Refusal to feed | breastfedbabies

Occasionally a breastfed baby may suddenly decide to refuse to breastfeed. What you will see is that the baby pulls away from the breast, gets cross and tosses his head from side to side. This can happen at any time. In fact, probably most breastfed babies will refuse to suck for one or more feeds and then go back to breastfeeding.

Reasons why a breastfed baby may refuse to feed

  1. The baby is in pain. This could be due to:
    • sore head from a forceps or vacuum delivery>
    • ear infection
    • thrush in the baby’s mouth
    • teething
  2. The baby is frightened. Sometimes a baby may have been put to the breast forcefully with his head held tight and this can put him off feeding.
  3. The use of dummies, teats or nipple shields. Some babies find it difficult to feed from both the breast and a bottle as the sucking action is different. Some become confused and may develop a preference for sucking from a teat. This is why it is best to avoid using any form of teat, including dummies, at least until you and your baby are used to breastfeeding and until you feel confident about your milk supply. Nipple shields can also cause problems because they alter the flow of the milk.
  4. The breastmilk tastes different.There could be a number of reasons for this:
    • some medication particularly an antibiotic known as Flagyl can make your milk taste bitter
    • your milk will taste different if you are pregnant or if you are about to start a period or have your period
    • nipple creams may change the taste the baby experiences at the breast

Also if you smell different (perhaps because you have changed the perfume or toiletries you use) this can confuse your baby and cause him to refuse the breast.

Solving the problem

Try to identify what might have caused the breast refusal and remove or treat the cause. Be patient and gentle with your baby. Hold him next to you, skin-to-skin, so that he can take the breast when he wants to and that he starts to realise that breastfeeding is comforting and enjoyable.

You can use also try laid back breastfeeding which uses the baby’s natural instinct to move to the breast and find it for themselves. 

Some older babies may refuse to breastfeed simply because they are becoming more aware of their surroundings and are easily distracted by noise. When this happens, some mothers find they have to find somewhere quiet to feed or wait until the baby is sleepy. 

Some older babies may suddenly take fewer and shorter breastfeeds - this is normal for some babies. It’s best not to try and make the baby feed for longer but to let the baby decide how often and how long each feed lasts.