Breast Refusal - When Your Baby won't Nurse

Is your baby resisting the breast despite your repeated attempts? You may be offering your breast each day, only to be met with your baby arching their back, fussing, crying, and even screaming. Stay tuned as we share helpful tricks that could make a difference.

Baby crying
Baby Crying

What Is Breast Refusal?

It is the circumstance in which a baby refuses to breastfeed from one or both breasts.

If the baby has had trouble breastfeeding from birth, the problem is likely not breast refusal but other issues connected to a weak latch or trauma.

So, you might have asked yourself whether your baby is weaning himself. Weaning always happens gradually. Abrupt refusal of the breast is due to something that is causing pain or distress in the baby. Common causes include earache and stuffy noses.

Babies are known to refuse the breast if they have been separated from their mothers for more than a day. This is their way of letting us know that they are not happy about it. Most times, this type of breast refusal is temporary. All that is usually needed is some bonding time.

The first assumption when a baby refuses the breast is that the mother has a low/ inadequate milk supply. Do not be pressured into giving your baby supplements, but make sure of what the problem is before deciding to go that route.

My newest daughter, we have 4, was just about a day old when I caught this cute image of her yawning. Being born is apparently hard work! Breast refusal
Yawning baby - Photo by Tim Bish / Unsplash

If Baby Only Refuses One Breast, It Could Indicate the Following...

  • An ear infection.
  • Congestion of baby’s nose.
  • A birth-related injury.
  • A flat or inverted nipple on just one breast.
  • If the mother puts the baby on one breast more often than the other, it can cause one to produce more. This can cause a baby to prefer one breast over the other.
  • In very rare cases, it has been found that a baby may refuse a breast that is later found to be cancerous. If the mother is concerned about this, she can go for an ultrasound or mammography, which does not have to interfere with breastfeeding.

If Baby Is Refusing Both Breasts, It Can Indicate...

Also referred to as a nursing strike, it is when the baby has been breastfeeding fine but then suddenly refuses to breastfeed. A nursing strike will usually last between 2 to 4 days.

Breastfeeding Baby.

What Can Cause These Nursing Strikes?

  • Illness in a baby.
  • Teething pain.
  • The mother experiences extreme stress.
  • The baby may also refuse to drink if the mother shouts at them for biting while breastfeeding.
  • If the mother returns to work, the baby may become stressed.
  • The breast milk might taste different due to: Mastitis, menstruation, a new pregnancy, new foods introduced into the mother's diet, new medication taken by the mother, and new perfumes used by her.

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Tips for One-Sided Breast Refusal

  • Try different breastfeeding positions. For example: If your baby is refusing to breastfeed from the left side breast, you could breastfeed them in a football hold on the left side or in a more upright position.
  • Soften the rejected breast by pumping before breastfeeding.
  • Use breast compressions while trying to breastfeed.
  • As a last resort, the mother should know that it is possible to continue feeding her baby from only one breast.

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Tips for When Baby Refuses Both Breasts

  • Try to breastfeed skin to skin. Try to breastfeed in a calm environment and make time to kiss and cuddle your baby; this will help reduce the stress that might have caused or made the nursing strike worse. Try to minimize any distractions and breastfeed in a dimly lit room.
  • Try to feed your baby when they are calm or sleepy. It’s best to try right after your baby has woken up or before falling asleep. Do not try to breastfeed when they are upset or crying. Do not try to force your baby onto the breast.
  • Breastfeed your baby while walking with them held in your arms or a sling.
  • Short, frequent nursing sessions can help your baby accept the breast again.
  • If you suspect your baby is getting frustrated with the slow flow of milk “let-down," you can pump a few minutes before breastfeeding to stimulate the flow of milk.
  • If your baby is gulping while feeding, it can indicate a very fast flow of milk.

During a nursing strike, it is vital that the mother still makes sure that her baby is getting in enough milk; she can do this by offering her baby the expressed breast milk in a syringe, cup, or with the finger. Avoid the use of artificial nipples before the age of 6 weeks.


My Baby Won't Drink My Milk on My Period

"Hi, I have a 4-month-old baby. It's my second period since childbirth, and he is usually very attached to exclusively breastfeeding and loves to comfort nurse. Since the second day of my period, he has been refusing my breast and only drinking 2-3 minutes at a time. Any suggestions on foods that can help improve the taste?"

lactogenic Foods and Massage
by: Tracy

"Hi, it is probably just a dip in supply (common during menstruation) because the lower your supply is, the saltier the milk tastes. It will go back to normal again after your period.

You could take calcium and magnesium. 'Taking a daily dose of calcium (1000 - 1500mg) and magnesium (400 - 750mg), especially before and during your period, will minimize the drop in milk production - instead, you could eat some almonds and banana as a snack. Other lactogenic foods you might like to try during that time of the month are oats, barley, moringa, seaweed, and fresh fennel.

Also, try out breast massage; it has been found to increase supply and reduce the amount of sodium in breast milk.

If you are confident that your milk supply is not the issue, you could try incorporating garlic into your diet. Babies love the taste of milk after consuming garlic. It's worth a try!

Hope this helps."