At 10 months old, Copeland Geberdt hit a nursing rough patch and stopped feeding. “Whenever I offered my breast, he’d bite it,” says Copeland’s mom, Justine, from Windsor, Ont. “Before this, breastfeeding was easy; we never had a single problem with milk supply or latching.”
Copeland’s nipping and his refusal to eat was what’s called a nursing strike—a pretty common occurrence that happens when a baby who’s been feeding well for months suddenly snubs Mom’s breast. It’s unlike weaning, which is often anticipated and gradual—the infant usually drops one feeding at a time, says Daleen Bybee, a lactation consultant and doula in East Kootenay, BC. “Nursing strikes are unexpected and temporary, usually lasting from a day to a week, and I’d say that most breastfeeding moms experience it at least once.”
While there aren’t predictable signs that a baby is heading toward a nursing strike, they occur for typical reasons, explains Ayisha Kurji, a paediatrician in Saskatoon. “Some causes are baby related, including things like mouth pain from teething or problems like thrush; an ear infection that makes nursing painful; a cold or stuffy nose that makes it tough to eat; being startled by Mom’s reaction if the baby bit her accidentally; or he could just be easily distracted,” Kurji says. “Other causes are mother related, such as a change in soap or deodorant; stress; a variation in milk supply or nursing routine (like going back to work or travelling); medications she’s taking or a switch in diet (like eating spicier foods) that might alter the taste of the breastmilk; or if the mom is pregnant again and is going through hormonal changes.”
When Copeland turned his nose up at her milk, the mom of two consulted just about everyone she could think of. “I talked about it with many mom friends in person and via Facebook groups to get support and find a solution. I got lots of advice, like to keep offering the breast and to check for teething or ear infections,” Geberdt says. “I did take him into the doctor to make sure there was no infection causing him discomfort while sucking, and there wasn’t.”
Breastfeeding support groups or lactation consultants can be helpful, especially for dealing with the emotion and stress that can accompany nursing strikes, says Kurji. “My top three priorities are nourishing the baby, keeping Mom’s milk coming in and getting the little one back to the breast,” she explains. You can make sure your wee one is getting enough nutrition by pumping and offering expressed milk in a small cup, spoon or bottle, or consider offering formula. If she’s older than six months and already on solids, you can try giving her other foods. You’ll know she’s not dehydrated if she’s still wetting her diapers.
To keep your supply up (and prevent engorgement and plugged ducts), drink plenty of fluids, pump, get lots of sleep and try to eliminate stress (easier said than done, especially if you’re panicked about the strike). “To get her back on the breast, try nursing when your baby is calm and happy, or when she’s drowsy. And do it in a dark, quiet room to minimize distractions,” say Kurji. “Lots of cuddling and skin-to-skin contact will help keep your milk flow strong and will encourage her to nurse.”
If you feel your baby’s strike is prolonged and you’re not ready to give up on breastfeeding, Kurji recommends talking to your doctor. “It’s also really important for Mom to know that a strike isn’t her fault, and that she hasn’t done anything wrong to make it happen,” she adds. “With patience, time and support, you will get through this.”
Tip: Get lots of skin-to-skin contact to entice your little one back to nursing by taking a bath together. In the relaxing warm water, with your breasts readily available, your baby may just latch on again.