Question: My nine month old baby has been on a nursing strike for almost a week. He is teething, and I think that it all started at the end of an usually hectic week, when he bit me and I raised my voice at him.
He is eating solids and gaining weight, but he refuses a bottle and does not take a cup well. Do I need to give him formula?
Is there any hope of getting him to nurse again or should I just call it quits and wean him?
Answer : A week is a long time for a nursing strike to last. With a baby this age, sometimes it just isn’t possible to get him to start nursing again. I have found that most of the time babies younger than nine months will go back on the breast, while some babies this age really are weaning themselves and there isn’t much you can do about it.
He does need to drink milk somehow. Milk (whether breast milk or formula) should make up at least 75% of his diet for the first year of life. Since human milk is the most nutrient dense food you can give your baby, solids should be started slowly and not over-emphasized in the first year when he is still growing so quickly.
Cereal and other solid foods don’t contain the fat, protein, and calories that babies need during this important period. I would continue to offer him the cup, and also try to mix your breast milk with his other foods. Maintaining your supply by hand expressing or pumping will make him more likely to start nursing again and will also give you breast milk that you can feed him in a cup or bottle, and add to his cereal or other solid foods.
Most doctors recommend waiting until the baby is a year old to introduce cow’s milk. Many babies older than 6 months won’t accept a bottle unless they’re already used to taking it. You may have more luck getting him to take milk from a cup if you put a little flavoring in it (apple juice concentrate makes a good sweetener), and then phasing it out as he becomes accustomed to drinking milk from a cup.
In my experience, a healthy baby who is offered a variety of nutritious foods is not going to suffer from any serious nutritional deficiency. If you’re concerned, you may want to ask your doctor about the possibility of checking your baby’s hemoglobin levels and whether he recommends any kind of nutritional/vitamin supplements.
I hope that this is just a temporary stage, and that your little one decides to resume nursing soon. I have certainly known of babies this age and older who have gone back to nursing after long strikes, but I have also had three babies who decided to wean at about nine months (way before I was ready!) so I know firsthand that some babies do decide to wean themselves, and there is absolutely no way to force a baby him to nurse if he decides he’s done.
The article Nursing Strike has some suggestions about how to encourage him to take the breast again, and the article Weaning has more information about baby-led weaning, as well as how to deal with a baby who is ready to wean before you are.
Anne Smith, IBCLC