What Is A Nursing Strike?

Many babies go through a nursing strike at one time or another. Often, moms will mistake this for “weaning.” It is rare that infants self-wear prior to 12 months old and weaning never takes place suddenly. It is always a gradual process.

A nursing strike on the other hand – typically comes on without notice. All of a sudden you little bundle of joy stops wanting to nurse or starts refusing to nurse when offered. A nursing strike can last for a few days all the way up to a few weeks.

So what’s a mom to do? Your baby has to eat right? Well, the best thing to do is to keep offering your breast at every opportunity and try to do so in situations where the lights are dimmed and it is quiet and free from distractions. Nursing strikes often happen when your baby is just starting to explore his/her environment or prior to particular milestones like walking, crawling, cutting teeth, etc. There are so many other things to see and do! Going into a dark room, and laying down to nurse will often be enough to coax your baby back to the breast.

If the strike lasts for a long time, you’ll also want to pump to keep up your milk supply. Even though you may be able to get your baby to nurse in a dim, quiet room – it may still take a week or two before he/she is ready to nurse in the hustle and bustle of daily life. So hang in there, keep doing what works and remember

“This too shall pass!”

My son went on a nursing strike when he was 13 months old. I was going on a business trip and he and I were traveling alone together for the first time. My parents were meeting us in at our destination to watch him while I attended to “business.” Well – since we were traveling alone and I had my baby with me, I decided to check my breastpump in my luggage – something I had never done before!

Well, our flights were delayed, we missed a connection AND my luggage got lost. And my son chose this day as the day that he would refuse to nurse! He used sign language at the time to communicate and he would often sign that he wanted to nurse. He did this several times through out the day. When I lifted my shirt to allow him to nurse he would start to put his mouth on my breast, and then would pull away – with a look of “disgust” or “disdain” on his face. He would then sign to nurse and pull away again.

I tried hand-expressing my milk in the airport bathroom because after several hours of this, I was getting pretty full – but I have never been able to successfully hand-express – and this day was no different. I’m sure my stress over our missed flights and my baby refusing to nurse didn’t help! When we arrived and found out that my luggage did not, I was even more distraught – because that meant my breast pump didn’t make it either.

Finally, before bed that evening, I was able to coax my son to nurse by lying down in a dark room with him. For about a week, this was the only way I could get him to nurse – by lying down in the dark. Luckily my pump and luggage showed up the next day and my son went back to his old habits and nursed like a champ for a long time!

For more great information on Nursing Strikes, please visit the links on Kelly Mom

14 comments to What Is A Nursing Strike?

  • This couldn’t have come at a better time. One of my 14-month-old twins has done this three or four times — out of the blue, won’t nurse. For the past three days, she once again rejected nursing and I thought for sure she was weaning this time. But I kept offering, “just in case,” and lo and behold — this morning, she went back to nursing as usual, as though nothing had happened!

    It’s very helpful to remember that the nursing strike is sudden, and weaning is gradual! Thank you!
    .-= Two Makes Four´s last blog ..Croup-tastic =-.

  • My mother told me that my brother “self-weaned” at a very young age, and I bit my tongue when I realized that it must have been a nursing strike that she mistook for weaning. I mean, what good would it do to tell her 30+ years after the fact! But I think it’s great to get this information out.

    What an interesting story of your own experience, and good for you for sticking with trying to nurse even when your son seemed so dismissive. It must have seemed bewildering at the time! Grr for lost luggage…
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last blog ..January Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting resolutions =-.

  • Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I think the only reason I stuck with it was because I was traveling on business and I HAD to. My pump was lost and I needed to empty my breasts. Then for the next several days, he took a bottle from my parents while I pumped at work and I only coaxed him to nurse in the AM and PM. I think if I had been at home, I might have also “thought it was weaning” and given up. I’m so glad that I wasn’t home!! — Judy

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Judy Masucci and Judy Masucci, Tricia Marie. Tricia Marie said: What Is A Nursing Strike? : Mommy News and Views Blog http://bit.ly/6y23C8 […]

  • I like that you add that self-weaning rarely happens before 12 months. I’ve heard so many moms say their baby self-weaned at 6 or 9 months and I’m pretty sure they were just on a nursing strike. Great info to have. Thanks Judy!
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Mindfully Loving My Children =-.

  • Ruth

    My daughter went on a nursing strike a few months ago when a molar she was getting in abscessed. She refused to nurse for days after the molar was fine, only nipping me once in a while when I offered the breast. I pumped and gave her milk in a sippy cup. She’d sign for milk, but refused to nurse to get it. I kept offering, and finally, 10 days after she first refused, she tentatively nursed a little in bed with me. She nursed hesitantly again that evening, and the by the end of the next day she was enthusiastically nursing again, and in fact, has seemed to “love” my breasts far more than she ever did before her strike.:-) She is now 20 months old and still wanting to nurse 4 or 5 times a day. If I had not been encouraged by a lactation consultant to hang in there and keep offering the breast, she would have been weaned, and we’d be missing out on this extended bonding. I am so glad I waited her out. Looking back, I know now that my son, who stopped nursing suddenly at 14 months (about the same age my current baby did), was simply on a nursing strike and not truly ready to wean like I thought he was doing. It makes me sad to think that it didn’t have to end then, because I was not ready to wean him at that point, and yet I did, thinking that was what he wanted.

  • Hi Ruth, Thanks for sharing your story. So many moms don’t know what nursing strikes are – I certainly didn’t when my son went through one. And I would have let him “wean” had I been at home – so we were lucky that were traveling at the time and I “needed” him to nurse.

    You can read our full breastfeeding journey (that went on for many years afterwards) here: http://tinyurl.com/bfingjourney

    Thanks again for sharing! — Judy

  • Amber

    My son is 13 1/2 months old and is currently on a nursing strike. On day one he nursed in the morning, refused all day long, and then nursed before bed. He has not nursed since day one before bed and we are day 3 now. He cries and points and asks for it but when it comes time he pushes away and cries. He has a runny nose but nothing major and I don’t see any teeth coming in. I am pumping but I don’t get much from the pump. I hope this gets resolved soon, but it sounds like it is similar to what others are saying here.

  • Hi Amber, it does sound similar to what happened with my son. Keep offering and try to do so when in a quiet, dark place with few distractions. I found that I was able to get my son to nurse by going into a dark room and laying down on the bed. He was very hesitant, but finally did and gradually (over a few days to a week) was back to his old self. Hang in there! — Judy

  • My almost 9 month old just started his first nursing strike. At first I was afraid he was weaning, but found out it’s common for strikes to happen during teething, which is DEFINITELY happening right now. I’m glad to hear it will pass!

    I can’t get much out of my breasts when I pump, so I am nervous that I’m going to get a breast infection or something. My one breast is very sore. I REALLY look forward to things going back to normal!

  • Hi Theresa, Yes, luckily the nursing strikes don’t typically last more than a few days. I would recommend pumping while you are going through this even though you aren’t getting much – the stimulation will be good for helping you to maintain your supply while you little one is going through this. And keep trying to coax him back to the breast – he will come around soon enough. Best of luck to you! Judy

  • […] What Is A Nursing Strike: This is something that happens to so many babies and so many mothers don’t even know what a nursing strike is – education and awareness can help moms get through difficult times like nursing strikes – if you’ve had one or don’t know what one is, please read this post. […]

  • Lyndsay

    Can a baby as young as 3 months go on a nursing strike? My 3 month old refused to nurse for a day. Then slowly started back to normal feedings.

  • Hi Lindsay, absolutely – a baby as young as 3 months can go through a nursing strike. It sounds like that is what your baby did. — Judy

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