Suckling Strike, Coping With Breast Rejection

Who I am
Philippe Gloaguen
@philippegloaguen
Author and references

Contents

  • 1 What is the baby's strike 
  • 2 Various forms of infant strike
  • 3 The causes of the baby's strike
  • 4 What to do in the event of a baby's strike
  • 5 Apparent or real rejection?

Everything always ran smoothly. The baby latched on to the breast almost immediately. The milky rise arrived in a very short time. Never a crack or a traffic jam. No colic. In short, a textbook breastfeeding. Suddenly, without any warning, everything changes. The baby becomes nervous, cries and, above all, has no intention of latching on to the breast. It is the so-called baby's strike, a phase that many children go through, sending mothers into a tailspin. What's now?



What is the baby's strike 

This is obviously a fundamentally ironic expression that identifies that precise moment in which a newborn does not want to suck. He appears restless, often cries, latches on and off from the nipple or has no intention of latching on. Generally, it is a phase that does not last long. In 3-4 days the situation should normalize. But it's 3-4 days that can throw a woman into despair. 

"And how do I do now?"; “How can I feed my baby?”, “But won't this fast be dangerous?”. "But could it be that I no longer have milk?". The questions are many and dictated by the fear that this attitude could have consequences on the health of the child. Usually, the most common belief is that you don't have milk anymore. Let us remember that sucking causes it to be produced in abundance. 

Various forms of infant strike

The Higher Institute of Health lists various types of breast rejection:

1- the child latches on but then does not suck or swallow, or does it very weakly;
2- when the mother tries to bring him to the breast he cries and gets upset;
3- the baby latches on briefly, then suddenly detaches as if he were suffocating or crying. This can happen several times during a feed.
4- the newborn latches on to one breast, but refuses the other.



The causes of the baby's strike

There are many reasons why a baby says no to the mother's breast. To solve the problem and restart breastfeeding, you need to understand what they are. It is precisely there that action must be taken. 

The child is sick or in pain

If the baby is bothered by physical discomfort, he may latch on and suck less than usual. This happens for example if you have ear or throat pain, a stuffy nose or some discomfort in the mouth. Candida or thrush infections can be very painful. It can therefore happen that the feeding stops after a very short time. Teeth eruption can also make breastfeeding difficult.

In addition, he may feel pain because there is pressure on a bruise. For example, if you have used forceps or a suction cup in the delivery room or if you have had shoulder dystocia, depending on how you position it, you may be suffering. 

Practical difficulties with breastfeeding

Some problems in the breastfeeding technique can be at the basis of the baby's strike. Eg:

  • use of bottle or pacifier.
  • Incorrect latch or breast engorgement.
  • Excessive pressure on the nape of the neck.
  • Breast movements during sucking.
  • Limitation in the number or duration of feedings, for example at fixed times (this principle is completely the opposite of the concept of breastfeeding on demand, that is, when and for as long as the baby wants).
  • Too strong flow of milk due to excessive production or too strong an emission reflex. 
  • Initial difficulty coordinating sucking. 

Changes around the baby


Since they are babies, babies are very sensitive to everything around them. We do not even realize it and indeed it seems impossible to us that they notice even minimal changes. But this is not the case and breastfeeding can be severely tested. Between 3 and 12 months it can therefore happen that they refuse to suck for: 


  • separation from the mother who, for example, returns to work;
  • a new figure who takes care of him or too many people who do;
  • sudden changes in daily routine, such as moving or traveling;
  • a mother's illness or a breast infection;
  • a different smell or perfume from Mom, for example if she changes the shower gel or soap.

What to do in the event of a baby's strike

First rule: arm yourself with lots and lots of patience. Panicking or getting nervous has only one effect: to make the situation worse. So, having understood that this is a transitory phase, let's call together all our cold blood. 

The simplest thing to do is to intervene on the causes that have provoked the "protest" of the newborn. In case of infections, for example, they need to be treated. If your puppy has a stuffy nose, do a nasal wash before attaching him to the breast to allow him to breathe better. Also, it's a good idea to try and get it to attack for less time but more often. 

As for the critical issues related to breastfeeding itself, it might be useful to contact a consultant or an au pair who can give us all the best tips to improve it. For example, it may suggest how to attach the baby correctly if there is a very strong flow of milk or if we get the position completely wrong.


The management of the various changes that can occur in the family is more complex. There is little to do if the mother has to go back to work, if there is a new nanny or a move. There you have to try to have the famous patience we said above and wait for the little one to calm down. 

In any case, it is essential that the mother is in contact as much as possible (even skin to skin) with her baby. Delegate to others the tasks that do not expressly require your presence and your commitment. The newborn has priority over everything. Look for quiet places to cuddle and breastfeed without interference or distractions. 


Other tricks to get him sucked are attacking him while he is half asleep (falling asleep or waking up) or while you are on the move (for example holding him in a band or in your arms and walking). If nothing works, use a breast pump and offer the milk with a cup or spoon. 

Apparent or real rejection?

It is not easy to understand if the baby's strike is true, that is, if there are real conditions that make breastfeeding difficult or impossible. In some cases there is no real rejection:

  • when the baby looks for the breast by moving his head from side to side, as if he were saying no. It is completely normal, it is not a denial.
  • Between 4 and 8 months babies are easily distracted by external stimuli, such as people or noises. So it can happen that all of a sudden the ciuccino is no longer taken by the curiosity of what is happening around them.
  • After one year, babies can decide on their own initiative to detach from the breast. It is a natural process. 
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