Breastfeeding TipsSkin To Skin

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
kinda.

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

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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