Nursing Strike: Causes, Remedies and Prevention

Nursing Strike – Why Babies Refuse to Breastfeed

Babies are the cutest when they are peaceful and can turn into tiny monsters when they protest. Crying is just one of the many ways they tell they want or don’t want something. Many times, your baby, who has been perfectly fine having milk from your breasts, might suddenly refuse to suckle your breasts anymore and refrain from coming close to it at all. This protest is also called a breastfeeding strike.

What Is Breastfeeding Strike or Nursing Strike?

A nursing strike is a phase when a baby, who has been feeding off the breast without any issues, suddenly refuses to feed anymore. These strikes can stay for a couple of days, or in some cases longer than that. Many mothers might suddenly feel rejected. However, it is important to note that this is just your baby’s way of communicating something to you.

Why Do Babies Refuse to Breastfeed?

The causes of nursing strike can vary from something they are feeling or even something externally that they experienced.

Physical Reasons

  • Any kind of illnesses, such as a cold, or having an infection in the ear, that causes a baby to be disturbed and distracted, can result in refusing to feed.
  • If the mother has used some deodorant or a particular lotion, or even if the clothes are washed with a different soap, the change in aroma could make the baby move away or might cause a reaction in the child.
  • Sometimes, the baby might be suffering from reflux disease. In this case, breastfeeding often becomes quite painful for the child, which ends up with the baby refusing the breast.
  • At times, the breast milk produced by the mother is in large quantities and can get quite overwhelming for the baby to suckle it all quickly. This causes refusing the breast altogether.
  • If the baby is in a phase of teething or has a wound in the mouth, the process of sucking the breast could be quite painful for him. Hence, he refuses to feed on the breast.


  • Similarly, if the baby has undergone any surgery or has just been vaccinated or given an injection, he is not in a good mood or a state of mind to feed and may simply push the mother’s breast away.
  • At times, the breast milk could cause the baby to have an allergy due to any food or medicines are taken by the mother. This will cause the baby to not have any more milk.

Environmental Reasons

  • If the baby has been separated from the mother for a long time, he may not want to go for breastfeeding right away.
  • Babies are known to bite occasionally when they suck on the breast. If the mother reacts strongly and scolds or screams at the baby, he might tend to stop feeding altogether.
  • Babies are used to breastfeeding at fixed times without fail. If there is any interruption or change in that routine, they might refuse to feed at all. Sometimes, babies are not comfortable breastfeeding during travel or when shifted to a new house or so.
  • If the baby is upset or stressed and has been crying for a long time, his mood to breastfeed might fade away and will end up in refusing the breast when the time to feed comes.

How Many Feeds Does Your Baby Refuse In A Day?

The normal number of feeds a baby requires depends heavily on age. Young babies generally require a total of 8-12 feeds in a day. For older babies, this could change. Therefore, a baby refusing to feed once or twice in a day is quite different from a baby having only 3-4 feeds in a single day, with increased breast refusal.

Can Breast Refusal Affect Your Baby?

An infant refusing to nurse is not just disturbing to the mother but quite disturbing for the baby as well. The baby has been used to the mother’s touch and warmth and it is only something overwhelming that might cause a baby to stop opting for breastfeeding at all.

It is important that your baby feels loved and wanted since those feelings and emotions of a close bond trigger the need to suckle on the mother’s breast. The skin-to-skin contact and the feeling of being in the arms of the mother play a vital role in letting your baby come back to normalcy.

If there has been a change in the routine, going back to how things were before can assist your baby in getting back to a safe zone.

The reduced number of feeds can result in your baby not getting as much nutrition as is required or even end up being dehydrated. In such cases, keeping a track of your baby’s health is highly important. This can be done by simply checking how many nappies your baby wets in a day. If the number is 6 or more than six, then that is a good sign that the fluid content in your baby’s body is at a healthy level.


Another aspect to observe is your baby’s urine. If the urine is dark yellow and has some cloudy impurities, it might signify reduced water levels in the baby. Poop that is not in a standard yellow colour could point at digestive issues and its best to inform your doctor about these.

What Can You Do to Stop Your Baby’s Nursing Strike?

Here are a few tips to stop your little one’s nursing strike.

  • Ensure that there are no physical issues interfering with the child. At times, the child might have tried to swallow something and might be stuck in the mouth, causing discomfort. Removing that can bring the baby back to normal. Get your baby checked by a doctor for the presence of any infection in the ear or if the baby is undergoing a teething phase. If your baby’s body is slightly warm, these are signs of such scenarios being present. If your baby cries while suckling and peeing, those problems need to be mitigated. If you’ve recently changed some perfume or powder that you usually apply or even washed your clothes with a different detergent, try going back to how it was before so that the baby might find comfort in the known.
  • When babies refuse to breastfeed, mothers might want to give them milk or formula through a bottle or make use of a pacifier in order to get them sucking again. However, this method of care can quickly backfire and get them used to that, instead of your breast. The act of sucking comes naturally to the babies and they don’t need external objects to relearn it. In case your baby is showing signs of dehydration, a bottle can be given occasionally but only in a limited amount, and preferably by a different person. If your baby seems fine, avoid giving him the bottle. Let the baby get hungry and thirsty so that he will automatically want to get his milk from the breast.
  • Although your baby is on a breastfeeding strike, the milk production factory is not. Your body is still busy producing the amount of milk that it generates daily. This milk needs to be pumped out or expressed so as to keep the milk production cycle unabated. Moreover, keeping breast milk unexpressed can lead to infections or even plug the nipple ducts. This expressed milk can be given to the baby separately when needed.
  • Any kind of strike only gets stronger if the party on strike is forced to do what they are refusing to do. Babies are no different and forcing a baby to take your breast could further make him refuse it even harder. Love and affection are the best ways to resolve the standoff and breastfeeding should always be a relaxed and happy activity. Having a lot of lovely cuddles and direct skin contact helps takes this ahead.
  • Apply some strategy and try to get your baby back onto your breast when he’s sleeping soundly or partially awake. These times are when your baby is unaware of the surroundings and depends purely on his reflexes. If he wakes up or pushes away, don’t force and stop your advances. At times, babies can reflexively start sucking on your breast and by the next day forget about the strike altogether.
  • Go for a nice bath together, both you and the baby. Sitting with your baby in warm water, playing around with him, and having direct skin contact with breasts easily accessible, your baby might forget about the strike in all that fun and grab on to those breasts happily. Change in the atmosphere always works wonders and even a small walk in the sun or the garden could be useful.
  • Try feeding your baby in a different position, preferably one that involves some movement. By holding your baby with some support and walking across the house, or sitting in a rocking chair with your breast close to his mouth, he might change his mood or drift off to sleep and unconsciously start sucking on your breast.
  • Babies remember their early days pretty well where all they knew was the presence of the mother and her breast. Sitting with your baby in a dark room, and having direct skin contact with each other, could remind your baby about those times. This rekindles the bond of trust and love and might make your baby search for the breast to latch on to.


  • Soothing and calming a baby that’s on a nursing strike is a well-known solution. Play some relaxing music as you hold your baby close to you. Or simply hum a nice tune that you usually sing or used to sing when pregnant. Babies know your sound pretty well since their days in the womb. Listening to it again while resting on your chest could remind them of a safe place and make them go for the breast.
  • A nursing strike can even be broken by supporting parties themselves. Introducing your baby to other babies or infants who are breastfeeding can be quite an interesting approach. This could help him in reminding how wonderful the act of breastfeeding is and then want to go for the breast all over again.

How to Keep Your Breast Milk Supply Going

Regularly expressing your milk out by using a pump or your own hands is necessary to keep the milk production going and prevent any chances of infection. The frequency should be the same as that of the baby’s feeding times to stick to the routine. This also prevents breasts from being engorged and cause pain. The milk can occasionally be given to the baby by a bottle or a spoon until he gets back onto the breast.

For a mother, the baby refusing breast milk can be quite a shocker. But understanding the reason behind it and giving all her love and affection to make the baby feel safe again, is the quickest way to break the nursing strike and join forces in ensuring a healthy happy future for the baby.

Also Read: Common Breastfeeding Problems and Solutions

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