By: Gabrielle Hathaway M.S., IBCLC
Every so often, I will get a call from a frantic mom whose baby (usually 3-6 months old) has suddenly and inexplicably stopped nursing. Mom has tried coaxing, cajoling, and even begging baby to nurse, but she is adamantly refusing the breast.
What’s going on??
What is probably NOT going on is: Mom had onion soup for lunch or the baby is ready to wean (younger than 9-12 months).
We often call this a“nursing strike” and there can be a variety of causes. Assuming that your milk supply is adequate and baby was nursing well up until now, here’s what could be happening.
Is your baby drooling, fussier than normal, chomping on her hands, and might even have a diaper rash (excess saliva can cause a more acidic output)? Babies can start teething as early as 2-3 months and not even get their first teeth until much later. Teething is uncomfortable and your baby will want to nurse for solace, but can be frustrated if nursing hurts her gums. Try comfort measures like a cold washcloth to gum on, a teething ring, or if your pediatrician approves, some teething gel. Then, try to get baby back to the
breast. You will find that teething is an ongoing process but hardest with the first teeth (gravity – they are on the bottom, and the newness of the sensation).
· Ear Infection:
If your baby has a fever, is tugging at her ear, or is crying more than usual (often high pitched), she could have an ear infection. Breastmilk has been shown to reduce the risk of ear infections, but they can still occur. If you suspect your baby has an ear infection, consult your pediatrician for their recommendation. In the meantime, try nursing in an upright position so your baby isn’t laying flat. You can also massage the breasts so that she doesn’t have to work as hard to stimulate let-down.
Does your baby have white patches in her mouth that don’t rub off? Are you or she on antibiotics? Thrush is caused by an overgrowth of yeast and can affect both baby’s mouth and mom’s breast/nipple area. Some babies can have thrush and it doesn’t seem to bother them, while others are very uncomfortable and won’t want to nurse. Thrush is easily treated by your health care provider and nursing can continue during
There are other reasons your baby may be “on strike”. Older babies with teeth sometimes try biting mom and the resultant response (“AHHHH!!”) scares the baby off the breast (Pavlov, anyone?). Babies may also
react negatively to a new perfume or lotion or may have a stuffy nose from a cold (try some saline and a nasal aspirator before nursing). In most cases, you have to gently encourage the baby to return to the breast. If pain is the issue, relieving the discomfort before nursing should help. If there is a psychological cause, try nursing in the bathtub (you would be surprised how well this works!) or when baby is sleepy and calm (often
**Two Important Notes
*If your baby is not nursing at the breast, you need to pump! Sometimes babies will take the pumped milk via bottle – if your baby is older than a month, she should return to the breast once the ‘strike” is over.
*Offer the breast frequently rather than trying to wait the baby out – this will keep baby familiar and you are more likely to catch her when she’s ready.
If none of these suggestions work, check in with your pediatrician or lactation consultant, especially if you have a young baby (under 3 months). Take heart, though –strikes are often short-lived and baby will return to the breast with gusto. Keep up your supply and don’t give up!
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