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Ask Dr. Sears: On a Nursing Strike

Q. My 10-month-old daughter has been refusing to nurse lately. She started eating solids about six weeks ago. I don't give her anything supplemental to drink, hoping she will begin nursing again, but it doesn't seem to be working. She is quite happy to sit in my lap and drink a bottle of my breast milk, but won't nurse from the breast. It concerns me that she's not getting enough to drink, but I don't want to pump my milk every time she is thirsty. She has a great appetite for food and will cry until we put her in her high chair to eat  -- which kills the "nurse before I feed her" idea. What can I do?

A. In breastfeeding circles, this annoying quirk is dubbed a "nursing strike." It's especially frustrating for nursing mothers who are not yet ready to wean their baby and who believe baby isn't ready to wean either. Nursing strikes are most common following some upset in routine, such as a family trip, a move, a parent changing jobs, or a prolonged separation from one or both parents. But many times it's difficult to pinpoint the reason for the strike. Here are some ways to woo your baby back to breastfeeding:

Replay her favorite nursing situations. To entice your little "striker" back to the breast, try to relive her favorite nursing situations, such as nursing in a beloved rocking chair. Sit down in the rocking chair and hold her in the nursing position next to your breast while you thumb through a picture book. This scene may trigger fond memories of nursing and rocking and may encourage her to nurse. When one of our babies went on a nursing strike, what worked was nursing her in the bathtub. My daughter loved taking a bath with my wife and enjoyed nursing while half-immersed in warm water. Hopefully, revisiting a scene such as this will prompt your baby to resume nursing.

Nap nurse. This is usually the best way to woo a baby back to the breast, especially if she was previously accustomed to nursing while lying down in your bed. Pick a time of the day when you are most tired and your baby is most hungry.

Minimize distractions. At 10 months of age, babies can become easily distracted while nursing, especially if there is a lot of commotion in the room. Try what is dubbed "closet nursing." Pick a couple times of the day when she is most hungry. Go into a dark, quiet room, sit in a comfortable chair, sing her favorite lullaby, and let her nurse.

Slow down on other feedings. Continue to try to nurse her before you feed her other foods. Decrease the volume of solid foods and even supplemental bottles. You want to replant the idea in her mind (and her tummy) that food comes primarily from nursing, and secondarily from the plate and the bottles.

At 10 months of age it's unlikely that your baby is truly ready to wean, although it is possible. Try not to get so frustrated or impatient that your baby feels she is being forced to nurse. Go gradually with the above tips, and most likely, your nursing striker will return to extended breastfeeding within a week or two.

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