It happens out of nowhere. Just when you think you've got the hang of breastfeeding and eating is going so well, it suddenly is not. Your precious baby is refusing to nurse. She's turning away, screaming, arching her back, anything to get away from the breast, even though she's obviously hungry. You're tired, frustrated, starting to slightly panic, and now you're both in tears, right?
Take a deep breath, mama. Apparently, this is something that happens. It's called a nursing strike, and eventually your baby will get over it. I'm not going to tell you to relax, because I know from experience that it's a highly stressful situation when your baby is hungry but refuses to eat. But you will get through it.
Most sources will tell you a nursing strike lasts a day or two. The first time (yes, there have been multiple times), my child went on strike for a week. It can happen for different reasons, from an ear infection to teething. My child didn't seem to have a reason, which made it that much more frustrating. But we survived, and you will too!
Here's how to navigate a nursing strike:
Rule number one: Feed your baby. This one is so obvious yet so hard. How do you feed your baby when she refuses to eat? My baby would take a bottle, so I gave them to her, even though I felt like I was fanning the flames by letting her take the bottle. But she still had to eat, no matter the method. Eventually I started playing the fake out game, starting with a bottle and quickly switching her over to the breast once she was actively suckling.
If your child refuses bottles, you may have to resort to using a dropper, syringe, or spoon to feed her.
Express your milk. When your child isn't nursing, your supply can drop. Not expressing milk could also lead to clogged ducts and mastitis, so make sure you're pumping when baby would normally feed to prevent both of these issues.
Try to find the cause. Look for signs of teething, illness, or ear ache, and these might be keeping your baby from wanting to nurse. Fixing these should fix the problem. If, like my situation, there doesn't seem to be a specific cause, your child may just be distracted or picky (see next point).
Try, try again. Keep offering the breast to your baby, no matter how discouraging or frustrating it may be. Try eliminating distractions by going to a dark, quiet room to feed. You can express a little bit of milk into baby's mouth so that she might be more enticed to latch on. And you can try my 'switcheroo' method if your baby will take a bottle.
Know that it will end. It may seem like your baby will never nurse again. Rest assured, she will eventually find her way back to the breast, but it may take longer than expected. Just keep trying and know that you’re doing a great job, mama!