What to Do if My Baby Refuses to Breastfeed?

October 8, 2021
What happens when your baby refuses to breastfeed? Is there a solution? In this article, discover the possible causes and some possible solutions.

Breastfeeding is very important for any newborn. Mother’s milk is a unique food that’s specially designed to nourish the child. But what if your baby refuses to breastfeed?

This is something that can happen, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. There are some causes that you need to know about to put an end to the situation.

Why is breastfeeding so important?

We’ll tell you. According to the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEPED), it has multiple advantages. These include emotional well-being, reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and recovery after childbirth.

When a baby rejects to breastfeed all these advantages are set aside, as many mothers end up disillusioned. Not knowing what’s going on doesn’t help. So let’s try to figure it out.

What is a breastfeeding “strike” or “crisis”?

The fact that a baby refuses its mother’s breast is called a breastfeeding “strike” or “crisis.” However, this term is only valid if it goes on for a long time.

No matter how much you offer to breastfeed your baby and no matter how hungry the baby is, they still refuse it. We know it’s frustrating, but there’s a reason for this reaction.

Have you gone back to work and are spending less time with your baby? Has your baby ever bitten your nipple and you pushed them away abruptly or reacted with a scream? Are they teething?

These questions can be decisive.

What might be bothering the baby?

There are several things that you may not be aware of that bother a baby. These may cause your child to refuse to breastfeed. Knowing them will bring you great relief. Towards the end of the article, we’ll also give you some tips on how to solve them.

A mother with a crying baby.
Many causes interfere with the breastfeeding process and knowing them allows planning a solution.

Ambient noise

It may seem unimportant, but when breastfeeding your baby, it’s best to be in a quiet place without too much noise. Excessive noise and people around cause the baby to reject the breast.

My baby refuses to breastfeed: Nasal obstruction

It’s important to make sure that your baby’s nostrils are clear. If they can’t breathe well, then they won’t be able to suckle and this causes them to refuse the breast because they already know what’s going to happen. So use a nasal aspirator for children.

Changes in routine

If you’ve started working and this has meant a change in routines, the baby may react by refusing the breast. It’s like their way of complaining and protesting when they don’t like something. The same can happen if you have recently moved.

Keep reading: All You Need to Know about Baby Teeth

Odors

If your baby refuses to breastfeed and none of the above match the possible causes, see if you’ve changed shampoo, body wash, or cologne. Babies may reject new smells and this makes them not want to breastfeed.

Too little milk

Another reason the baby may be refusing the breast is in milk production. The child might not be meeting its nutritional needs and this may cause it to react with early weaning, as stated by the AEPED.

Unpleasant previous experience

One of the last possible reasons why your baby refuses to breastfeed may be related to an unpleasant experience. Pain in the mouth at the time of breastfeeding because they were teething or a scream on your part because they had bitten you.

What can I try to help?

There are different ways to break this breastfeeding crisis. We can’t assure you that all of them will work for you, as each case is different. However, why not give it a try?

Here are some options.

Don’t pressure your baby

We’re going to dedicate a section to this because it’s important. Pressuring your baby to return to the breast is a mistake. Let them latch on again when they feel ready.

A good way to do this is to reinforce skin-to-skin contact. In the bathtub or in bed, make that bond last as long as it has to. This simple gesture may get him to start suckling again.

Discover: Important Aspects of Newborn Baby Skin Care

Use a baby carrier

Although strollers are very comfortable, a baby carrier can be great to solve this situation. It’ll be close to your chest and if your baby is in contact with your skin, even better. If they get hungry, they’ll be close to the feeding source, so why not try it?

Choose a quiet environment if your baby refuses to breastfeed

If the possible cause of your baby’s refusal to breastfeed is noise or distractions, you can try a quieter environment. A room or an area where there aren’t too many people and everything is quiet. This may be the solution you need.

A baby breastfeeding.
Tranquility when breastfeeding is key for the connection to be adequate and for the child to enjoy the space.

Adopt another type of posture

This can be a good way to encourage your baby to breastfeed without forcing them to adopt certain positions. For example, in the side position. Try it, because maybe what doesn’t suit them is just the usual position.

Offer your baby the breast when they sleep

This is a great technique to get the baby to breastfeed. They do it automatically. When they’re about to fall asleep, they’ll be calm and relaxed. Lie on your baby’s side in a skin-to-skin position.

Don’t let your baby go hungry

If your baby is hungry, they’ll be much more irritable and more likely to refuse the breast. So we suggest you avoid this situation. The best thing to do? Offer it to them when it’s time, even if they don’t want it.

If the baby refuses the breast, there are ways to solve it

Remember never to force your baby to breastfeed and that it’s important to keep in mind all of the tips we mentioned above. Above all, remember about skin-to-skin contact.

Newborns are very sensitive to any change in routine or schedule. In any case, don’t hesitate to see your pediatrician. They’ll surely know your case better and can give you personalized recommendations.

  • Sabillón, F. (1998). Diferentes patrones de succión. Honduras Pediátrica19(4), 91-93.
  • Urquizo Aréstegui, R. (2014). Lactancia materna exclusiva:¿ siempre?. Revista Peruana de Ginecología y Obstetricia60(2), 171-176.
  • Vizcaíno Urresta, N. I. (2016). Relación entre la angustia materna y el rechazo del bebé a la lactancia. Estudio realizado desde la teoría psicoanalítica con 5 madres de bebés de hasta 8 meses de edad de la ciudad de Quito en el año 2016 (Bachelor’s thesis, PUCE).