“I think my baby wants to wean. He gets upset when I offer the breast.” “My baby only nurses for a second and then pops off. I think she prefers solid food.” We hear many mothers of babies around 7 to 9 months old express similar concerns–their babies seem disinterested in breastfeeding. Or even downright upset during breastfeeding!
There is often an explanation for a sudden shift in nursing behavior. Sometimes called a nursing strike, challenges getting baby to stay latched for a full feeding can be frustrating for both mother and baby! But the good news is that most of the time, these strikes are temporary.
If baby is nursing less, it’s very important to express milk to continue to stimulate milk production. Emptying your breasts fewer times per day might signal your body to produce less milk, so if baby is skipping a feeding, consider pumping or hand expression. It’s also very important to keep baby fed and hydrated, so you might offer the milk in a cup or another method.
Then, once you can figure out why your baby might be on strike, you can try to find a solution to get baby back to breast.
The textbook Counseling the Nursing Mother by Judith Lauwers and Anna Swisher reminds us that babies of this age are easily distracted. They are so interested in the world around them, figuring out new sights, sounds, smells–mothers find it very difficult to nurse babies in the 7-9 month age range unless they are alone in a quiet room. My younger two sons have even needed the room to be dark if I wanted them to get a full feeding.
If your baby pops off the breast frequently or fights to turn around, you might try nursing in a less stimulating room. Some mothers have found success sitting baby upright on their laps to nurse, so baby can look over mom’s shoulder.
Teething, ear infection, viruses, thrush…any number of ailments can make swallowing or nursing painful for a baby. If your baby’s nursing strike lasts more than a few days, you might consider an appointment with your caregiver to rule out any illness (or to ask about over-the-counter medications to help with teething pain). Nursing in an upright position can help alleviate swallowing pain and help with breathing in the event of a stuffy nose.
Babies get stressed out like all humans. If baby has been biting and mom yells in pain during a nursing session, Lauwers and Swisher note that baby can feel overwhelmed and associate nursing with the mother becoming upset because of the biting and then both mom and baby might feel nervous to risk nursing again.
Shifts in routine or schedule, a move, a trip…anything that stresses the rest of the family can also upset baby. Moms can try several things to bring nursing back to a calming experience: skin to skin contact, attempting nursing when baby is already drowsy or lightly asleep, nursing in a baby carrier while walking around, or even nursing in the bath can help baby relax into the feeding session.
Moms can also express a little bit of milk onto baby’s lip to try to encourage him/her to nurse.
Fast Milk Flow
Babies might fuss at the breast if the flow of milk comes fast and furious. Especially if baby had been nursing more for a growth spurt, mom might be experiencing an increased supply of milk. One solution could be to hand express or pump a bit of milk until let-down and then offer the breast to the baby so that the milk flow has slowed up a bit. Pumping first also means baby doesn’t have to work to get the milk, because it’s immediately available.
Upright nursing positions can help with heavy milk flow as well.
Remember that when toddlers wean, they often do so gradually and contentedly, so if your baby is upset and refusing to nurse, this likely indicates something else is going on. An IBCLC or supportive breastfeeding group can help you problem-solve your baby’s nursing strike and support you during a phase that can feel overwhelming!
Did you overcome a nursing strike? Leave us a comment to share your survival tips.