When we were on vacation in sunny North Carolina, and my baby girl was about 9 months old. She was teething and one day, out of the blue, she went to nurse and immediately came off and started crying. She cried, tried again and cried some more. She soon realized that her beloved nursie was hurting her and refused to nurse.
Enter: Nursing Strike.
It is the most awful, helpless, desperate feeling to not be able to comfort your baby the one full proof way you know how as a nursing mother – to nurse.
I was scared, heartbroken, and helpless to the idea that this might be the end of our nursing relationship. She was only 9 months old. She was supposed to nurse at least two years (per WHO recommendations; therefore the goal I had given myself).
I was devastated.
After my emotions settled and let me think for a second, I did what I always did when I had a nursing question. I got on my phone and asked my Facebook group Mommas what to do, what this was, and how to ensure our nursing relationship would not end prematurly.
Sure enough, everyone had been through it and they let me know that it would pass. They gave me a great article from Kelly Mom, and I made sure I did three things:
Keep baby fed
Booby Boot Camp
So that’s exactly what we did. I expressed to empty with my pump when she was normally due to nurse and I would give her that in a bottle. This would ensure that my supply stayed intact and that my baby was fed and hydrated while on hiatus from the breast.
Then, it was my ultimate goal to get my baby back to the breast, and Booby Boot Camp was always the most successful.
Booby Boot Camp Tips & Tricks
With booby boot camp, it’s all about relaxation and comfort for your nursling, but it takes time and dedication on your part. If you have older little ones ask for help so you can just dedicate your time to getting your nursling back to nursing. Grab a big jug of water and some snacks, a good book and just hop into bed.
I found that if I stayed in bed for a few hours a day (before, during and after nap) and practiced bed sharing, nursing strikes didn’t last long. The most was a couple of days. Your little one is more likely to nurse if they are not frustrated, if they are sleepy and relaxed, and if they are skin to skin with your breasts accessible. So strip both of you down and get back to basics. Picture trying to recreate a birth experience when they are brought to your chest and doing the breast crawl to self latch for the first time – the Golden Hour.
When we weren’t in bed, I would wear her in my carrier topless so that if she just felt like nursing, she could, and being close to me gave her comfort. In this picture, she was on a nursing strike due to coxackievirus and was only keeping it in her mouth for comfort. In this particular scenario, cold breast milk from a cup soothed her sores.
If the strike is due to teething, I found a soothing frozen teether on their gums right before I offered the breast to be a great way to help with the pain, and if it’s really bad and they are over 6 months, I used tylenol as a last resort. I never used teething gel and don’t recommend it as it has been known to cause their gagging reflex to stop working after becoming numb from the gel and can lead to aspiration.
Prevent “Hangry” Babe
Offer your breast first, but if your little one is so hungry that they are frustrated and “hangry” try to give a little bit of a bottle of expressed breast milk to take the edge off the hunger. This way they are not “hangry” and can hopefully finish with the breast. If they are still just not having it after about 15min or so, finish with the bottle.
When your baby is mid suck with their bottle, try taking it out quickly and when they look for it again put the breast in their mouth. I was also successful with this a few times. It might take trial and error if they are adamant about being on a strike.
The last thing you want to do is get frustrated yourself. If you feel yourself getting frustrated, back off and just cuddle them and give them a bottle. I wouldn’t recommend trying the breast without success for any more than 15 mins. If after 15 minutes it’s still not going well and you are both having trouble calming down, let it go and give a bottle.
Waking to Nurse
When your babe is next to you and barely starts stirring, place your breast near their mouth and see if they will nurse while still asleep, barely waking up. For all the strikes I have been through, they ended like this. It’s instinct for them to want to nurse, and when they are in this sleepy state, is when that kicks in the best. This is why I highly recommend safe bed sharing.
Prevent Bottle Preference
The first and foremost thing to remember during a strike is to keep your little one fed. However, any time your little one receives a bottle, there are a couple of things to remember to prevent bottle preference. During a strike, they are trying to avoid the breast, but you want to make the bottle as breast like as possible so that the bottle doesn’t become more appealing.
Here are a couple tips to help prevent bottle preference:
- 1. Slow Flow Nipples Only – If your baby is not having to work for their milk when receiving a bottle they will be more frustrated when they have to work or suck harder at the breast. To avoid this, remember to always use the slow flow nipples. This goes for any time your little one needs a bottle; not just when they are on a strike. It also goes for any age they receive a bottle.
Our breast flow does not change, so neither should the flow of their bottles.
- 2. Practice Paced Bottle Feeding – Just like with the slow flow nipples, your goal with bottle feeding is to mimik the breast as much as possible. Paced bottle feeding ensures that your baby won’t have the milk just dropped into their mouth, rather they have to work at it, just like at the breast. Below is a very helpful video to demonstrate Paced Bottle Feeding. And again, this should be practiced any time your baby receives a bottle, not just when they are on strike.
Know When to Get Help
If your baby is not able to be soothed or you need more answers about why your baby won’t nurse, don’t wait. See your doctor and/or a IBCLC, and as always, please read my disclaimer.