Breast Refusal


What is Breast Refusal?

It is the circumstance in which a baby refuses to breastfeed from one or both breasts.

If the baby has had trouble breastfeeding from birth, the problem is likely not breast refusal, but other issues connected to a weak latch, or trauma. Read more about latching problems here.

The first assumption that is usually made, when a baby refuses the breast, is that the mother has a low/ inadequate milk supply. Do not be pressured into giving your baby supplements, but make very sure of what the problem actually is, before deciding to go that route. 


If Baby only Refuses one Breast, it could Indicate the Following...

  • An ear infection.
  • Congestion of baby’s nose.
  • Injury that occurred at birth or any other ordeal.
  • Flat or inverted nipple on just one breast.
  • If the mother puts the baby on one breast more often than the other, it can cause one to produce more. This can cause baby to prefer one breast over the other.
  • In very rare cases, it has been found that a baby may refuse a breast that is later found to be cancerous. If the mother is concerned about this, she can go for ultrasound or mammography, which does not have to interfere with breastfeeding.


If Baby is Refusing Both Breasts it can Indicate...

Also referred to as a “nursing strike”, this is when the baby has been breastfeeding fine, but then suddenly refuses to breastfeed. A nursing strike will usually last between 2 to 4 days.

What can cause these nursing strikes?

  • Illness in baby.
  • Teething pain.
  • Extreme stress experienced by the mother.
  • The baby may also refuse to drink if the mother shouted at him/her for biting whilst breastfeeding.
  • If the mother returns to work, the baby may become stressed.
  • The breast milk might taste different due to: Mastitis, menstruation, new pregnancy, new foods introduced into the mother's diet, new medication taken by the mother, new perfumes used by her.


Tips for One Sided Breast Refusal

  • Try different breastfeeding positions. For example: If your baby is refusing to breastfeed from the left side breast, you could breastfeed him/her in a football hold on the left side or in a more upright position.
  • Soften the rejected breast by pumping before breastfeeding.
  • Use breast compressions whilst trying to breastfeed.
  • As a last resort, the mother should know that it is possible to continue feeding baby from only one breast. Read more on breastfeeding from only one side.


Tips for when Baby Refuses Both Breasts

  • Try to breastfeed skin to skin. Try to breastfeed in a calm environment and make time to kiss and cuddle your baby, this will help reduce stress that might have caused or made the nursing strike worse. Try to minimize any distractions and breastfeed in a dim lit room.
  • Try to feed your baby when he/she is calm or sleepy. It’s best to try right after your baby has woken or just before your baby falls asleep. Do not try to breastfeed when he/she is upset or crying. Do not try to force your baby onto the breast.
  • Breastfeed your baby whilst walking with him/her held in your arms or in a sling.
  • Short, frequent nursing sessions can help your baby accept the breast again.
  • If you suspect that your baby is getting frustrated with the slow flow of milk “let-down”, you can pump a few minutes before breastfeeding, to stimulate the flow of milk.
  • If your baby is gulping while feeding, it can indicate a very fast flow of milk.

During a nursing strike, it is important that the mother still makes sure that her baby is getting in enough milk, she can do this by offering her baby the expressed breast milk in a syringe, cup or with the finger. Avoid the use of artificial nipples before the age of 6 weeks.


A Bit of Encouragement


Top of breast refusal page

Other pages on breastfeeding problems connected with this page

* Alternative feeding methods

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Nursing strike? Help!! 
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Site by BFeeding Mamma, Tracy Behr. Currently studying through Child birth International (CBC, CBD). Also an accomplished author and Mommy of two.