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Reasons Why a Baby May Refuse To Breastfeed

Sometimes, a baby that is breast fed may suddenly decide to refuse breast feeding.  The baby will pull away from the breast, then toss their head from side to side. 

This can happen at anytime, so there really is no way to predict it happening.

Reasons why 


  • Refusal to feed from the breast could occur when the baby is in pain. Normally, this can be due to an ear infection, thrush in the baby’s mouth, or teething
  • Breathing IssuesA baby having trouble coordinating suck, swallow, and breathe reflexes may well have a problem with breastfeeding. Try a nasal aspirator if their nose is blocked. 
  • Occasionally a baby’s sensitivity to milk proteins in a Mom’s diet can lead to uncomfortable gas and fussiness.

How to help: If you’ve ruled out other causes, ask your pediatrician to check for pain or illness. If you suspect dairy protein sensitivity, eliminate dairy from your diet. An improvement could take several weeks.

Milk Flow

Are your breasts too full? Your baby may be stretching a good 3 to 4 hours between feeds. He/she may even have dropped a feed. This can mean that your breasts need to adjust the supply to meet demand. As a result the breasts can become rather full and engorged. This makes it difficult for the baby to latch. Try easing the fullness with a bit of manual expression or a warm compression before feeding.

Hyperlactation results from an overly strong reflex that causes milk to flow too quickly and forcibly for a baby to comfortably swallow.

How to help: Lactation consultant Laura Burnett, RN, suggests nursing in reclined position to relax both mom and baby. If an oversupply of milk is contributing to the problem, she recommends nursing on one breast per feeding. After a few days, the body will reduce its milk production.

Some mothers have a strong flow of milk in the early weeks until their supply settles. Sometimes a baby gets used to the strong flow and getting lots of milk without having to do much sucking in these early weeks.

He then might refuse to feed or be fussy with feeds when his mother’s supply settles down and he needs to suck more to get the same amount of milk. If your baby drinks for a few minutes and then comes off, or tries to suck again but gets upset and fusses, it may be because your flow has slowed down.

A slow flow or letdown reflex can frustrate babies, particularly those who receive bottles.

How to help: Tactics like gentle massage, heat or pumping can help get milk flowing, but they won’t resolve an underlying issue such as returning to work, changing a nursing routine or starting new medication. “Relax, ignore the chores piling up and focus on your special bond,” advises Dr. Rothenberg.

Switching to the other breast or trying breast compressions can help. Breast compressions are where you gently squeeze a large handful of your breast when your baby’s sucking slows down (taking care not to disrupt his attachment). Moving your hand to different parts of your breast as you squeeze helps to drain different milk ducts. .


Sometimes, the milk just takes bitter or different. 

  • This can be due to antibiotics, if you starting or in the middle of your period, nipple creams, change in diet etc.  If the milk tastes bitter, your baby will normally not want to feed.  Hormonal changes from the return of your period, a new pregnancy, or starting birth control pills can affect the flavor of your breast milk.
  • Smoking cigarettes can also change the taste of your milk.

Tune into Your Baby’s Hunger Cues

Babies feed best when they are fed when they are ready to feed, when they are showing feeding cues. If a baby is fed according to a schedule, he/she may not be ready to feed at the scheduled time. This may cause them to be very fussy or refuse the feed. 

Offer the breast frequently but don’t force your child to breastfeed. If breastfeeding becomes a negative experience for your baby, it may be harder to bring him or her back to the breast.

When a baby completely refuses the breast, focus first on two things:

1.  Expressing your milk

2.  Feeding the baby

You want them to feel happy and relaxed at the breast, so spend lots of time cuddling together skin-to-skin with no pressure to latch on and eat.

Pump as often as baby was breastfeeding. This avoids uncomfortable breast fullness and helps maintain your milk production. Ideally, if your baby isn’t nursing at all, a double electric breast pump will make this faster and easier and will be more likely to keep up your supply. This Babysteps pump is highly recommended and extremely affordable!

Are Bottles Interfering?

Some babies find it difficult to go from feeding from the breast then to the bottle and vice versa as the sucking action is very different.

Many mothers, whose babies have become accustomed to a bottle, have found that putting ice wrapped in a flannel on the nipple or tickling the nipple and areola makes it easier for the baby to grasp.

Alternatively, you may use a nipple shield to begin a feed, slipping if off quickly and putting your baby back to the breast once the milk is flowing and she is sucking happily.

Using pacifiers might also contribute to refusal.  Some babies may become confused.

Distractions and Positions

  • Breastfeed your child in a quiet, dark area away from distractions. 
  • Give your baby a breastfeed after his bath, when he is warm and relaxed.
  • Take a bath with your baby. Many babies who seem unwilling to latch onto the breast do better in a shallow warm water bath. The sensation of water can be soothing and relaxing for both mother and baby. After one or two in-water nursing sessions, your baby may be ready to feed again out of the bath!
  • Offer a feed when your baby is first stirring from sleep or just going to sleep.
  • She may be uncomfortable in the position you’ve chosen. Make sure that your baby’s head and chest are facing your breast. Keep in mind that your baby may be uncomfortable with a position that she’s accepted before for reasons that you can’t see, for example, an ear infection may make lying on a particular side painful. In this case, switching your baby’s position may help. Try to use a different breastfeeding position.
  • Movement can help, so try putting your baby in your sling or wrap and offering to nurse while you walk around the room. Or try rocking in a rocking chair.

Feeding Pattern is Changing

Older babies may suddenly take shorter and fewer breast feeds. Therefore, it’s always best not to try and make the baby feed longer, but instead let the baby decide how often and also how long each individual feeding will last. As he grows and your supply matures, he may be satisfied after feeding on one side only. He may fuss around the second breast, as he is no longer hungry.

A very young baby commonly needs eight to twelve breastfeeds in 24 hours, but there is a wide variation in the number of feeds an older baby needs. There is a big difference between a four-month-old who refuses one or two feeds in eight, and a baby of the same age who refuses four out of five feeds.


Most breast refusal is temporary and in most cases it should not be too long before your baby is again breastfeeding happily. Sometimes you may never discover why they did refuse. However, there are some babies who cannot be persuaded to return to the breast. If that is the case for you, it is important to remember that your baby is not rejecting you and that you will soon find other ways of relating to each other.

Even though it is  hard, try not to worry. Stress can reduce your supply of breast milk.

Related Article: Top Natural Pain Relief Remedies for Teething Baby


I have been a professional nanny working with children of all ages for over 15 years. My work has taken me all over the globe and I have had many amazing adventures with the families that I have worked with, all of which has taught me a great deal about how to make parenting less stressful.

I helped create Mothers Lifestyle in order to share parenting tips and secrets that I learned along the way, as well as to provide life-saving tools and advice from the world’s leading experts that I rely on every day in my professional life.

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