Supporting Breastfeeding

La Leche League Canada

Nursing Strikes

on December 15, 2014

When a previously happily nursing baby suddenly starts screaming and pulling away when you put her to the breast it can be a shock for mum.  When the behavior continues over a day or more both mum and baby become stressed.  This situation is called a nursing strike because his screaming, when you try to feed him, is the baby version of marching around with a picket sign & yelling slogans.  There are many reasons why this can happen and often you will never know the answer.  Interestingly nursing strikes are more common in multiples than single babies.



If a nursing strike happens here are some possible reasons:

  • Sometimes the striking baby is not feeling well.  A stuffed up nose or ear infection can make nursing uncomfortable and baby may decide not to bother.
  • Teething can also make baby decide that nursing is uncomfortable and that she doesn’t want to do it.
  • Teething can sometime cause babies to bite down and mum to yell.  If the baby is badly startle by mum’s yelp he may resist going back to the breast.
  • Sometimes nursing strikes happen during times when mum has been busier than usual and her milk supply and milk flow is lowered due to fatigue, lack of food and adequate fluids.
  • If you are mixing breast and bottle feeds sometimes nursing strikes start if baby gets frustrated that the milk doesn’t flow from the breast like it does from a bottle.
  • Sometimes a baby who has been patient about waiting to be fed or has been rushed at feedings so that a less patient sibling can be attended to gets fed up with being patient and goes on strike.


What do you do with a striking baby?

  • Increased skin to skin contact and patience is the key to getting a striking baby back to the breast.


Some things that have worked for other mothers are:

  • Stripping baby and yourself down and carrying baby or wearing baby in a carrier that allows skin-to-skin contact as much as possible during the day.  This gets baby comfortable with being skin-to-skin again and decreases the panic reaction when the breast is offered.
  • Getting in a warm bath with baby.
  • Offering the breast when baby is in a light sleep state, either before he wakes up or as he is dozing off.  Often a baby will nurse when half asleep because they will have forgotten that they had decided not to do this.
  • Getting the striking baby alone in a quiet, dark place when offering to nurse.
  • If she has had a preferred breast offer only that side until she is comfortable at the breast again.
  • Babies have to be fed.  Offer the striking baby your milk in a cup or by spoon to avoid adding to the situation with the different sucking pattern and milk flow of a bottle.



What to do right now for you and your sore full breasts?

Somehow you need to find time to pump or hand express for your own comfort, to provide your milk in some other way and to prevent a plugged duct and breast infection.  If you get a chance to get in the shower stand with your back to the shower head and let the water flow over your shoulders and down your breasts.  You may start to leak which is fine. You may be able to hand express enough to get comfortable.

Most nursing strikes resolve within a couple of days to a week.  If you aren’t ready to call it quits then try any or all of the ideas above and take it one day at a time knowing that things may turn around.

Call a La Leche League Leader to talk over the situation and brain storm some other ideas that may work in your situation.


If you need more information or have a breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader.  In Canada, Leaders can be located by clicking or Internationally






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