Let us make this straight. Babies do not self-wean earlier than 18 months and that is rare! Generally self-weaning happens nearer to 2 years and that would be a gradual thing not a sudden one.
When babies suddenly stop nursing at any age (mostly from 3 months onward), that would be a nursing strike. It happens for a variety of reasons and some times we never get to know what caused it; it typically lasts at least 4 days, sometimes more .
When babies go on a nursing strike a lot of frustration and upset can come forth both from the mother and the baby. A mama might also feel rejected, thinking the baby does not want her any more. Deep breaths mama and make sure you get a support system behind you to cheer you till this tough period is over. It is very hard dealing with a nursing strike and it takes a lot of patience and persistence!
Typically nursing strikes happen because….
- of a stuffy nose which inhibits breathing whilst nursing
- of an ear infection which makes it painful for them whenever they suck/swallow
- of teething or thrush
- of being newly pregnant and supply went down
- of a change in perfume, deodorant etc which makes the ‘smell’ different
- of a reduced supply due to stress/menstruation
- of a preference to bottles
- of a major disruption in life (like moving house)
- of an over active let down
- there is too much to do (when babies are 9 months +)
And lastly as we already mentioned there can be no obvious reason.
Dealing with a nursing strike
The basic rules when dealing with a non nursing baby is to keep them fed and keep your supply. Starving a baby will not make them go to the breast to feed. It is important that we provide them with food throughout this period either through your own pumped milk, another mama’s pumped milk or breast milk substitute. Hand expressing or pumping whenever baby does not feed will help to maintain your supply for when things straighten out.
If the nursing strike from days gets on into 2-3 weeks or more, it can signify an end of your breastfeeding journey. Take time to grief this sudden change of plans. Feel the full hurt of all the feelings coming through and then let them go and start afresh.
Stressing about it will generally make things worse. First because if we stress a lot our supply can go down. Second the baby will pick up on your stress levels and make it harder for them to latch; this becomes a vicious circle till everyone gives up. It obviously is easier said than done, but important none the less. So, take some deep breaths, focus on the positive, put on some relaxing music etc to help you.
There are various things one can do to deal with a nursing strike:
- Check your baby with your health care provider to make sure there are no infections etc
- Nurse baby when drowsy, still asleep or just awakening. This because we tend to be more instinctual at that time and baby is therefore more likely to nurse.
- Nurse whilst moving – preferably in a sling as it will make life easier
- Try changing positions and especially use those that give extra support to baby
- Stimulate let down before offering the breast to the baby
- LOTS of skin to skin; including hot baths and sleeping together + carrying your little one in a carrier/sling as much as possible. This makes the breast more accessible and helps increase the bond
- If you have an over active let down express before offering to the baby and feed in an upright position.
A typical nursing session
When a baby is on a strike, one generally can not simply just try nursing. This because the baby may start getting breast aversion, especially if one insists too much. Here under is a suggestion of how best to go about nursing at this very trying moment.
- Use a supportive position like the cross cradle hold. If baby tolerates being in the breastfeeding position try to latch.
- Work on the latch for no longer than 10 minutes. Babies (and mothers) will get frustrated and tired. So try latching for about 10 minutes. If baby is getting very upset then stop and try again later.
- If baby is being very frustrated trying to latch, calm them down, snuggle them between the breasts, give them a finger to suck on, offer a little supplement as needed.
- When trying to latch the baby use breast compression to help them. If their suck is ineffective or can not sustain more than 3 sucks, go ahead and finish up their feed through the chosen method of supplementing.
- Whenever a baby does not nurse remember to hand express or pump to maintain your supply.
Remember do not force the baby to the breast. Make sure there is no physical problem to why the baby is not nursing. Lastly even the most resistant baby can go back to the breast but it will need a lot of loving patience.