Breast-feeding is a wonderful way to both nourish and bond with your baby.
There are a number of benefits to nursing for baby and mother that start right at birth and can continue through the toddler years, and, in some cases, beyond. Though the process itself is quite natural, you may experience some bumps along your way.
What happens if baby suddenly stops feeding? Here’s what you need to know about nursing strikes, what causes them, and how to keep the relationship going strong.
What Is a Nursing Strike?
Le Leche League International explains that if your baby (or toddler) has been nursing well and all of a sudden stops, you might be encountering a nursing strike. The good news is that most nursing strikes will resolve themselves after two to four days. Regardless, when the breast-feeding relationship is disrupted for any reason, you may feel worried or upset.
Your baby may stop nursing for one of the following reasons:
- You’ve switched your usual soap or perfume, making your smell unfamiliar to baby.
- You’ve been under higher levels of stress.
- You’ve changed your feeding schedule due to going back to work or being busy.
- Your baby is sick or has an injury that makes breast-feeding uncomfortable.
- Your baby is teething.
- You’ve “reacted strongly” to a bite or nip on the breast that may have scared baby.
You might recognize the reason for your baby’s nursing strike right away. For others, the root cause may be more difficult to determine.
You may have heard that “a baby will always eat when they’re hungry.” This isn’t always the case. You should never try to starve your baby back into nursing.
Strike or Weaning?
On the other hand, if your baby has been slowly dropping feeds or taking in less at the breast, they might be weaning. Versus a true nursing strike, weaning is a gradual process that takes place over the course of weeks or months.
The Mayo Clinic recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months of life. After that, they recommend you introduce solids foods combined with nursing until age 1. If your child has reached this milestone, dropping feeds and refusing the breast may be part of a natural progression.
Continue offering your milk to see if the feedings pick back up with time. Otherwise, contact your doctor if you have concerns about weaning or other feeding questions.
Don’t think it’s time to wean? There’s plenty you can do to get through a nursing strike and come out on top. You’ll want to think of your approach in two phases. The first is how to help baby return to the breast. The second is how to keep yourself comfortable and keep up your milk supply.
For baby, you might consider the following:
- Find extra help for a few days so you can spend lots of time with baby. Skin-to-skin contact and extra cuddles may also help.
- Try to feed baby when they’re sleepy. Some babies are more willing to feed when they are tired.
- Dim the lights in your room and eliminate other distractions, like noise.
- Give your baby an “immediate reward” by stimulating your letdown reflex to produce milk before offering your breast.
- Wear baby in a sling or carrier to keep them close to you. You may also find that wearing clothing that makes your breasts more accessible helps if your baby shows willingness to eat.
Your milk supply is influenced very much by your baby’s demand for it. If your baby has stopped feeding, you’ll want to relieve any discomfort or engorgement while also keeping up your supply.
You might consider:
- pumping or otherwise expressing milk to relieve pressure
- trying to feed your baby expressed milk with a cup, dropper, syringe, or spoon
- offering your breasts often — even if it isn’t a usual nursing time — to see if your baby will start feeding again
You can’t force your baby to eat, so it’s best not to try. Try taking a deep breath. Your baby’s nursing strike is likely temporary and will pass in a couple days.
Benefits of Breast-Feeding
There are times when nursing might feel like a breeze.
During a strike, it can feel incredibly frustrating. Try to remember that breast milk is an amazing gift to your child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend breast-feeding infants until their 1st birthday. Other groups, like the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend continuing the relationship up until at least age 2.
The Cleveland Clinic explains that there are many benefits to sticking with breast-feeding:
- Breast milk gives your baby all the nutrition they need to grow. It’s also readily available — the more your baby feeds, the more milk your breasts will produce.
- Breast-feeding gives comfort to baby and provides you with a unique bond. The warmth and skin-to-skin contact make them feel at ease.
- Breast milk saves money since it’s free. If you are around your baby often, you may not need any supplies such as bottles. It’s also convenient, since your milk goes wherever you are.
- Breast-feeding nurtures your baby’s brain development. Babies who are breast-fed have scored up to seven points higher on intelligence tests than their peers.
Best of all, there’s evidence to suggest that breast-feeding — for even just six months — may give your baby an edge for better health over his lifetime. Individuals who are breast-fed have fewer health issues, like:
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- skin issues
They may even have a lowered risk of stroke and heart attacks.
Mom gets a host of benefits, too, including:
- less bleeding after birth thanks to uterine contractions brought on by feeding
- better weight management through burning extra calories (to produce milk)
- reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer and some breast cancers
- reduced risk of developing osteoporosis
When to Call Your Doctor
It’s important to remember that nursing strikes are almost always temporary. If your baby is refusing the breast for longer than a short period, contact your pediatrician. Though your baby may be weaning, that process is typically gradual and happens over a period of weeks or months, not days.
Also be sure to call the doctor if your baby shows signs of illness or injury that might make feeding uncomfortable.
For other breast-feeding woes, consider contacting a lactation consultant. Many hospitals employ lactation consultants who specialize in breast-feeding. These supports can help identify certain issues that lead to discomfort or otherwise disrupt the nursing relationship. You can find a lactation consultant in your area here.
Moving beyond a nursing strike can take a lot of time and energy, both physical and emotional.
Pay attention to your baby’s cues to help determine the reason behind the strike. Reach out for support where you can get it. Most of all, take care of yourself.