Why won’t my 3 month old breastfeed anymore?! Is this a nursing strike?

In Baby, Breastfeedingby Angela Grant Buechner

Breastfeeding has been going well for a couple of months now. You got through those first few weeks of clusterfeeding all night, you figured out how to get a deeper latch so your nipples are finally happy, and you even had an IBCLC (Lactation Consultant) come to help you at home and make sure things were all good….

Now your baby is three months old and wait….WHAT IS HAPPENING!!?

Breastfeeding concerns are really common at three months because a few new things can happen all at once, and it can really freak parents out!  If you have had a sufficient milk supply, baby has been gaining well up to this point, and you have been only been breastfeeding, then these changes can be totally normal, and here’s why!

This is the age that babies can completely change their ‘usual’ feeding behaviour in a few different ways:

1. They can become distracted at the breast.

Your perfect, calm little baby that could nurse in the middle of a concert until now, will suddenly start popping off during feeds to look towards any sound! If someone even tries to talk to you while you’re breastfeeding, baby will unlatch and stare… as you drip or spray milk all over baby and yourself. The trouble with daytime distraction, is that babies will usually start needing to nurse more often at night to make up for it. This phase hopefully lasts for just a little while and they eventually stop caring about every little noise, but it can be totally normal and necessary when this ‘reverse cycling’ happens.

2. At the same time, babies around three months can suddenly become really efficient nursers.

Feeds that once took 40 minutes to happen in the early days, can now become really short! Some babies can seriously nurse for just a few minutes, and they can still get enough! If your baby’s weight gain has been good with breastfeeding alone (we’re looking for an average 1-2 pounds weight gain per month at this stage) then its ok to continue to feed on demand, and just feed for those few minutes and follow her lead!

3. Another fun thing they switch up at the same time is that they change all their feeding cues!

You were cruising along, nursing your baby whenever she ‘asked’ for it, and now your baby starts refusing the breast!! This can be very confusing for parents…..but wait, your baby has her hand in her mouth, so she must be hungry, right? At three months, the answer might be NO! The hunger cues or signals (like hands in the mouth) suddenly can mean something completely different… Now when your baby jams a fist in her face, it just means that she has found something new to play with and chew on, and doesn’t always mean hunger anymore. Often, parents are offering the breast and trying harder and harder to nurse, while baby is trying harder and harder to refuse.   Although this can seem bizarre, it can be a normal phase.  At this age (if you have been exclusively breastfeeding and all is well) then you are ok to just follow baby’s lead, and let them say no!

4. Simultaneously, they can now want to breastfeed less often too.

If your baby wants to nurse less often then YOU think they should, and you continue to offer them the breast as usual (based on timing or the ‘old’ cues), the refusal may just be their way saying “no thanks”. Parents can get frustrated or scared when baby is pushing the breast away, arching their back and getting upset at the breast, because they think baby is on a nursing strike or isn’t feeding enough. Babies can get frustrated when we try to force them on the breast at this point, because they just don’t want to eat right now! Try to remember that it’s ok to trust your baby at this age (not so much with a sleepy one week old)…because at 3-4 months, they can reliably tell you when they’re hungry, but also when they’re not.

If you have had a sufficient milk supply, baby has been gaining well, and you’ve been breastfeeding, then this is totally normal stuff.  If you have been offering bottles more and more often, then it may be a good idea to chat with an IBCLC in case the fast flow is getting baby a bit frustrated at breast….. or milk supply has been affected.