Tips to Survive a Nursing Strike

Nursing Strike

The Dreaded Nursing Strike

I have been fortunate to have experienced only one nursing strike with my son. It was a painful and frightening few days, but we made it through. My son had barely started solids when it happened. Suddenly, he wouldn’t nurse, and he refused to eat or drink anything else. He didn’t seem sick, but I ran to the doctor after 48 hours because he was getting dehydrated.

It turned out my son was refusing to nurse, drink milk from a bottle, or swallow just about anything, because he had tonsillitis. We started him on antibiotics as well as a painkiller, and slowly he returned to nursing. 

Nursing StrikeWhat Exactly is a Nursing Strike?

A nursing strike is when a breastfed baby/ child suddenly refuses the breast. It can be confused with self-weaning, but since it typically happens quite suddenly you can often tell the difference. While natural weaning typically occurs over a period of weeks or months, with a gradual reduction in amount of breastfeeding, a nursing strike is very abrupt.

In the case of my son’s nursing strike, he didn’t ask to breastfeed for several hours, and when I offered the breast he refused. At first, this didn’t seem to extraordinary, but as the day wore on and he also refused to eat or drink anything else, while continuing to refuse to breastfeed, I grew worried.

In our case, my son slowly came back to the breast as the pain of his tonsillitis receded. I am sharing my tips on getting through a nursing strike below, based on both my experience and what I heard from friends when I was researching what to do with my son who wouldn’t breastfeed. 

Tips to Survive a Nursing Strike

  1. Check for a cause – such as illness or ear infection. While many nursing strikes are completely inexplicable, they can also can be due to factors such as pain from an illness, teething or, emotional upset after a new experience. During my son’s nursing strike he wasn’t displaying signs of illness, but when we saw the pediatrician I learned he was refusing to nurse due to tonsillitis. Once the tonsillitis was treated, he slowly resumed breastfeeding. 
  2. Encourage breastfeeding through skin-to-skin contact. A lactation consultant once told me that skin-to-skin can work like a “reset button” if your baby is upset. I practiced skin-to-skin a lot through the newborn and infant stage, but then stopped. It can work wonders with older babies, as well, though, and helped my son resume nursing when he was sick.
  3. Pump or hand express to keep up supply (and relieve engorgement). Nursing strikes usually last only a few days, but it is useful to express some milk to avoid the pain of engorgement or possible clogged ducts. Of course, it will also help maintain your supply, and you can offer the expressed milk to your child.
  4. Offer expressed milk in a cup or bottle. Especially if a younger baby (whose diet is primarily breastmilk) is refusing the breast, you can offer the expressed milk in a cup or bottle. 
  5. Begin a feed with a cup/ bottle, then try switching to the breast. Your child may be more willing to nurse directly if they have already had a bit of milk. Offering expressed milk first might whet their appetite, so to speak, so they are willing to try drinking more milk by breastfeeding directly.
  6. Experiment with breastfeeding in different positions than usual. There are a variety of comfortable breastfeeding positions to experiment with. You can also try nursing in a carrier – this worked well for me when my son was in an easily distracted phase because it helped him to focus. You can also do skin-to-skin easily in a carrier. During my son’s nursing strike, we used the carrier a lot.
  7.  Offer the breast while baby is very drowsy or nearly asleep. This has also worked well for me. Both when my son was refusing to nurse and also during a distractible phase, he was willing to nurse if I offered him my breast just before or after a nap, or at bedtime. In particular at the height of his nursing striked, this was the only way I could get him to breastfeed!
  8. Be persistent. If you are ready to wean, then you can take the nursing strike as a solution. However, if you feel you and your child should continue your breastfeeding relationship, be persistent in the face of the nursing strike. They typically last only 3-5 days, but even a longer nursing strike can be overcome if you keep offering to breastfeed and experiment with some of the ideas above.

Other Resources

When my son refused to nurse, I searched online for advice and saw our pediatrician over dehydration worries. Kellymom of course had great information, I also found these stories inspiring. 

Have you experienced a nursing strike? How did you overcome it? Share your experience in the comments!

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Why I Wanted to Quit Breastfeeding

quit breastfeeding

Never Quit Breastfeeding on a Bad Day

Before I started breastfeeding, I heard “never quit breastfeeding on a bad day”. I filed this advice away, not because I thought I would need it, but because I thought it was odd so it stuck out in my mind.

You see, pre-baby, my knowledge of breastfeeding was really limited. I’d only ever really seen breastfeeding in pictures. And of course, in those pictures the baby was snug at his mother’s breast as she looked down at him in peace.

I had a pretty harsh wake up call when my son was born and I started breastfeeding. I had so many misconceptions, the biggest of all being that it would be very easy! It turns out my vision of breastfeeding was really idealized. I didn’t grow up around breastfeeding women and not many of my friends breastfed, so I didn’t know any better.

quit breastfeeding

Breastfeeding isn’t Easy!

Breastfeeding is a learned skill for moms, and for many, it is not easy to learn. I struggled a lot with latch issues and pain. Beyond that, since my expectations were so out of line with breastfeeding reality, I also struggled with behaviors that are actually normal, like prolonged cluster feeding, difficulty with overactive letdown, or frequent night wakings. 

But Don’t be Discouraged….

I don’t want to discourage anyone from breastfeeding by writing this list – and I don’t want to be interpreted just as a complainer (but maybe that’s a fair assessment). My aim here is to share a real perspective on breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is on the rise and I hope it returns to being the norm so we can be better prepared to breastfeed our offspring. Had I understood breastfeeding and had realistic expectations, nursing my son up to this point would have been more pleasant and saved me a lot of tears. (If you haven’t begun breastfeeding, I recommend reading 5 Things I’d Wish I’d Known Before I Started Breastfeeding.)

Following is the list of my toughest times with breastfeeding. As I look at the list I realize each item sounds pretty inconsequential, but in the moment I was thisclose to giving up breastfeeding. I was struggling with pain and latch issues on top of the typical sleep-deprived-new-parent feeling so each of these difficulties merited a very teary call to my doula or a sob on my husband’s shoulder. I’m lucky I was surrounded by supportive people.  

quit breastfeeding

11 Reasons I Almost Quit Breastfeeding

  1. When it felt like he was feeding for hours on end, and he actually was
  2. When the pain was so bad I cried each and everytime time he latched on for a feed
  3. When two different lactation consultants told me our latch ‘looked good’ but the pain was still unbearable
  4. When I would wake up in the middle of the night so hungry I would eat an entire pizza (see my healthy snack alternatives)
  5. When I sweat uncontrollably and experienced hot flashes at the start of each feeding
  6. When we went through the phase where he’d claw at my breasts while feeding and actually draw blood
  7. When I pumped at 3am, got enough milk for a whole bottle, and then spilled it all on my bed
  8. When I was frustrated with pumping daily at work
  9. When he started teething and bit my nipple for the first time (and second, and third)
  10. When he continued to wake up several times per night to nurse after his 1st birthday 
  11. When I had to be sure I was wearing clothes that I could breastfeed in every time we went out together

I Have Continued to Breastfeed!

16 months into breastfeeding my son, I can say the benefits and positive moments certainly outweigh the challenges, but it wasn’t an easy journey. I am amazed at myself sometimes – I’ve gone from actively telling people how much I hate breastfeeding to actively telling them how much I love it.

I am proud of myself for sticking with breastfeeding. My own stubbornness was a big factor, as well as willingness to seek help and learn. But, I truly believe more education and information up front would have set me up for better success, and kept me away from the brink of quitting so many times.

natural term breastfeeding
Breastfeeding my Toddler

This is the main reason I created this website – to help share information on breastfeeding and offer support to anyone else who is struggling. There will always be challenges, but the more we talk about breastfeeding the more we can normalize it and ensure everyone is better informed.

Have you struggled with breastfeeding? What made you want to give up? Share in the comments below!

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Desperately Seeking a Good Latch – How I Breastfed with Flat Nipples and Overcame Vasospasm / Nipple Blanching

breastfeeding newborn

breastfeeding newborn

My Idealized Vision of Breastfeeding vs. Reality

Before my son was born, my image of breastfeeding was of quiet, tender, fulfilling moments shared between a mother and child. I pictured peaceful feeding sessions filled with smiles and coos. I imagined us under the moonlight with fireflies dancing around. Turns out I was straight up delusional. 15 months in, my son and I have a successful breastfeeding relationship, but it is far from peaceful and I struggled with a lot of pain and frustration at the start.

While there was a big mismatch in my expectations vs. breastfeeding reality, my son and I also struggled at the start because I apparently have flat nipples. I’m not sure how I missed this critical piece of information… I guess I never really compared other women’s nipples to my own? Or maybe the problem was I never heard of flat nipples? We hear jokes about inverted nipples, but I didn’t know flat nipples were a thing!

The Early Days – Not Latching, Pushy Nurses, and Nipple Shields

So, part of my romantic breastfeeding vision involved my son latching on naturally and drinking heartily shortly after birth. Needless to say, this did not happen at all. My doula advised hand expressing and feeding him with a dropper, but I was too chicken to stand up to the pushy nurses and actually do this during my hospital stay. Instead, I endured many hours of them alternately pulling on my nipples and then squeezing my breasts while trying to get my son to latch. I appreciate their efforts but it was really just painful for me and frustrating for my son.

Plus, once the nurses decided they didn’t think my son would latch, they brought in a nipple shield. I’d never heard of nipple shields but they were like magic – nipple shield applied and poof! baby was suddenly nursing. So, we nursed with nipple shields, but I hated them!

It was frustrating to always have to put it on before the baby could feed, especially at night or if we were out. The shield always seemed dirty even when I’d just sterilized it. The baby can’t achieve a perfect seal when nursing with a nipple shield, so a lot of milk leaks out and I felt like I smelled like a stale dairy farm all the time. I also worried because I read the shields could prevent the baby from taking in enough milk. But most of all, this vision of a natural and dreamy breastfeeding relationship that I was still clinging to most certainly did not involve the annoying nipple shields.

Weaning Off of Nipple Shields

I was determined to wean Baby C from the shields and we worked at it for a couple of months.At the start of each feed I would try to have him latch without the shield. Often, he wouldn’t, so we would use the shield a bit and then try without the shield again. And again. And again. And again. It went on for weeks and I really didn’t think he’d ever feed directly without the nipple shields, but slowly he started latching without them, then nursing a bit without them. Very gradually the time spent feeding without the nipple shields increased until he was nursing directly all the time!

I was elated to not be using the nipple shields, but I was also making a mistake. I didn’t pay attention to his latch AT ALL.  Yeah, it hurt, but I was so glad he was feeding without the shields that I didn’t want to do anything that would disrupt him. Fast forward two days and my nipples were cracked and bleeding.

A New Challenge – Vasospasm in my Nipples

At this point I tried out my breast pump so I could express some milk and give my nipples a bit of time to heal. This helped with healing, but not with my little one’s latch. Enter the next issue… his latch caused me to develop vasospasms, or nipple blanching, in both breasts. This pain rivaled childbirth in intensity! At first I didn’t know what was wrong and I had him checked for tongue tie and also suspected thrush. I was now at the point where I would sob in pain at the start of each feeding. The nipple blanching also happened between feedings so I couldn’t find any relief.

breastfeeding without nipple shield
A good latch, finally

Even the breast pump couldn’t help reduce my pain because the suction sometimes triggered the vasospasms. I had to focus on a good latch and rely on heat therapy and occasionally ibuprofen to work through the pain. The nipple blanching lasted about 2 months, but eventually, as Baby C reached 5 months old I could finally breastfeed without shields and with less pain. I would say breastfeeding was finally pain-free at about 6 months postpartum.

7 Months In – Starting to Enjoy Breastfeeding

By the time he was about 7 months I started to actually enjoy breastfeeding – something I never thought would happen. If it hadn’t been for support from lactation consultants, my husband, other breastfeeding moms, and the information I found online, I definitely would not have made it as an exclusively breastfeeding mom. I’m so grateful now that I stuck with it.

Honestly, nursing is like a reset button. Fell and bumped your head? Milk will make you feel better. Cranky because you’re hungry? Have a sip of milk and then we’ll prepare your dinner. Tired of sitting in my lap on the plane? Let’s nurse a bit. Convenience, by far, is my favorite part of breastfeeding!

Click below to read my tips on managing vasospasm and nipple pain:

nipple blanching

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Breastfeeding and Teething: 5 Tips to Prevent Biting

Breastfeeding and teething

breastfeeding and teething tips to prevent bitingWhat’s it like to breastfeed a baby with teeth?

A baby with teeth can put off a lot of breastfeeding moms. Before my son was born I would often say that I would breastfeed until his teeth came in. Once his teeth did come in and I continued breastfeeding, more than a few people looked at me with a mix of wonder and disgust when they realized I was breastfeeding a baby with teeth.

When a baby/child is actively nursing, they can’t actually bite you because of the position of their tongue. Once I realized this I felt a lot better about breastfeeding! A baby may bite during a breastfeeding session, but they physically cannot bite you while they are actively drinking milk. 

Biting can be quite painful!

Aside from the occasional (extremely painful) bite, breastfeeding my son after he started teething was no different than breastfeeding him before. My son also teethed relatively early, with his first two teeth coming in just as he reached 5 months. By then our breastfeeding relationship was pretty well established and I also wanted to exclusively breastfeed him until he started solids, so we chugged away with nursing as he teethed.

Having your nipple bitten while breastfeeding is incredibly painful. Much like I wasn’t prepared for the initial pain of breastfeeding, I was also not prepared for the pain of a bite! There are a few tactics to teach your child biting is not okay and to prevent future bites.

How can you prevent biting while breastfeeding? 5 Tips:

1. Unlatch him or her. If your nursling bites you, unlatch and gently but firmly say something like ‘Biting is not okay. Biting hurts mommy.’ If they don’t understand your language, they will understand that biting means no milk and they will generally learn quite quickly.

2. Pay close attention. If you think your child is about to bite, slip your finger into his or her mouth so your finger gets bitten instead. Since a baby can’t bite while actively nursing, pay close attention so you can be prepared if they try to bite.

3. Avoid yelling or other dramatic reactions. This will be hard when you’re in pain, but dramatic reactions can actually encourage your child to repeat the biting behaviour to see the same big reaction again.

4. Remember, while actively feeding, it is impossible for your child to bite.  This is because of the position of their tongue. If you have been experiencing biting, pay attention as they finish a feed and unlatch them before they can bite.

5. Check the cause of biting. Your son or daughter may bite if the milk flow is too fast – if you have an overactive or fast let down, you can unlatch your nursling as your milk starts to flow and then allow them to latch back on once the flow is a bit slower.

When I look back now, I laugh at how I was intimidated about breastfeeding my son after his teeth came in. Teething did add a bit of a challenge, but it has been very manageable and I would encourage anyone who is hesitating to continue breastfeeding after teething to try it!

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Breastfeeding Pain: Vasospasm & Nipple Blanching

nipple blanching and vasospasm

manage breastfeeding pain vasospasm

Breastfeeding Pain is Not Uncommon

Breastfeeding pain is quite common among new nursing moms and comes in multiple forms. For me, a prolonged bout of nipple blanching and vasospasm nearly caused me to quit breastfeeding. I cringe as I write this and remember the pain I dealt with for three long months. (You can read about my painful start to breastfeeding here.)

What are Vasospasm and Nipple Blanching?

Nipple blanching and vasospasm are restricted blood flow in the nipple that can lead to intense breastfeeding pain. Nipple blanching typically happens during a feed due to compression from a bad latch, and nursing mom might feel sharp pain and notice her nipple has turned white after feeding. Vasospasm may happen during or between feeds and results from constriction of the blood vessel in the nipple. (For greater detail from professionals, check out this page on Kelly Mom.)

I suffered from vasospasm for several months, most likely triggered by my son’s bad latch. It was ridiculously painful. And also bizarre at first because a main symptom is that your nipple will turn completely white since blood flow is restricted. Talk about creepy! I thought my nipples were frozen and were going to fall off!

I’ve shared my tips below to manage and get through the pain associated with vasospasm/ nipple blanching. Please note, this is based solely on my experience, and I am not a medical professional. Do consult a doctor or lactation consultant if you are experiencing unusual pain associated with breastfeeding. Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links to products I used (and recommend) to handle vasospasm pain.

Here are my top tips to manage and recover from the pain of vasospasm.

Breastfeeding Pain: Tips to Manage Nipple Blanching & Vasospasm

  1. A good latch. My son’s bad latch most likely caused my vasospasms. His latch was really horrendous and I didn’t act soon enough to correct it because I was scared it would discourage him from feeding. Turns out that was a terrible idea that led to months of pain for me! Find a lactation consultant, talk to a breastfeeding friend, or get on youtube to work on that latch!
  2. Never get cold. Ok, that might be hard, but once you feel the pain of vasospasm, which can also be triggered by cold, you’ll go to great lengths to keep your nipples warm. Beyond the obvious of wearing an extra sweater, take care when exposing your breasts before and after a feed, or stepping out of a warm shower.
  3. Dry heat. Following the ‘never get cold’ advice, use dry heat as therapy for the pain. I had trouble in particular at night where the pain of vasospasm was too much so I couldn’t sleep. Applying dry heat really helped so I could catch a bit of shuteye. You can microwave breast pillows and wear them in your bra for great dry heat therapy.
  4. Warm oil or lanolin massage. My doula suggested massaging my nipples with warm olive oil. I used lanolin salve instead and it was very therapeutic.
  5. Ibuprofen. I tried to avoid medication as much as I could, but especially in order to be able to sleep or nurse my son without screaming in pain, I had to use ibuprofen. My doula reassured me by pointing out that Ibuprofen could actually help break the cycle of pain caused by the constricting blood vessels and allow me to recover. It really did help and I would take ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) on the most painful nights so I could sleep.
  6. Be patient. Patience is the last piece of advice you want when you’re struggling with pain, but hearing other moms who had suffered from vasospasm tell me they recovered after 1-3 months was what I needed. I met a few other women who assured me they did get past the pain, so I was inspired to continue breastfeeding.

I Hope These Tips Helped!

I hope these tips help anyone suffering from nipple blanching and/or vasospasm. The most important thing to remember is, the pain will go away if the cause of the problem (e.g. a bad latch) is addressed. In the meantime, you can mitigate the pain with the tips shared above. Comment below with any questions or your own tips for overcoming breastfeeding pain.

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