Breast-feeding strike: Why do babies refuse to nurse?
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Feb 7, 2020.
Many factors can trigger a breast-feeding strike — a baby's sudden refusal to breast-feed for a period of time after breast-feeding well for months. Typically, the baby is trying to tell you that something isn't quite right.
But a breast-feeding strike doesn't necessarily mean that your baby is ready to wean. Breast-feeding strikes are often short-lived.
Causes of a breast-feeding strike
Common causes of a breast-feeding strike include:
- Pain or discomfort. Teething, thrush or a cold sore can cause mouth pain during breast-feeding, and an ear infection can cause pain during sucking or lying on one side. An injury or soreness from a vaccination might cause discomfort in a certain breast-feeding position.
- Illness. A cold or stuffy nose can make it difficult for your baby to breathe during breast-feeding.
- Stress or distraction. Overstimulation, delayed feedings or a long separation from you might cause fussiness and difficulty nursing. A strong reaction from you to being bitten during breast-feeding might have the same effect. Sometimes a baby is simply too distracted to breast-feed.
- Unusual scents or tastes. Changes in your smell due to a new soap, perfume, lotion or deodorant might cause your baby to lose interest in breast-feeding. Changes in the taste of breast milk — triggered by the food you eat, medication, your period or getting pregnant again — also can trigger a breast-feeding strike.
- Reduced milk supply. Supplementing with formula or using a pacifier too much might reduce your milk supply.
Managing a breast-feeding strike
A breast-feeding strike can be uncomfortable for you and your baby. You might feel rejected and frustrated. Don't feel guilty, though — it's not your fault.
To prevent engorgement and maintain your milk supply, pump milk as often as your baby used to breast-feed. You can feed the expressed milk to your baby with a spoon, dropper or bottle. You might also:
- Keep trying. If your baby is frustrated, stop and try again later. You might try feeding your baby when he or she is very sleepy.
- Change positions. Try different breast-feeding positions. If your baby is congested, it might help to suction his or her nose before feedings.
- Deal with distractions. Try feeding your baby in a quiet room with no distractions.
- Cuddle your baby. Skin-to-skin contact between you and your baby might renew your baby's interest in breast-feeding. See if your baby will latch on while taking a warm bath together.
- Address biting issues. If your baby bites you during breast-feeding, stay calm and slip your finger into your baby's mouth to quickly break the suction.
- Evaluate changes in your routine. Think about any changes in your routine that might be upsetting your baby. Are you stressed? Are you taking any new medications? Has your diet changed? Are you using a new perfume or fragranced soap? Could you be pregnant? Focus on taking care of yourself.
If a breast-feeding strike lasts more than a few days, your baby has fewer wet diapers than usual or you're concerned about your baby's difficulty breast-feeding, consult your baby's doctor.