Nursing strike: Babies behind picket lines

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When a baby goes on strike it is not about pay and conditions but the delivery of meals; more specifically it’s about breakfast, lunch and dinner and the breasts that deliver them.

But negotiating the way out of a nursing strike (that is a baby’s refusal to feed) can be difficult; mums and babies cannot simply sit down and discuss why baby is refusing to feed.

A nursing strike can be triggered for a number of different reasons. A baby may suddenly go on strike because of illness, teething or ear infection which can make feeding an unpleasant experience for baby.

The striking baby may also take issue with a change of flow or taste of the milk or even new and unfamiliar smells such as a new deodorant or soap being used by the mum. It may also happen following separation of mother and baby, or after baby has bitten mum’s breast while feeding.

We spoke to Julie whose reaction to being bitten while feeding was enough to trigger a nursing strike in her seven month old daughter.

A known breastfeeding striker

“My daughter was a fantastic feeder,” said Julie.

“She had been feeding without any problems for seven months before the nursing strike.

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“It was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to being bitten while I was feeding her, I yelped in pain and told her not bite mummy.

“Obviously I wasn’t overly harsh as she was just a little seven month old baby but it seems that was enough of a negative experience for her not to want to go back to feeding.”

Breast milk available – You have to eat!

146823852 Mum comforting crying babyJulie and her daughter spent the next 24 hours in total disagreement and no matter what she tried, Julie couldn’t get her baby to take any milk.

“Every time I put her into the nursing position she would scream and cry and try to push herself away,” said Julie.

“This was very distressing for the both of us.

“It first started in the morning and I wasn’t able to feed her for the rest of that day, throughout the night or the next morning.

“Because my daughter was such a good feeder I was producing a lot of milk so I knew that I needed to start expressing some milk after only a couple of hours.

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“I woke up throughout the night to pump some milk as the last thing I wanted was a blocked duct or mastitis.”

Julie knew she had to somehow find a way to feed her daughter so she expressed some milk and tried to give it to her in a bottle but the stubborn little striker was not fooled that easily and refused to take the bottle.

“She wouldn’t suck on the bottle, she would just chew the teat or push it away so I had to improvise,” said Julie.

“This may sound a bit ridiculous but the only way I could get her to feed was with a syringe.

“I was filling up a syringe with my expressed milk and taking whatever opportunity I could to squirt it into her mouth.

“Once I got it in to her mouth she had no problems swallowing so I stuck with it. Even though it wasn’t ideal it was the best I could do at that point in time.”

“The syringe I was using was pretty small so it took a lot of time and patience to make sure my daughter was getting her normal feed of approximately 120ml.”

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Breastfeeding  strike becomes official

To make matters slightly more worrisome for Julie this whole ordeal took place over the weekend and she was not able to see her doctor until Monday.

When Monday morning rolled around Julie packed up her baby and syringe and made a bee-line for the doctor to get a professional opinion on her situation.

“The doctor said that it was a classic case of nursing strike and explained to me some of the possible underlying causes of a strike and that is when I made the connection to the biting incident,” said Julie.

“The doctor told me that if my daughter hadn’t gone back to nursing by now or at least very soon then it was unlikely that she would go back to the breast.

“I was pretty disappointed when I heard that as I had planned on continuing breastfeeding my daughter for a lot longer and now that wouldn’t be happening.

“I also had a feeling of rejection for a little while which surprised me and would lead me to have moments when I would worry that I was the reason for this happening.

“But now as my daughter grows up it is becoming quite clear that she has a strong stubborn streak and I think this is why I was unable to coax her back to the breast.

“Once she has made up her mind she has no problems letting you know about it.”

Mother’s ingenuity

One EyedropperFor three long and tedious weeks Julie kept up the syringe feeding but it was quickly becoming an unsustainable way to feed her daughter.

“Because the syringe was so small feeding times would be really drawn out and my daughter would become frustrated at how long it was taking which meant the whole process became even more difficult,” said Julie.

“Obviously the syringe was better than not being able to feed her at all but it was such a pain to live with that I needed a better solution.”

Then Julie had a light bulb moment that would hopefully rectify the dispute between a baby and her lunch and end the strike for good.

“I thought I would try and cut a much larger hole in the end of the bottle teat so the milk would flow more rapidly and bubs wouldn’t have to worry so much about sucking,” said Julie.

“I gave her the modified bottle and she drank it down no problems.

“From that point on she would feed from a bottle like normal and I could throw that syringe away for good.

“I think once my daughter had a good feed from a bottle she realised that there was nothing to be worried about and stopped associating feeding with any negative thoughts or emotions.

“She has now been happily feeding from a bottle for several months.”

Upon reflection

Having her child refuse to breastfeed was very disappointing for Julie and the sense of rejection was quite painful. However, Julie remained extremely positive about her experience.

“Of course I was disappointed and hurt but that is not something you can dwell on for too long,” she said.

“I know now that it was nothing I did that caused my daughter to stop feeding, it is just one of those things and seeing her grow up healthy and happy is more important than my own plans being disrupted.

“If any other parents find themselves in the situation where their baby stops feeding I would recommend they see a health professional as soon as they can.

“You don’t want to worry yourself sick over something you can’t change and at the same time it’s a good idea to have your baby checked out as different illnesses can be a trigger for nursing strike.

And one final piece of advice from Julie.

“I know from experience that this can be an emotionally painful experience but it is really important for your and the baby’s sake that you don’t beat yourself up over it. Whether or not a baby decides to come back from a strike is totally up to them, you just need to relax and follow your baby’s cues.”


  1. El Camino Hospital. Breast Refusal and Nursing Strike. 2013 (cited 22 February 2013) Available from URL Link
  2. Huggins, K. The Nursing Mothers Companion: 5th Edition. The Harvard Common Press. 2010. Pp. 389-391 (Book)
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Date Created: March 7, 2013 Date Modified: April 28, 2013