Breastfeeding: Toddler nursing strike

My 15-month-old daughter has been on a nursing strike. Four days ago she started antibiotics for an ear infection, so I expected her nursing would improve, but she continues to only nurse after she's fallen asleep. We have only recently convinced her that cups and bottles are acceptable ways to get fluid, and only takes small amounts of juice or water. She is teething as well, and giving her tylenol seems to reduce the length of the pre-sleep screaming. Her only really wet diaper is in the morning after nursing many times in the night. I am quite concerned about resolving this, because we also have concerns about her growth. She had fallen from the 50th to below the 3rd percentile even before this happened. We do have an appointment with a pediatric endocrinologist next month. She is taking solids well and appears to be recovering from the infection. Of course this coincides with a quite negativistic phase, and she says "no-no-no" when I even talk about nursies. I know the standard advice on nursing strikes, but her memory of her pain is all too clear, and she thinks nursing caused it! I nursed my older daughter until she was three and hoped to do the same this time.


Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

It can be very sad to think of weaning during a nursing strike (even in a 15-month-old toddler). Most moms want to end the nursing relationship on a more positive note. But, it is impossible to persuade a child of this age to nurse if they aren't interested.

I wouldn't give up hope! Ear infections can make nursing very painful, as the sucking seems to tug at the eardrum. Different positioning and baby tylenol (if recommended by your Health Care Provider) about 20 minutes before a feed can help relieve some of her pain. Even if the infection has resolved, she may still have fluid behind her eardrum that can make nursing painful.

You're right that it could be just the experience of the pain that is keeping her from nursing. You could try coaxing her back to your breast, just as you might a new baby. Carry her more than usual. Most toddlers still love time in their mother's arms. Lots of skin-to-skin contact is very effective. Don't push her. Patiently allow her the chance to see if she wants to go back to your breast. Don't be too concerned about your milk supply at this time. If your breasts feel full, express your milk as needed, or as often as she was nursing before the "strike".

I can understand your concern with your daughter's pattern of weight gain, and it is important to determine the reason for this. If she is totally refusing to nurse, it is necessary that she get foods and liquids to make up for what she's missing from not breastfeeding. Toddlers are usually on the run, so have a nutritious drink handy in a sippy cup, so she can grab it as needed. Little snacks throughout the day, as well as sitting down for meals to eat and socialize with the family, will probably best suit her at this time. If your daughter's output is still significantly reduced, it is important that she be seen immediately by her Health Care Provider.

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