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My Baby Refuses to Breastfeed

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Updated April 16, 2014

My Baby Refuses to Breastfeed
Kraig Scarbinski/Photodisc/Getty Images

Breastfeeding is a wonderful and rewarding experience but it is not without its difficulties. Newborns can have problems latching on and learning to breastfeed. Older babies who have been breastfeeding well for weeks or months can all of a sudden stop. Both of these situations can be upsetting, but be patient and ask for help if you need it. Talk to your pediatrician or lactation consultant for assistance and support. Most of the time you can find a solution and still breastfeed.

A new baby may have difficulties learning to breastfeed. Some of the initial difficulties of breastfeeding you may experience could include:

  • Poor or Inefficient Latch: The way the baby’s mouth attaches to your nipple is called the latch. If the baby is not properly latched on, the suck will be ineffective and the baby will not be able to remove the milk from your breast. Furthermore, a poor latch can lead to sore, cracked nipples and make breastfeeding very painful. During a proper latch, the baby should grasp both the nipple and as much of the surrounding dark area around the nipple (areola) as possible.
     
  • Premature Baby: You may not be able to breastfeed if your baby is born prematurely and needs to stay in the hospital. However, once the baby is able to take feedings you should be able to provide pumped breast milk until the baby can be put to the breast. During this time, continue to pump every 2 to 3 hours to maintain your milk supply.
     
  • Flat or Inverted Nipples: Most babies can effectively breastfeed even with flat or inverted nipples but in some cases it will be difficult for the baby to latch onto your breast. There are many ways to successfully correct flat or inverted nipples and make it possible to breastfeed. Stimulating the nipples prior to breastfeeding or using a breast pump can help to draw out the nipple making it easier for the baby to latch on.
     
  • Delayed Milk Supply: For first time moms, or mothers with certain health conditions, it could take a few days for the milk to come in. This can be frustrating for you and the baby. Do not get discouraged. Put the baby to breast as often as possible and do not feel guilty about providing formula as a supplemental feeding during this time.
     
  • Sleepy Baby: Sleepy babies are a challenge. Newborns tend to be very sleepy in general, but sometimes medications taken during delivery can cause drowsiness in newborns. Jaundice or other illnesses can have a similar effect. Try changing the diaper right before or during a feeding to stimulate the baby and wake him or her up. Continue to put the baby to breast as often as possible. Fortunately, the sleepiness is usually temporary.
 

Older babies who have been breastfeeding for a while will sometimes stop nursing. This is commonly called a “nursing strike“. Some of the reasons that this may happen include:

  • Pain: If your baby is teething, has an ear infection, or has developed thrush it may be painful to nurse. A colicky baby may be uncomfortable from gas, bloating and digestive issues which may make nursing difficult.
     
  • Taste of the Milk: Hormonal changes from the return of your period, another pregnancy or taking oral contraception can alter the taste of your milk. Smoking before a feeding or eating certain foods can also affect the taste of your milk.
     
  • A Cold: Breastfeeding a sick baby can be a challenge. If the baby is not feeling well or has a stuffy nose it may be difficult for him to breastfeed and breathe at the same time.
     
  • A Low Milk Supply: If your supply is getting low, the baby may get frustrated and not want to stay on the breast.
     
  • Distraction: As babies get older they become more curious about the world around them. They are easily distracted and sometimes stop nursing to look around at other things.
     
  • Fast Feeder: Older babies can feed much faster than younger ones. They can often get a large quantity of milk in just a few minutes. A baby that nurses a few minutes and then stops, may have had enough.

Things You Can Do:
  • Bring your baby to the doctor to check for any health problems.
  • Try to feed the baby in a quiet, dark area away from distractions.
  • Try to use different feeding positions.
  • Offer the breast frequently but do not try to force the baby to breastfeed. If breastfeeding becomes a negative experience for the baby it may be harder to bring the baby back to the breast.
  • Try not to worry. Stress can reduce your milk supply.
  • If the baby does not take the milk from the breast, pump to maintain your supply.
  • Try to use an Alternate Feeding Method such as Cup Feeding, Finger Feeding or the Supplemental Nursing System (SNS).
  • Provide expressed breast milk or formula in a bottle while continuing to offer the breast.
  • Consult a breastfeeding specialist or breastfeeding group in your local area.

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