When Baby Stops Nursing, it's a Strike!

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

"Hey, so all of the sudden my three month won't eat. He won't take my breast and if he does, it's a very short feed. He screams if I even put him in the position. I have milk and it's leaking out-- even shooting out now--because I'm so full. I tried a bottle with a slow nipple -- he took some and then started crying. 

He has NEVER been like this before. He loves breastfeeding and his weight is great - 20 pounds at 3 months. He is an awesome eater and I'm worried. Should I call the pediatrician? He's arching his back, do you think he has reflux? I'm worried because he hasn't had many wet diapers. He needs to eat and I feel like I am going to burst!"

When your baby is refusing to nurse, it’s called a nursing strike. 

A nursing strike is when a baby who normally enjoys breastfeeding suddenly refuses to breastfeed. You might think a baby is weaning and done with breastfeeding, but if they are younger than 12 months, that is unlikely. In addition, most babies don't suddenly wean cold turkey, they gradually taper off breastfeeding over a period of weeks or months. 

During a nursing strike, sometimes it is obvious why they stopped. For example, they bit you. You yelled in pain. They cried and next time you offered, baby said, "Nope. Not doing that again. No more nursing."

Don't fight it and don't force breastfeeding, because that can make it worse.

More often, it takes detective work to figure out why. It's important to stay calm and think back to what's been going on. 

If baby's weight is great, you have a cushion of time. They are not going to starve if they don't nurse for a day. You, on the other hand will be very uncomfortable, so express or pump milk to prevent engorgement and plugged ducts. You may need to pump several times to stay comfortable.

If you are worried about your baby's weight, feed them by any means possible, and continue trying to understand why they aren't feeding.

You will make faster progress if you accept that they have a very good reason, from their perspective, to NOT breastfeed. Think about what that might be, take a longer term view, stay connected with your baby, stay optimistic and keep trying.

"So, if a baby has a very good reason, what might that be, from their view?"

Babies can strike for any reason you could think of. They are human beings with their own sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice, fear safety, and comfort. 

What often happens is that something startled, or bothered, them while they were nursing and they got scared. They're afraid it will happen again. Therefore, if they don't nurse, it won't happen and they won't be scared.