Nursing Strike - When Your Baby Refuses to Breastfeed

Lactation Aid Jan 5, 2021

A nursing strike might make a mother feel rejected, guilty, and very distressed.

This can happen at any time in any breastfeeding relationship. The baby might suck for a few minutes and then push away, crying and refusing to continue breastfeeding. Your baby might not want to suck, even though they seem hungry.

Some babies are fussy during breastfeeding, stopping a few times but continuing until satisfied. Some babies may be distracted or restless and even fussy after feeding.

Please take a deep breath and remember that this time will be worth it a few months from now. (Hopefully sooner than that)

Relaxing will help your milk flow more efficiently. If you feel overwhelmed, it would be best to stop and try again later when you feel calmer. Get some help with your baby so that you can take a break.

Always ensure that your baby drinks enough, even if you need to feed them donor breast milk or formula. If you need to supplement, it's best to use a supplementary nursing aid.

A baby who refuses to eat at all (total nursing strike) should be taken to the doctor, so that they can be tested for several things, including ear and throat infections or tongue tie.

How do I Know if a Baby is Getting in Enough Milk During a Nursing Strike?

1. Your baby should breastfeed at least six times per 24 hours.

2. Amount of wet and dirty diapers according to age group.

3. Weight gain, according to age group.

Refusal to breastfeed or a breastfeeding strike will usually only last a day or two.

Reasons for Breastfeeding Refusal

  • The baby is struggling to latch onto the breast.
  • The baby is too distracted during feeds, so it is a good idea to breastfeed in a quiet, peaceful environment. Using a breastfeeding necklace may help.
  • The baby has pain due to teething.
  • The baby is going through a growth spurt.
  • Nipple confusion: The baby was introduced to artificial nipples too early and is now confused.
  • The baby has been overstimulated and is overtired.
  • The baby has a cold or infection of the throat or ears.
  • The baby is ready to self-wean from breastfeeding; this is unlikely if the baby is under a year of age.
  • The baby has suck problems or a weak suck.
  • The baby may have oral thrush.
  • The baby may have tongue tie.
  • The baby is premature.
  • The mother's flow of milk - milk ejection is too fast or too slow.
  • The mother has a low milk supply.
  • Pregnancy can change the taste of breast milk, resulting in a baby nursing strike.
  • If the mother smells different, the baby might also pull away, maybe if you decide to use a different perfume.
  • The mother has used some new substance or strong-tasting cream on her breasts.
  • A Mastitis infection can also change the taste of your breast milk.
  • Oral contraceptives can give your milk a different taste.
  • Unusually long separations from the mother can cause a breastfeeding strike.
nursing strike

So What Can I Do to get Baby Back Onto the Breast?

One-sided Nursing Refusal

Reasons why a baby only wants to drink from one specific breast:

  • They attach easier to that particular breast.
  • That breast makes more breast milk.
  • The Let-down reflex on that breast is more comfortable for the baby.
  • Pain or infection on one side of a baby’s body may cause pain when breastfeeding on one side.

What to Do if Baby Won’t Nurse From One Side?

  • Try different breastfeeding positions.
  • Express breast milk from the breast that was not emptied; this will keep up your milk supply on that side so that you can store the breast milk for a later stage and also prevent engorgement.
  • Learn more about nipple confusion.

Calming Baby for Breastfeeding During a Nursing Strike

  • Burp your baby as often as possible.
  • It always helps to breastfeed your baby with skin-to-skin contact during a nursing strike.
  • Massage your baby before a breastfeeding session.
  • Keep baby upright while breastfeeding.
  • Walk and breastfeed (maybe use a breastfeeding sling).
  • Swaddle your baby.


Nursing strike? Help!

"My 14-month-old was a ravenous nurser before, waking several times throughout the night to nurse both sides in a sitting.

Last week he started biting down and tearing at my nipples; I reacted as I always have with a firm, gentle mouth or no thank you and removed my breast before trying again if he gave the nursing cue.

At first, I thought he was just upset at teething pain, so I went on with my day and dropped him off with some extra breast milk for the morning.

That afternoon and evening, he did it every time I tried to nurse him when he gave me his nursing cues.

At this point, I thought, wow, that's odd. He must be just off today. He refused all night and the following day to the point of screaming, slapping, pinching, and biting, even holding him, not trying to nurse, but all while he gave me the nursing cues.

I was (is) miserable and at a loss. My boyfriend's take was that our son was ready to be done breastfeeding, but yet would only calm down when he got like this if given a bottle with breast milk; he's allergic to dairy, and soy isn't healthy, so we've also tried goats milk, but he refuses it.

He will only take breast milk from a bottle now, although I continue to try to nurse him. My milk supply is already dropping despite pumping a lot (ugh!). I'm at a loss! Help, please."

Re: Nursing Strike
by: Tracy

"Hi, have you tried giving him something cold to chew on just before nursing?

I used to make breast milk lollies and give those to my daughter before she nursed, the cold will numb the gums, and breast milk contains anti-pain ingredients, which also helps.

For now, you could try keeping your supply up with herbs. I make my tea with fenugreek, fennel, anise, and blessed thistle. If you would like the recipe, I could send it to you. Other than that, oatmeal helps as well as seaweed and coconut water.

I would hang in there; it could be a few things; maybe it will pass. It doesn't sound like self-weaning. It looks more like teething pain or maybe earache.

I think it would be best to get to a lactation consultant before your milk supply drops even more - so that they can assess the situation and advise accordingly."

My Baby Refuses to Drink at Noon
by Claire (China)

"My baby refuses to drink at noon, from 11 am to 5 pm; if I force him to drink, he cries out loud. Is it okay if I don't feed him at noon?

baby not drinking at a particular time of the day."

Re: My Baby Refuses to Drink at Noon
by: Tracy

"Hi, Claire. It sounds like your baby might be consuming more milk during other times of the day; this is a common occurrence, especially if he drinks a lot in the evenings.

It doesn’t matter when your baby receives milk, just as long as he gets enough. It would be best if you kept an eye on urine output.

You do not need to worry about this; everything is fine if your baby is still happy and picking up weight.

He might also be going through a growth spurt; at four months, they usually have another growth spurt, so before you know it, the feeding patterns will change again.

Here are some pages that might help...

Growth spurts

Reverse cycling

I hope this helps! Let me know how things go; I would love to hear from you again."

Successfully Ended a Nursing Strike
by Tammy

"My nine-month-old bit me one day, and I yelped and said "No!". He started crying - really crying. He did not nurse for five days after that.

He wanted me near and holding him, but refused to nurse. He would cry, turn away, and push away from the breast. I was pumping during this time, but he preferred water or formula out of a sippy - not my milk. I was so sad and cried every day. I wasn't ready for him to be weaned - he is my last baby (3rd). I had to stop nursing my 1st at nine mos, and my 2nd didn't make it past four months - so this was new territory for me.

I read suggestions here and elsewhere and decided to take it slow. A lot of skin-to-skin, and I offered the breast but didn't push it. I noticed that he got more relaxed every day, and yesterday started to drool! So today, he sat in my lap - patted my breast, and leaned in to nurse. We were really happy after that, and he has nursed all day. So - take it slow, and they will return to you!"


Tracy Behr

Mom of two, breastfeeding helper, qualified nutritionist and lover of all things natural! Studying a breastfeeding counselor course via Childbirth int.

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