Breastfeeding Strike: 13 Survival Tips

Breastfeeding strike. Two words that will send a shiver down the spine of any nursing mother. I had my first taster when Baby Boo was just four months old and she abruptly refused the breast for four days straight. I felt devastated, rejected and powerless all at the same time and it was only made worse as I preserved and she fought off my attempts with all the determination of a picket line protester. Eventually she latched on again and I breathed a sigh of relief. This got me thinking about all those mamas out there going through a similar experience, so I sat down with Dru Campbell, midwife and lactation consultant at Health Bay Polyclinic in Dubai, to get her top tips on what to do if your baby is refusing the breast.

Breastfeeding strike tip #1: Know your facts

“Breastfeeding strikes can occur with some babies at different stages of your breastfeeding journey.  There are many reasons why this can happen, but it is usually transient and in most cases normal breastfeeding will resume after a period of time.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #2: Know the causes

“Varying reasons for breast refusal can include; strong flow, slow flow, baby already full, extensive use of bottles, use of pacifiers, teething, developmental reasons, distraction and feeling unwell.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #3: Express (a little)

“If your baby has refused your breast for a short time (under twenty four hours), you can express a small amount of your milk in order to ease any discomfort you make be experiencing. When your breasts are engorged, it’s tempting to express the whole lot, but it’s best not to do this because it will simply be replaced and you’ll be back to square one. Instead, continue offering your baby the breast and try to remain as calm as possible when you do.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #4: Try not to take it personally

“Your baby is refusing the breast, but not you as a mum. Try to bear in mind that breast refusal is normally due to various factors, some of which you may not be aware of, or may be completely out of your control. The most important thing is to be relaxed. If you are feeling anxious and upset, your baby will feel this also and the milk will not flow effectively. ”

Breastfeeding strike tip #5: Massage your breasts

“In some cases, particularly if your baby is refusing the breast for an extended period of time (more than 24 hours), you may experience some blocked ducts.  If you feel as though you have any lumps or reddened areas, it is advisable to eat and drink nutritiously, while also taking rest.  It is also very important to massage the area down towards your nipple. You can do this in a warm shower for added relief.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #6: Watch out for mastitis

“Contact your midwife, lactation consultant (IBCLC) or family medicine specialist if you are experiencing any signs of redness or fever, because you may have developed mastitis.”

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Breastfeeding strike tip #7: Keep an eye on your milk supply

“If your baby refuses to breastfeed for more than twenty four hours, you will need to express to maintain your milk supply.  This is because your breast milk works on a supply and demand basis. If the breast is not stimulated, the body will not replace the milk and your supply can decrease.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #8: Feed on demand

“It is a good idea to feed when your baby is asking for it, rather than to a schedule.  Sometimes babies will refuse the breast because they are full and do not wish to feed at a particular time, even if it is ‘feeding time’, as per your routine.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #9: Try skin-to-skin contact

“Skin-to-skin contact is a wonderful way of keeping you and your baby calm [1].  It also encourages the hormone oxytocin to flow, therefore assisting in the flow of breast milk. I recommend skin-to-skin contact as much as possible if you are having any concerns with breast refusal or there is a requirement to increase your milk supply.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #10: Look at your milk flow

“Sometimes the flow of the feed is a concern. If your baby is being overwhelmed by a strong flow, you can feed them while leaning back, as gravity will reduce the flow a little. Alternatively, try hand expressing prior to a breastfeed, to allow the ‘let down’ reflex to occur. Once the flow slows, you can then offer your baby the breast. If you have the opposite problem of slow flow, hand expression will encourage milk flow.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #11: Keep them focused on feeding

Babies can become distracted by their surroundings at around four months of age.  If your baby is becoming distracted while feeding, I advise trying to breastfeed in a quiet and slightly darkened room. I also suggest turning off all technology, such as televisions and mobile telephones.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #12: Avoid bottles in the early days

“It takes babies around six to eight weeks to learn how to breastfeed.  The technique of breastfeeding is very different to how a baby feeds from a bottle, so if you are giving bottles in the beginning, sometimes babies can get used to the technique of feeding from a bottle and then not wish to breastfeed.  If your baby does require extra milk feeds, I suggest using a feeding cup or syringe, in order to reduce the risk of nipple confusion.”

Breastfeeding strike tip #13: Is baby teething?

“If your baby is teething it can be painful, which can lead to breast refusal.  You can use approved teething gels (ensure they are safe for babies to use and as per the manufacturer’s instructions) or if your baby has started on solids, you can give finger-sized portions of fruit, which have been stored in the refrigerator. The cold can assist with swelling and pain.”


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