October 18, 2016

We Survived a Nursing Strike

Let me start this post by saying that I am not a Lactation Consultant, I am not a doctor or a nurse, and I admittedly have NO experience in the medical world whatsoever.  However, I am a mother who survived and recovered from a consistent string of HORRIBLE nursing strikes over the course of 3 months.  I will tell the story from my own personal experiences and use the disclaimer that what worked for us may not work for everyone.  Also, my daughter never lost weight during our nursing strikes – she continued to gain weight and stayed in the 90+%, so I never felt concern for the health of my baby during this time.

***If your baby is a newborn and is refusing to nurse/eat have a medical professional evaluate the situation immediately.  Also, if your baby isn’t nursing or refusing to nurse, it is always best to seek the advice of a pediatrician.***

What is a nursing strike you may ask?  It’s when your baby suddenly refuses to nurse and in my case, thrashes and screams each time the breast is offered.  The La Leche League International says this, “If your baby or toddler has been breastfeeding well and suddenly refuses to nurse, it is probably what is called a "nursing strike" rather than a signal that it's time to wean. Nursing strikes can be frightening and upsetting to both you and your baby, but they are almost always temporary. Most nursing strikes are over, with the baby back to breastfeeding, within two to four days.”

The best place to start telling this story is just before we experienced our first “Strike” when my daughter was about 10 weeks old.  My daughter had always taken a bottle easily and occasionally we offered her a bottle so other people could feed her and my boobs could have a break.  Up to this point, we were having a lot of success switching from bottle to breastfeeding.  I went back to work around 8 weeks post-partum and she was taking pumped milk by the bottle from about 6:30am to 4PM.  After a week or so she suddenly realized how convenient nursing breastmilk from a bottle was. It’s easier to suckle, she could chug milk, and best of all, she didn’t have to wait for a letdown.  From her perspective, I can see the allure.  I mean, I like to eat AS SOON as I am hungry, so I feel her.  From my perspective, I wasn’t ready to exclusively pump and I wanted our breastfeeding journey to continue – not to mention how convenient nursing from the breast vs a bottle was for us, especially when we were out and about.

Once the first strike struck, I started googling everything I could. The strike made me feel like a failure as a parent, as a breastfeeder, as a woman.  My daughter would immediately start screaming and thrashing as soon as I got into the position to nurse.  It was embarrassing and frustrating.  I knew she was hungry, but I couldn’t get her to calm down enough to latch. I spoke to my sister often who, at the time, was going through her internship to become an IBCLC. She offered so much emotional support and encouragement – I don’t think I would have ever successfully made it through without that positive support.

Through Google, my sister and LCs, I found so many different suggestions/tips/tricks and all of them lead back to offering only the breast 24/7, taking away the pacifier, offering the breast around the clock, etc.  Clearly, since I had to go to work, I couldn’t do that.  So, we struggled through the weekdays and waited for the weekends. During the week I would try to only offer the breast while I was physically with her and on the weekend I was able to attempt the 24/7 method.  At the time, my husband was deployed and I was desperate for some emotional/physical relief, so I did cave several times and give her a bottle.  I also never took her pacifier away.  We spent months fighting this nursing strike. The intensity would eb and flow, but I never could actually get her permanently back to nursing the breast.  I found myself pumping around the clock and nursing when she would be calm enough to latch (typically only during middle of the night feedings).

So, how did we break the strike? 

  1. The first relief from the outrageous refusals to nurse were when I was alone with her. Completely alone.  In a quiet room.  I could usually soothe her into nursing.  This is extremely inconvenient however and pretty much trapped me to my house on the weekend/evenings and limited my social interactions.  I did do this for weeks though and we did have positive results, but it took a lot of commitment and time. She was nursing still from every hour to three hours, so you can imagine how trapped I felt.
  2. Sometimes I would let her thrash and scream and cry for a few minutes, continue to spray/rub milk onto her mouth until she got tired enough to nurse. This was not ideal for us and definitely was embarrassing when I was in Target and forgot to bring a bottle, but I had to nurse.  I sat on the bench by the pharmacy for a long time until she finally nursed.  We left immediately after.
  3. Nursing at night. She never tried to strike during our middle of the night feedings.  It was our only consistent relief from the refusal.  It was the only reason I didn’t go completely insane.
  4. I tried the “she’ll get hungry enough to nurse” approach. This was hard and made me even more emotionally drained, but in some cases it did work.  I would ONLY offer the breast for X number of hours.  She would cry and thrash and we would move on.  Then when she cried again, I would offer again and if she cried and thrashed, we would move on and play or something.  We repeated this until she eventually got tired of being mad and would nurse again. (Again, my daughter never lost weight during our nursing strikes – she continued to gain weight and stayed in the 90+%, so I never felt concern for the health of my baby during this time.)
  5. Finally, I played music. I noticed that she would calm down during a certain song when we would drive in the car…I am embarrassed to admit the song, but for the sake of education, here it is: Selena Gomez’ Good For You.  Why this song?  I have NO idea.  Anyway, I tried playing it during one of our insane refusing to nurse sessions and she immediately calmed down and nursed.  It was a MIRACLE.  So, for the next week or so I played it every single time I tried to nurse and she would latch every single time.  TIME.  So, eventually she just came back to the breast. I stopped using the music after a while and if I thought she may be headed down the road to a strike again, I would play the song a few times and we would get back.  After some time, we didn’t need the music anymore and we didn’t have any more strikes.

 For any mother out there who is experiencing a nursing strike I want you to know that you are not alone, you are not a failure, you are not doing anything wrong.  If you want to continue nursing, don’t stop trying.  Find a support system or a Lactation Consultant who can talk to you through the time.  Don’t be afraid to look up different ideas on the internet – it’s a crazy place, but sometimes there is good information out there.  Again, you CAN make it through the strike. 

***If your baby is a newborn and is refusing to nurse/eat have a medical professional evaluate the situation immediately.  Also, if your baby isn’t nursing or refusing to nurse, it is always best to seek the advice of a pediatrician.***

Here is more information from the La Leche League International:




Other resources:




As I prepare to welcome our second child this month, I am going into this next breastfeeding journey with an open mind.  I know what it can be like to be frustrated and tired, but also know the reward of getting through.

If you ever have any questions, let me know. I am only a click away.

Fly Brave.  Travel Often.  See everything.


written by VHS contributor// Tavia Carlson