Nursing Strikes: Refusing to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding is going well, and then all the sudden your baby seems uninterested. Sound familiar? Many moms associate this disinterest with signs that your baby is ready to wean, but that isn't always the case. What are some of the main reasons babies go on nursing strikes? How do you overcome them and how do you protect your milk supply in the meantime?

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Episode Transcript

The Boob Group
Nursing Strikes: Refusing to Breastfeed


Please be advised, this transcription was performed from a company independent of New Mommy Media, LLC. As such, translation was required which may alter the accuracy of the transcription.

[Theme Music]

ROBIN KALPAN: When a baby or a child suddenly stops breastfeeding, it can be very concerning. What has cause this nursing strike and what can a mother do to bring her baby back to the breasts?

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome back to the show expert Wendy Colson. Wendy is an RN, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and owner of Latching with Love in San Diego, California. Today, we’re discussing: “Nursing strikes.” This is: “The Boob Group.”

[Theme Music/Intro]

ROBIN KALPAN: Welcome to The Boob Group broadcasting from the Birth Education Centre of San Diego. The Boob Group is your weekly online on-the-go support group for all things related to breastfeeding. I’m your host Robin Kaplan. I’m also an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and owner of the San Diego Breastfeeding Centre.

Check out our Facebook Page if you have not done that before to join in our fantastic conversations. You can ask questions of our experts and also offer judgement free tips to other breastfeeding mamas who are joining in the conversation as well.

We have one panellist in the studio today. Ebey, would you like to introduce yourself please?

EBEY SORENSON: Hello. My name is Ebey Sorenson. I have a five-month old son named Caleb. I’m a stay-at-home mom with a nutrition business.

ROBIN KALPAN: Awesome. Thanks for joining us today. Caleb is actually in the studio. So, if you hear a little sweet little noises and cooing that’s because he’s hanging out with us today. Mj, would you like to introduce yourself as well as The Virtual Panellists Program please?

MJ FISHER: Sure. I am Mj. I am a stay-at-home besides doing The Boob Group here to Jason who’s going to be three. So, our VP Program is really a way for you out there our listeners to join the conversation and be a part of the show.

If you can’t be on the studio with us – because not all of you are local and not all of you are actually even in the country; but you can be a part of the show by answering the questions that we’re posting. It’s the same questions that we’re asking our in-studio panellists. So, it’s a way for you to share experiences and tips and just give your opinion.

One thing I’m noticing that’s really cool is that: “Moms are helping other moms.” They’re saying their comments. There are questions and they’re actually engaging with them. So, it’s just like an extension of our show. We’re here to help you and you’re helping each other. We may even read your comment while we record.

For just participating, you’re entered to win a one-month subscription to The Boob Group Club. So, check out our website under the Community Tab for more info on the VP Program.

ROBIN KALPAN: Awesome. Thanks Mj.

MJ FISHER: You’re welcome.

[Theme Music]

ROBIN KALPAN: So, this is from Gretchen and this is what she posted on our Facebook Page.

Thank you so much for the weaning episode. I listened to it in the car when I was taking a mama time out tonight in the midst of my daughter cutting her second tooth. You gave me encouragement and reinvigorated me to keep nursing for as long as it works for the two of us. As a full time working mom, I can’t even describe how much the support I get from this podcast mean. Thank you so much.


[Theme Music]

ROBIN KALPAN: So, today on The Boob Group, we’re discussing: “Nursing strikes.” Our expert Wendy Colson is a registered nurse, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and owner of Latching with Love which is in San Diego, California. So, thanks for joining us Wendy and welcome back to the show.

WENDY COLSON: Thanks Boob Group for having me back.

ROBIN KALPAN: Sure. So Wendy, what is a nursing strike?

WENDY COLSON: What is a nursing strike? A nursing strike is an abrupt refusal of the breasts. It can be an abrupt refusal where they won’t even latch on or they latch on and they’ll just do 1 to 2 minutes and then they cry out. They’re just refusing the breasts.

It can’t be confused with weaning. Weaning is more gradual. Nursing strikes are usually on the older baby. This isn’t the hospital that’s not latching on that can’t be confused with a nursing strike. This is an older baby usually four months and beyond.


WENDY COLSON: But, usually even older.

ROBIN KALPAN: So, one who is already established breastfeeding and all of a sudden is

WENDY COLSON: Exactly. Breastfeeding is going well. Then all of a sudden, we have the abrupt refusal.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay. What are some reasons why a child might go in a nursing strike?

WENDY COLSON: It can be as something as simple as: “Mom is she always have this big green chair in the living room and all of a sudden, she sat down in a different chair.”

It’s usually is:

• A change in routine

• Going back to work

• It can be as something as serious as a medical illness in the baby
such as:
-an ear ache
-a hand-foot mouth disease
-a thrush in a baby’s mouth can be painful for them and a stuffy nose.

• It can also be going back to a change of routine.

• It can go back to mom.
-They’re on vacation; so they’re out of their environment.

• New move

• New sitter

• Teething

• Biting

• New lotion/soap

• Moms on new vitamins.
-So, it has that scent of the milk.

• It changes too many bottles offered is very frequently the reason.

• A change in supply and it can be a sign of low supply but it can also be an overactive milk rejection reflex it’s bothering the baby.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay. So, Ebey, when did your baby go on a nursing strike and how old was he?

EBEY SORENSON: He went on a nursing strike when he was four months old and we were on vacation.

ROBIN KALPAN: That’s not fun at all.

EBEY SORENSON: No, we got to pump which was even more fun.

ROBIN KALPAN: No and what is he doing?

EBEY SORENSON: So, we were fine on the airline travel towards our destination. I was travelling by myself. While we were on vacation with my family, he just was arching his back, refusing to eat and it was really frustrating because we were in public a lot.

ROBIN KALPAN: Absolutely, which makes it definitely hard when they keep popping off and getting really frustrated. Okay.

Wendy, Julie had posted a question on Facebook and she asks:

How can a mom protect her milk supply during a nursing strike?


WENDY COLSON: Well, this is vital because it will pass but we definitely don’t want mom to have a true supply issue because of it. So, this is where she should pump or hand express. Same amount of time as she’s used to breastfeeding. So for many moms, that can vary.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay, depending on how old their baby is.


ROBIN KALPAN: Okay. Ebey, how did you make sure that he was eating enough when he was going on a nursing strike?

EBEY SORENSON: Actually, he’s kind of been on a modified strike since that point I would say. But, side line nursing was our go-to. So every time he would start to get hunger signs and I would offer in our typical position – cradle hold, he would refuse. Then I would just go into a dark, quiet room and lie down on the bed and nurse him.

ROBIN KALPAN: Remove all the distractions as well which can be helpful.


ROBIN KALPAN: Wendy, Sarah posted this question on our Facebook Page:

How can a mom combat issues like clogged ducts and engorgement when her baby is on a nursing strike?


WENDY COLSON: Well, we have to keep the milk moving. Just because baby’s on the nursing strike, we don’t want milk stasis because then we can have like you said: “Plug ducts or even worse – we can have bacteria grow called Mastitis.” So, we want to keep milk moving.

Again, going back to pulling out that pump that maybe perhaps has been in the closet; bringing that back out. If mom doesn’t respond to that because not all moms respond to an electric pump going back into hand expression.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay. Ebey, did you end up having to pump when he was going on this nursing strike? I know you said: “You didn’t bring a pump with you.” So, the times that he wasn’t feeding, what you have to do?

EBEY SORENSON: So, I have this vivid memory on Carmel Beach and he wasn’t eating. He hadn’t eaten like seven hours. I was engorged. Thankfully, I had a breast pad in. So, I was groping myself hand expressing at the beach with my whole family, mortified. But, it worked and he eventually ate when we got home.

Since that point, I’m an over producer. So, I donate milk to begin with. Any time that he’s refusing, I just pump and that’s extra milk for someone else.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay. Does he take a bottle as well?

EBEY SORENSON: He occasionally takes a bottle only from dad. So, that’s not really been something I’ve tried during the nursing strike.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay, all right. Well, when we come back, we will discuss: “How to bring a baby back to our breast after nursing strike.”

[Theme Music]

ROBIN KALPAN: Welcome back to the show. We’re talking with Wendy Colson about: “Nursing strikes.”

So Wendy, if a nursing strike happens when a mom like after mom returns to work. You would mention sometimes: “When baby is getting a lot of bottles in a row.” What tips do you have for getting her baby back to breast?

WENDY COLSON: Well, I like the expression baby moon. You honeymoon with your husband, your partner. But, I’d like to say baby moon meaning: “Basically, when you walk through the door form that job, you just spend a countless amount of time with that baby.” Not nursing, not trying to breastfeed him and force the issue; more than just the bonding.

Baby wearing just saved me. So, trying to feed in motion but baby wearing really just puts the baby that skin-to-skin connection that we’ve so much talked about in the hospital; but my older child – baby wearing. Then if you could breastfeed, I always say: “We’re really like types of clothing or even go topless if you’re in your house; just have full access.”

Another thing I like which works a lot with the mother who is mourning the loss of the birth plan is: “To bathe with the baby.” Get in the bath tub with your baby. There is something about wet breasts that babies just love. So, I use that one a lot within myself. I’m trying to avoid bottles when you’re at home. So, if it’s your day off, why use a bottle?

So, have the baby start learning the routine: “When mom’s home, I have full access. When I notice when she’s not here, I get this other thing.” So we want babies to learn that separation. I caution moms not to be the one giving the bottles.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay. If a nursing strike is related to baby becoming flow preference such as when breastfeeding is more difficult than bottle-feeding, what are your recommendations?

WENDY COLSON: Well, my recommendations are: “To change the method of feeding at that point.” I’d like to go into more of a finger-feeding, an alternative feeding, a cup feeding depending of the age of the baby. We use cup feeding and spoon-feeding in the hospital in the one-day old babies. So, we certainly can use it on the older baby. That really, really works. So, just removing the bottle altogether.

Calling a lactation consultant who is well-versed on different manufacturers of bottles; I mean don’t get caught up in thy hype of what they put on the package where they all say: “Closest to breast, slow-flow nipple.” I can’t tell you how many bottles I’ve turned them upside down with water and I watch that slow-flow nipple run like a river.

So, even though you kind of got – maybe you chose the wrong nipple and that there is a better one out there. Maybe a lactation nurse can actually refer you to a better nipple for when you’re back to work.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay. Ebey, were you able to get your baby back to breastfeeding and if so, how did you do that?

EBEY SORENSON: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get him back to where we were before we went on vacation – that was a month ago. But what’s been working for us is: “We go into the cradle position and he’s pretty upset in that position.”

I need to hand express a little bit into his mouth to get him to understand like: “This is going to help you calm down a little bit.” He gets very excited and will then latch on. He’ll sometimes pop off and I have to do it a few times. That’s worked for us sideline nursing when he’s really sleepy or right when he wakes up works really well.

I kind of have to like: “Body swaddle him.” I like putting my leg over him and keeping his arm that wants to hit his mouth away from my breast like kind of closed to his body. So, that’s work for us. Unfortunately, nursing when we’re out is a really challenging so with him. He is very distracted and will not nurse. It could be five hours before he nurses.

ROBIN KALPAN: Well, we should say too: “He’s a hefty 20 pound five month old.”

WENDY COLSON: Five months old?

EBEY SORENSON: Yes, he is quite large.

ROBIN KALPAN: He’s definitely not starving. Have you tried any carrier at all?


ROBIN KALPAN: Have you tried nursing him in your carrier at all?

EBEY SORENSON: Yes, he is not a fan of that. We did a lot of vertical nursing when he was a new born because of my really over production issues with milk. He just did not like to be in the carrier while nursing. He wanted to be flailing. So, we’re still working on that.

ROBIN KALPAN: All right, well that’s okay.


ROBIN KALPAN: Mj, do one of our virtual panellists has something to share?

MJ FISHER: Yes. Shannon Benecky.

She said:

I didn’t have a problem transitioning back to breastfeeding. After a strike, I would just consistently sit down to nurse with my daughter and she eventually got right back on track.


Then Pipa Harthridge said that:

Nursing before and after naps, she was more willing to nurse when she was sleepy. That and grit and determination.


ROBIN KALPAN: You will do this.


ROBIN KALPAN: Wendy, is it common for babies to go on a nursing strike when they are teething?

WENDY COLSON: Yes, it is common because all of a sudden, they have new equipment. A lot of it it’s before the teeth even break out. The gums, they are blanched white. There’s inflammation there. So, they become really oral and they’re just kind of like: “They know there is a change.” Then, out come the first two teeth or the two top – the bottom and they have new equipment.

They honestly have to retrain themselves. Then, something commonly happens and for some reason it’s more common in boys as: “Sometimes they will actually retract their tongue as they’re getting a little more sleepy on the breast and they will bite down.”

The mother’s reaction at that time; because we can’t blame her – she didn’t know where it was coming from. She’ll actually yell, a scream maybe even some mouth profanity just because it comes out in nowhere. That baby will actually refuse the breast because he was frightened. Those mothers suffer from more guilt than any.

ROBIN KALPAN: I know and it’s so hard. You figure: “If you stab your toe, you’re immediately going to yell out.”

WENDY COLSON: You’re going to immediately going to yell out.

ROBIN KALPAN: Can you imagine what it feels on in the nipple?


ROBIN KALPAN: All right. Wendy, what are some reasons why a baby might go on a nursing strike during the day but breastfeed fine at night. Do you have tips for getting these babies back to breast during the day time?

WENDY COLSON: So during the day time, it just helps again to just – if you’re able to and you’re with your baby and this is not you’re working full time to just re-bond with your baby, reunite with your baby. What was the reason?

Again, I listed lots of different reasons why a baby could be having a nursing strike. But if it’s because: “Mom or dad somebody was giving lots of bottles then we work on the bottle angle.” Maybe mom’s supply drop because she had a recent illness since she was doing over-the-counter meds not realizing what some of those can do for a supply.

I get a lot of calls like that during cold and flu season. So therefore now, we have a supply issue while we’re having the nursing strikes. So, fixing first of all the underlining cause and that’s where the help of a lactation consultant can really help. You’re not alone here and so, reach out.

Then, we can get that baby back to the breast because we have to remind moms: “This is not weaning. This is temporary.” With some of that good diligence, that determination and not dooming ourselves with this baby will come back to breast. Sometimes it stays and other times its weeks.

ROBIN KALPAN: Well, it sounds like what Ebey was describing that: “When she gets her son into this comfortable, quiet, serene position, sleeping position, he’s more up to do it.” So, do you think sometimes to just that during the daytime, they’re so [inaudible] up?

WENDY COLSON: They’re so [inaudible] up and usually nursing strikes happen on the older baby. Developmentally, they are aware of their environment and just soaking it in like a sponge. So, we all have been there where we’re nursing that 4 month old, 5 month old and somebody walks in the room or the dog barks and they pop off.

We’re working with that same developmental stage during this nursing strike so they get easily distracted. Let’s face it. During the day, there are tons of distractions. At night, it is different. That dream feeding which I use the term dream feeding – some moms and this is not even when nursing strikes. Only get babies to breastfeed if they’re actually not consciously aware.

ROBIN KALPAN: Yes, exactly.

WENDY COLSON: Mothers, they live for it.

ROBIN KALPAN: You’ve mentioned weaning several times and how nursing strikes shouldn’t be confused with weaning. So, do you find that this is often confused with self-weaning especially during like the kind of 9 to 12 month period?

WENDY COLSON: Absolutely. So, in the hospital, I always have to ask and I ask even my private practice but definitely I say – when I’m interviewing a mom who’s had other children, I’ll say: “What was your breastfeeding? What was your breastfeeding story? How long did you breastfeed for?”

Often, they’ll say: “9, 10 months” and I’ll say: “Why did you stop?” I can’t tell you how many moms say: “Because he didn’t wanted anymore.” So, they really thought that-that baby weaned. So, I’m there for the current baby. So, I didn’t really get into it but I know a lot of it. Babies just don’t go from exclusively breastfeeding to just weaning at 9 -10 months. It’s just not heard off.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay. What would be the difference between a nursing strike and self-weaning?

WENDY COLSON: Well, self-weaning is going to be a little more gradual. So either during the day, the feedings are going to be shortened. A lot of the times moms mistaken those again developmentally, you’ve got that baby who’s crawling, going through all of this developmental stuff.

They’ll climb on your lap. They do five minutes in nursing, they pop off. They’re off playing with their toys. The mom thinks: “My gosh. He’s not interested in me. This must be weaning.” When actually developmentally, he loves it. He loves that he’s got this free access to the breast.

ROBIN KALPAN: It’s like a pit stop.

WENDY COLSON: It’s a pit stop. So, we have to know that-that’s normal. So, that we don’t confuse it and say: “This is the beginning of weaning.” That’s what I read a lot and I hear a lot is people confuse that with weaning.

ROBIN KALPAN: It’s almost just kind of a change in timing, a change in style – just kind of changing what the baby needs.

WENDY COLSON: It’s the development. First you get early on; you get their hand in your mouth while you’re nursing. Soon, you get their foot in your mouth while you’re nursing. We call it Boob Gymnastics. There are all these funny terms.

Again, another mom where you and I will go: “Yes, that was funny.” Another mom will actually say: “He’s not interested.” It’s our perception as mothers and that sometimes doom us. So, sure enough if we take that and say: “Yes, he’s not interested.”

Every time during the day, we get the baby gymnastics and the next thing you know – we’ve weaned him because we’ve said: “No. You got to sit down and have this nutrition now. Here you need your three ounces. Here’s the bottle.” Because we’re always so worried of that baby falling out.

ROBIN KALPAN: Not gaining weight.

WENDY COLSON: Not gaining weight, right.

ROBIN KALPAN: Okay, well thank you so much Wendy and to Ebey for being on our show today on talking about: “Nursing Strikes.” It was so nice to have you both on the show.

WENDY COLSON: Thank you.

ROBIN KALPAN: For our Boob Group Club Members, our conversation will continue after the end of the show as we will discuss: “How an over abundant milk supply can sometimes cause a baby to go on a nursing strike and how to overcome it.” For more information about our Boob Group Club, please visit our website at

[Theme Music]

WENDY WRIGHT: Hi Boob Group listeners. I’m Wendy Wright, an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant and owner of Lactation Navigation in Palo Alto, California. I’m here to answer some of your most common questions about returning to work as a breastfeeding mother such as: “Are there tricks to using my breast pump at work?” There certainly are and let’s review a few.

The first thing I’d like to recommend is: “To set up a pumping routine and try to stick to it as closely as possible.” Via pumping routine, I mean the times of day when you would typically pump while at work. For example, 10 AM, noon and 3 PM – evenly spread throughout the day will allow you to produce as much milk as possible.

By sticking as closely as possible to these times each day, your body will adjust and will learn to provide milk for the pump at those times. A little flexibility is okay – 30 minutes either side but to get the most milk each day, try to stick as closely as possible to your pumping schedule.

I’d also like to recommend that: “You practice pumping while on maternity leave.” Learn which settings works best for you. Learn how long it takes you to set up and take down. Even learn the times of day which are most productive for your body. This way, you’ll have no surprises when you return to work.

I’d also like to recommend that: “You relax as much as possible while pumping.” Your body will have an easier time letting down and relaxation will also help you save up your strength for the rest of your day, making milk and then providing it for your infant at home.

I’d like to also recommend that: “Everyone purchase a hands-free bra.” These are available at many retail centers and they simply allow you to hold the pumping flanges to your breast without the use of your hands. Then, you’ll have your hands available to drink coffee, a nice relaxing glass of herbal tea, have a healthy snack also for breast compression.

Compressing breasts while pumping can increase the amount of express milk that we get from each pumping session. Remember to pump for approximately 15 minutes every 3 hours and to maximize your pump settings by going as high as possible in the section mode without pain will help you get the most from each pumping session.

Thanks for listening today and please visit For great information about my business Lactation Navigation and be sure to listen to The Boob Group for fantastic conversations about breastfeeding and breastfeeding support.

[Theme Music]

ROBIN KAPLAN: That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to The Boob Group.

Don’t forget to check out our sister shows:

• Preggie Pals for expecting parents
• Parent Savers for moms and dads with newborns, infants and toddlers
• Twin Talks, for our show with parents of multiples.

Thanks for joining The Boob Group: “Your judgment-free breastfeeding resource.”

This has been a New Mommy Media production. Information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts. Though information in which areas are related to be accurate, it is not intended to replace or substitute for professional, Medical or advisor care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating health care problem or disease or prescribing any medications. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified health care provider.

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