"MY BABY WON'T NURSE ANYMORE!" So says many a panicked mom when her little one goes on what is commonly called a "Nursing Strike." But what exactly IS a nursing strike and what can (or should) you do about one?

When my son was 8-months old, I freaked out. He didn't want to nurse anymore. Like any. He was completely content with the solids I was giving him (we were doing baby-led weaning) and he didn't need/want breastmilk anymore.

And I was dazed, confused and engorged! I contacted my Lactation Consultant and she said, "Oh honey. Some babies do this! They'll go on a bit of a strike to test the weaning waters."

I was again confused. What weaning waters? Didn't I wean him? Didn't I choose when I wasn't going to breastfeed anymore? Side note--my son was conceived via IVF a year after his older brother, who also was conceived via IVF, died. We'd dealt with infertility for many years and were 'older' parents. We'd planned to do another round of IVF so we could give him a living sibling, and because of my age, I knew I had to wean him around a year because of the IVF meds I needed to start. (Yes, I was pretty bitter about having to wean him.)

And still, I was NOT ready for 8 months.

Basically, a nursing strike is just what it sounds like. Your baby doesn't want to nurse.

Why not?
And what do you do?

Why Is My Baby On A Nursing Strike?

Good question, and truth be told? It could be for no reason or lots of different reasons. Take heart, though, knowing that nursing strikes are almost ALWAYS just a day or two...they're typically very temporary and according to the La Leche League International, there are lots of different triggers for a nursing strike. They include:

  • You changed your deodorant, soap, perfume, lotion, etc. and you smell “different” to your baby.
    [*]You have been under stress (such as having extra company, returning to work, traveling, moving, dealing with a family crisis).
    [*]Your baby or toddler has an illness or injury that makes nursing uncomfortable (an ear infection, a stuffy nose, thrush, a cut in the mouth).
    [*]Your baby has sore gums from teething.
    [*]You recently changed your nursing patterns (started a new job, left the baby with a sitter more than usual, put off nursing because of being busy, etc.).
    [*]You reacted strongly when your baby bit you, and the baby was frightened.
    [*]You are newly pregnant and your milk supply may be reduced.
    [*]You are ovulating and your milk supply may be temporarily reduced.
    [*]You have been pumping less time or with less frequency when away from baby.
    [*]You have been sick and/or taking medication (including some methods of birth control), which can have a negative impact on your supply.

Additionally, you may have a strong or overactive letdown and your baby may not be able to control it so she just refuses it. It's important to remember how you're feeling and where you are in life when your baby is experiencing a nursing strike.

So What Can You Do About A Nursing Strike In Baby?

Again, according to LLLI, there's lots of stuff moms do for their littles.

In my case, my son was content with the solids I was giving him. I worried he wasn't getting enough, so I upped the solids he took in. This is a tough situation when a baby seems to do well on the solids because you still want him/her to have breastmilk for the many benefits, BUT you don't want them to be hungry.

So LLI suggests 'supplementing milk with cups, spoons, droppers or syringes as you continually try to get him to breast.

Some moms try to get babies to take breast milk in bottles, though if your baby isn't used to a bottle, it may confuse him even more and make the nursing strike last longer.

The important thing NOT to do is to 'starve' your baby into nursing...we don't mean that explicitly, we know you want her to eat! But, don't fall for the misconception that 'baby is just being stubborn' and 'baby is refusing on purpose.'

Generally speaking, a baby who was nursing great and then doesn't all of a sudden just can't nurse. You want to rule out all the issues above, and you want to talk to a lactation consultant to be sure baby is as full and happy as possible. You want to do this all as you continue to work back to the breast, but realize that babies are too young to 'just be stubborn.' Sometimes the issue resolves, sometimes your LC will need to give some guidance, but prolonged nursing strikes mean something's not going right for baby.

What Should Moms Do When A Baby Is On Nursing Strike?

If your wee one is refusing the breast, you still need to extract it as if she was taking it. You need to pump or manually express but it's important to keep your supply up and remove the potential for clogged ducts or mastitis. It's hard because you're frustrated too, but realize that this isn't baby's fault and it's not yours, and this too shall pass. Likely in just a day or two, but be gentle as it goes. Your LC or LLL Leader can be a world of support.

What If My Baby's Nursing Strike Lasts A Long Time?

So, here's the thing....depending on your baby's age...a nursing strike that goes on for days and then turns to weeks may mean your baby is weaning herself.

Yes, that's a thing.

Though the temporary refusal to breastfeed at 8-months was only a couple of days, around 11-months, he began to wean himself. I saw it coming at 10-months, and into 11-months, knew that's what was happening. He went from four-six nursing sessions a day to three...then two...then only kept the evening/nighttime wean.

Honestly? It gutted me and made me SO thankful at the same time. Gutted me because I'd likely have nursed him for a long while if he'd taken it (especially since I felt my nursing journey was sort of being stolen because of the need to wean for a new IVF cycle) but THANKFUL because there was NO guilt in weaning at all. Not that there should be, but let's be real...for many who decide for whatever reason it's time to wean, there is guilt. By the last month before I needed to stop for our IVF cycle, my son was taking my breast milk in his bottle at night (I had a stash that lasted him into two years of nighttime breastmilk) and we were both happy.

And mamas....that's the goal! We want our babies to have breastmilk for so many reasons, but as my lactation consultant told me, we want them to be able to tell us when they're ready. It's hard because we're still hormonal and emotional, but as parents who are practicing attachment parenting, we're letting our littles let us know we've done a good job and they're ready to move on to the next stage of their development.

If your baby's nursing strike turns into a full-fledged weaning (and they're appropriately otherwise nourished), give yourself a big hug and pat on the back as you've done just what baby needed! You met her needs and created a lifelong bond that only she and you could have taken together.

Well-done, mama!

Image: Juliya Shangarey