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.
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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