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Baby Refusing To Breastfeed

Imagine that your baby has been breastfeeding happily for several months and then, seemingly out of the blue, they start to refuse the breast. Or maybe you have a newborn baby that isn’t latching on properly to begin with.

This happens more often than you may think and can obviously cause a lot of distress for the mother. Just remember that while a baby refusing to breastfeed could be a way for them to tell you that something isn’t quite right, these episodes are not necessarily a symptom of a serious problem. Nor do they have to be a sign that your baby is ready to wean. Most likely, your baby is going through a temporary phase that might end just as suddenly as it started.

Why do babies refuse to drink from the breasts?

Babies have episodes of so called “nursing strikes” for any number of reasons and you may never find out exactly why. Some reasons for baby not drinking milk from your breast right after birth could be that they were separated from you for some time, are affected by medicines that were used during labor or are not feeling well because of a tough delivery. If an older baby refuses to breastfeed after previously nursing well, it could be because they are:

  • In pain due to teething, thrush, cold sore or ear infection

  • Reacting to a vaccination

  • Sick with a cold or other illness that makes breathing hard during nursing

  • Distracted, overtired or overstimulated

  • Being introduced to solid foods

  • Reacting to unusual flavors and scents in your milk and on your body

  • Having difficulty dealing with a forceful milk flow

  • Linking feeding with pain due to gastroesophageal reflux disease

What to do about baby not drinking milk

Even if your baby refuses to breastfeed, express or pump milk to keep up your milk supply and prevent engorgement. You can still feed it to your baby with a bottle or small spoon. Try not to stress out about the situation and give these tips a go:

  • Be patient and do something completely different before you try again, like going outside

  • Try a different feeding position, for example the laid-back feeding position can entice the baby to come to the breast

  • Limit distractions by feeding in a quiet room

  • Take a bath together or just give your baby lots of skin-to-skin contact

  • Try breastfeeding while walking around or when your baby is sleepy

As a rule of thumb, a baby that’s getting enough to eat should have regular bowel movements and fill about five disposable nappies or six to eight cloth nappies over the course of 24 hours. If you’re in doubt, contact a healthcare professional for advice.


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