting baby back to breast)

nursing strike

There are lots of reasons that a baby will suddenly stop breastfeeding and initiate a nursing strike- illness in the baby or mom, pain, trauma, bottle preference, stubbornness.

That last one’s a joke.

nursing strike

Anyway, it’s one of my jobs as an IBCLC to work with families to figure out exactly why a baby isn’t nursing and to help fix the problem- so if you’re dealing with ongoing breast refusal or a nursing strike, please find an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant near you and make sure that you get the care that you and baby need.  The BEST plan for addressing a nursing strike is customized by an expert for your baby and your particular situation!

With that disclaimer out of the way, here are my seven favorite tips for ending breast refusal or a nursing strike, in no particular order.  Remember, it’s imperative to protect your milk supply as you work to get baby nursing again!

1.  Feed baby all meals at the breast.

Mimic your regular nursing posture as much as possible while you feed baby.  If possible, feed baby while snuggled up against your bare chest.  Sometimes you can do a “bait & switch” by giving baby a bottle very close to your nipple, then removing the bottle nipple and quickly latching baby on to your breast.

2. Don't force it.

I know, this is easier said than done.  If your baby screams when she sees your nipple, or attempts to latch but then pulls back and cries, react calmly and positively.  Never try to forcefully “keep” baby on the breast- it will just upset her and make the situation worse.  Keep your hands away from the back of baby’s head so that baby is in control of their own movement.

3.  Entice baby by using yummy foods.

If baby’s exclusively breastfed, this means making sure you dribble some breast milk on your nipple and areola- if baby is eating solids, try using baby’s favorite food, like mashed bananas or avocado.

4.  Make bottle feeding more work for baby.

If baby has bean taking bottles for a while, make sure he’s using the slowest-flow nipple available.  If you’ve moved up to faster flow nipples, now’s a good time to move back to slow-flow.  If baby is used to the milk pouring rapidly down his throat from a bottle with a fast-flow nipple he’s likely to balk at the speed of milk flow from your breast.

5.  Nursing parent & nursing baby tub time!

When done safely, some nursing parents have had success getting baby back to breast by taking a bath together.  Make sure you have another adult nearby for the entire bath!  Get in a warm, full tub with baby and recline so that baby is laying on your chest.  You can put a wet washcloth over baby’s back and dribble water on it to keep baby warm.  This is sometimes called “rebirthing”.

6. If you've been using bottles, consider a nipple shield.

Nipple shields are not my favorite thing, and I don’t recommend them often- but they are tools, and they can be helpful in lots of situations.  If your baby is very used to drinking from bottles and refuses to even attempt to latch at your breast, a nipple shield may be a good stepping stone for you.  Make sure you fill the nipple with breast milk to give baby an immediate reward when sucking.

7. Keep moving.

Babies love rhythm.  Back patting, butt tapping, swaying- it helps them to make sense of the world and organize their sensory input. Try wearing baby in a sling or soft carrier and walking around the house as you attempt to nurse.  Or pat baby’s back rhythmically for five minutes before attempting to latch her on. Even rocking or holding baby and swaying for a few minutes may help baby to come back to the breast.

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39 thoughts on “7 tips for ending a nursing strike (and getting baby back to breast)

  1. My baby just turned 4 months today and just got over an ear infection. I think the extreme sweetness of the Medicare has made our issues worse. She was refusing to nurse before this, but now she screams at the touch of my breast. Like, seriously even when she’s asleep (I used to dream feed) if my breast touches her she starts screaming.
    I am returning to work full time in 3 days and she will be in day care where they will give her a bottle (likely gravity fed and encouraged to hold it herself). Unfortunately, I really don’t have a choice about that and I want to do everyone in my power to get her to nurse when she’s with me. To be honest, part of this is selfish. I don’t want to give up that connection with her and I don’t want to bottle feed and pump in the middle of the night because it takes twice was long and I’m already exhausted.
    I have already tried everything on here. What can I do??

    1. Hi Susannah,

      My name is Beverly and im experiencing something very similar with you. My 4.5mo baby scream even from touching my nipple. Tried to spend more time with him and its been on and off that he wanted to direct breastfeed again. Did you get your baby back to direct breastfeeding again? If yes do you mind sharing the tips with me. I’m also working and have a toddler. So combine feeding works best for me. I also enjoy the connection during bf, which i did with my first born. Thank you

  2. Hi Rachel,
    My baby is almost 4 weeks old and she has been on a half a day strike a few days ago and then started feeding from my breast again and then this same behavior repeated in a few days where she has stopped feeding from my breast and it’s been almost a day now. She only stops crying when I give her my pumped milk or formula. Is this something I should call the doctor about or stay patient and let her come back to normal?

    1. This happened to me as well when my baby was 3 weeks. Up until three weeks she nursed perfectly fine. Then suddenly she gave me a difficult time nursing in the early afternoon. She would fuss at my breast, rip head away, cry, refuse to latch on. Then it started in the evenings as well. Next thing I knew she wouldn’t breast feed at all during the day or night. I think it could be that my flow is too slow for her…not entirely sure. Has your baby gone back to breast feeding normally? I’m really hoping whatever this is, is just a phase and my baby and I are able to get through this.

  3. Hi I have a 6.5 month old who has been drinking supplemented pumped milk for the past 2-3 months because I had some lower back problems. I didn’t end up pushing him to continue breastfeeding as much because of the discomfort but I’m trying to get him back to breast but he does not seem to want it. He purses his lips together or turns away whenever I try to offer. The most luck I’ve had was him licking my nipple or not sucking but teething and biting. I’m really at a loss for what to do.

      1. Good day my baby is turning 11mos old. Even from the start we had no problem latching eventhough I am away most of the time. When i come back home even from 2weeks of not being together due to quarantine,he still latched at me fine. But right now because of gim teething he bites my nipples thus I raised my voice due to the pain after that he doesnt want to latch anymore.I tried the swaying he only brestfed for awhile on the left boob but he just bit me on the right. I am currently trying the nipple shield method im in pain due to this circumstance, I dont know what to do anymore.

  4. Hi there! I have a 4 month old that decided to stop latching a little over a month ago. I’ve been pumping every 4 hours to keep up my milk supply and every once in a while, my daughter will decide to nurse out of nowhere. I would say 8 times out of 10, she decides not to nurse when I give it a try. Sometimes she’ll nurse when she’s half asleep, other times it’s when she’s not extremely hungry and fully awake, but I have to use a nipple shield every time. Otherwise, she completely refuses to nurse.
    I’m quite upset by her not wanting to nurse, I love feeling the bond and quite honestly, it helped maintain my supply better and emptied my breasts almost fully when she does nurse. Pumping is a good alternative, but it’s taking a toll on my nipples.
    I’m dying to get her back to nursing, especially now that I’m starting her on rice and oatmeal baby cereal as of this week.
    Do you have any suggestions that could help?

    1. Hi! Sounds to me like you need to see an IBCLC to figure out what’s going on with your baby. When they stop latching that young there’s a reason! Good luck!

  5. Hi I have a 2.5 week old baby. He was tongue tied & lip tied but we could only get it clipped when he was over a week. Till then he nursed ok but then right after the clipped it he nursed very well but then second feed was worse & from then on he refused my breasts all together. So I pumped hoping he’d take the bottle but wouldnt even take that so we had to feed him with syringe For a couple days then soon he started taking the bottle. & now he just wants the bottle & is still not back on my breasts. I tried all day today to not give him bottle & just kept on trying to get him on my breast & at times he would latch on but then soon come off again. By the end of the day he was starving so I had to pump again & give him with bottle. He seems to not lower his tongue so it’s almost impossible to get him to latch on. But with bottle I can just quickly stick it in when I see that his tongue is down. I wanted to breastfeed so badly & I feel like I’m getting very depressed with him just not being able to latch on. Has anyone gone through this? Any ideas what I could do? I’m desperate

    1. Try the nipple shield if he’s used to the bottle then he should take from your boob with the shield on. Also try pumping a little before feeding to start your flow and then see if he’ll keep the the latch (once he’s on)

  6. What’s the best way to preserve your supply when trying to bring baby back to breast? My little girl cries when she has to work for milk when nursing and jumps to the bottle with ease. This happens frequently when I nurse her within an hour or so of pumping. She is only 5.5 weeks old and I am desperate to nurse her.

  7. Hi Rachel
    I have a 4 month old baby that refusing to come to the breast. When I try to bring her to the breast, she would cry and push away when she sees it. She would sometime even get fuss if I just want to cradle her when I’m not breastfeeding. After she was born she was breastfed good for the first week or so and then was supplementing with formula on and off. Sometimes she would have only formula especially when I felt over tired and/or sore and didn’t want to nurse. For the past month or so she been still being alternately bottle feeding or/breastfeeding and I believe that she got used to the bottle cause like I mentioned she refuses to come to the breast and would get fussy and cry when she sees it but gets excited when she sees the bottle. I can’t even cradle her when I’m not breastfeeding cause she would also get fussy when I do. It’s like we’re losing our bond 😔 I’m not ready to stop trying to breastfeed just yet. Any suggestions?!

    1. Same thing happening to me right now, may son is also 4 month old what should I do? Its been 3days already and its so sad.🙁

      1. My baby is 3 months 10 days old and is refusing to take the nipple but is taking the bottle even though I used to give her bottle only once in the whole day. I have been trying to somehow make her come back to the breast but she sucks for a few seconds and starts crying alot. I am dreading that I will have to start pumping if this continues, can someone tell if this is just a phase and how to get them back to nursing.

  8. I have just gone back to work (I work away for two weeks at a time, my husband has been looking after my 12 month old). I’ve just come home, and my baby is refusing to nurse. He has been having expressed milk from a 360 cup. Any ideas? I’m not ready to give up breastfeeding

  9. Hey, I am working on getting my 10.5 almost 11 months old daughter back to breast and I would love to get her off formula please help me. She stopped at 4.5 months

  10. I really want to know if Susanne, Brenna, Emily, or anyone else had any luck getting their 9 month olds back to the breast. I’ve been going through the same thing (biting, pushing away, crying for a bottle) for 5 weeks with my now 10 month old. I work full time but in the mornings and at night I’ve tried baths, bait and switch, priming my nipple with milk, and she still won’t nurse. She sleeps in her crib but a couple nights ago I even tried bringing her into our bed to cosleep. Nope, she didn’t like that at all. I know she started striking because she bit me very hard, twice, and I yelled. The second time I instinctively grabbed my nipple and tried to push her off which was painful for me and scary for her. I’m so sorry I scared her. She hasn’t been back since. I’m better at not reacting now when she bites. But she won’t come back.

    Developmentally she’s working on her 7th tooth and learning to walk.

    Rachel, what do you think of giving her bedtime milk in a straw cup instead of a bottle? She’s good at using a straw. I was thinking maybe then she’ll turn to the breast when she needs the comfort of sucking. I tried it tonight but she cried about the straw cup so I caved in and gave her a bottle. Should I hold out?

  11. I nurse at home and pump at work for my nine month old baby. Recently a round of sicknesses (first baby and then me), a trip, and stress at work really reduced my pump output. So much so that I started doing a bottle at night because I didn’t think he was getting enough from me at night. I’ll still latch him at night but he’ll only nurse for a minute or two before unlatching and refusing the breast. He’ll still nurse a full feeding in the morning. Is there a way to get my supply back and get back to nursing at night?

  12. I have a two month old. She was jaundiced at birth and lost weight so I was encouraged to give her a bottle soon after birth. My milk had not come in but everyone was so urgent on my feeding her as much as possible to clear the bilirubin from her system. Then I developed a postpartum complication and had to be readmitted to the hospital.That was the beginning of the end. I saw two lactation consultants. One said she was tongue tied. The other said her tongue was fine but neither were able to get her to nurse. I began pumping but after being told by the first LC that I needed bigger flanges, I managed to damage my milk supply because they were too big. I am trying to pump as much as possible while formula supplementing my extremely fussy and clingy baby. I have to do most of my pumping at night when she is asleep because she won’t let me put her down during the day. She cries, screams and fights as soon as I pull my breast out and refuses to nurse. Is there anything I can do to encourage her? I bought the BreastFriend pillow, a haaka pump, a nipple shield and a nursing supplementer device. Nothing is working. I am seriously considering just giving her formula all the time and giving up pumping. I successfully exclusively nursed my other daughter for 17 months. This is nerve wracking not to be able to nurse or pump adequately. We can’t go anywhere because I am tethered to the pump.

  13. Hello, my baby had been doing great, both breastfeeding and taking a bottle, when I went back to work when he was 12 weeks old. He is now 9 months, and about 2 weeks ago he started biting my nipple and now refuses to nurse. I have tried keeping everything calm when he bites me, but he just gets angry when I try to nurse him now. I can’t tell if it is due to teething, that he now prefers to self bottle feed, or if he is self-weening. I definitely wasn’t planning on stopping breastfeeding so soon. I am now just pumping and still casually try to get him to nurse, but no luck.

  14. Hi Rachel found this blog whilst searching for info on trying to get my 10 month old back on the breast. She all of a sudden is very mad about breastfeeding when she previously was only breast fed no bottle or solids. She is getting her top teeth and her pediatrician thinks her teeth are hurting her. I have tried Tylenol before feeds and ice and washcloths but as soon as she gets into position she gets very mad. She will snuggle and nap on me but that is about it. I am going to try your tips I have not tried bath time yet or just a day for us. Hopefully that works I am really missing nursing her. How long is too long away from the breast? She has been taking a sippy cup and solids to eat. And I do try to nurse her at nap time and bed time but I have had no luck… anyways just seeking a little hope that I will have her back on pumping is no fun.

    1. There’s no too long away from the breast! (Well… maybe a year or two…) But really it’s more about what feels okay to you and whether the trying is making things stressful in your home. Sounds like you’re doing the right thing!

      1. Hi, I hope you can respond to me. I have an 8 month old baby she had a ear infection and stop breastfeeding. Just suddenly I don’t understand why, we threat the ear infection and it’s been 3 weeks with no luck to put her back to breastfeeding again. She’s been breastfeeding since she was born. She loves to eat solids but I want her back to me. I feel lonely and terrible. her doctor said she’s not gaining weight. I hope there is a light in this darkness.

    2. This is exactly my situation right now, except my baby is 8 months old. I’d like to know how it ended?I hope you can reply

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