What Is A Nursing Strike?
A nursing strike is when the baby suddenly refuses to breastfeed. Before stopping, the baby had no difficulty in breastfeeding and was growing normally. Even though refusing to feed might make the baby irritated and cranky due to hunger, he/she will still refuse to feed.
Sometimes, the baby might gradually start decreasing his/her feed and might eventually stop altogether. This is not a nursing strike but instead, is the baby’s way of informing you to wean him off breast milk. A nursing strike is usually a temporary reaction to a number of situations, and the baby will eventually start breastfeeding after some help.
Impact Of A Nursing Strike
A nursing strike can be very distressing for the mother and the baby. The mother might see the baby refusing to feed as a failure on her part. This might lead to emotional distress as well as an increase in stress. The mothers need to understand that the baby is not rejecting them but instead, are unwilling to feed despite their hunger.
Nursing strikes are almost always temporary and will end within a few days, though some have been known to last 2 to 3 weeks. If the situation does become permanent, the mother can grieve, but she also needs to understand that sometimes the baby sets the pace despite the mother’s best efforts.
Causes Of A Nursing Strike
A nursing strike can be attributed to a number of causes including those related to the mother and the baby. The baby related causes are further divided into physical as well as emotional causes.
- Causes Related To The Baby
The physical causes related to the baby include pain or discomfort. The baby might be in pain due to an earache or a toothache. Sometimes the baby might have injuries of the mouth that may have gone unnoticed such as a cut in the mouth or even a sore throat that might even be causing pain to the baby.
Not only do diseases of the mouth or those related to the head lead to a nursing strike but another disease such as infection of the hands, feet, abdomen or skin such as chickenpox might cause enough discomfort to the baby that he/she might refuse to feed. He/she might also be in pain or discomfort from a recent vaccine infection.
Common emotional causes include a baby startled or scared during the feed. While feeding, if the baby is sometimes startled by a sudden noise or movement, it might scare him/her, and he/she might refuse to feed, leading to a nursing strike.
- Causes Related To The Mother
Sometimes, due to a change in maternal diet, the taste of milk might alter slightly causing the baby to become confused. There might even be changes in the amount of milk such as a sudden increase or decrease in the quantity of the milk. A decrease might frustrate the baby and later he/she might refuse to feed due to hunger. An increase might confuse or scare the baby, who might find an excessive flow overwhelming.
The mother might be under stress due to a number of reasons such as some family or work-related issues, changing jobs or house etc. This baby might sense a mother’s preoccupation and mood changes and may refuse to feed. The mother might have changed her soap, deodorant or perfume preventing the baby from recognizing his/her mother and therefore refusing to breastfeed altogether.
Sometimes, the mother might get busy with other matters and might not spend as much time with the baby as she previously did. This might lead to the use of pacifiers in order to delay feeding while waiting for the mother to get free or giving bottle milk. All of these might cause the baby to refuse to feed, eventually causing a nursing strike.
Dealing With, Managing And Solving A Nursing Strike
Dealing with a nursing strike depends entirely upon the cause of the sudden discontinuation of feeding. If the cause is an injury, oral ulcer, or any other disease, then the cure of nursing strike is the treatment of the disease itself. For the treatment and to start medication, always consult your child’s paediatrician or at least a qualified doctor.
Sometimes, when on a nursing strike, the baby might refuse to feed during his/her waking hours but while asleep or drowsy, he/she will feed. Do not under any circumstances, try to force the baby to feed. Instead, cuddle with the baby and share as much skin contact as you can. This will eventually make the baby more comfortable and receptive to feeding.
Try to feed the baby in a quiet room with no distraction. Try to share your workload with others to decrease your burden and spend more child with the baby. Try changing positions, as another position might make the baby more comfortable with feeding. Before offering the nipple to the baby, stimulate the breast yourself to let down the milk and make the baby more receptive to feeding.
If the baby continuously refuses to feed and gets upset every time, then stop offering to feed for a day to two, to let the baby settle down. Sometimes freezing a little milk in the form of ice cubes and their use before feeding will help with any toothaches or teething, making the baby more amenable to breastfeeding. Sometimes you have to try a number of ideas for a few days before seeing any result.
Keeping Milk Production At Optimum Levels
Sometimes when the baby might not feed for a few days to months, then the milk production will start to decrease and eventually dry up. Full breasts without any sign of relief will also be very painful for the mother.
The supply of milk can be maintained and the breast engorgement can be relieved by the use of pumping or hand-expressing. If the nursing strike continues for a longer duration, then try to feed breast milk through a cup, spoon or a syringe.
A nursing strike is not as uncommon as mothers might think. A mother needs to understand that it is most likely a temporary position and will get resolved as soon as the cause behind it is known and treated.