Breast Refusal

Breast Refusal

Breast Refusal

Breast Refusal

Breast Refusal can be quite a distressing breastfeeding challenge! This occurs when your baby screams and turns away from the breast. This can make you feel rejected and can be quite stressful.

A baby may refuse the breast at some or all feedings, at any age, and the reasons for doing so will vary. Your baby may suck for a few minutes, then break away with signs of distress and refuse to continue. He may refuse even to begin sucking although he is obviously hungry.

Sometimes, a baby does not actually refuse but is very fussy and difficult to feed. He may be the kind of baby who seems to be very unwilling to start sucking and takes a long time to get going, but once he has started, feeds well. A fussy baby can seem to receive little satisfaction from feeding. He sucks for a short while and then breaks away, finishing his feed after a series of stops and starts. He may be easily distracted and restless during the feed, perhaps pushing away from his mother with his fists or his feet. He stops as soon as his hunger is satisfied and may remain restless and fidgety afterwards.

When managing a fussy feeder or a baby who is refusing to breastfeed, it is important to remain calm and patient, handling your baby gently. If you are both on edge, try taking deep breathes similar to that which you may have used during labour or when trying to calm or meditate. The deep breathing helps slow your own breathing and make it more regular which can help calm everyone, concentrate on staying relaxed, use soothing music, rock your baby gently or carry him around. This relaxation will help your milk flow readily so your baby will get milk once he latches on.

If your baby is quite unsettled, cross or crying or if you are feeling angry and upset, you may find it helps to try again when you are both feeling calmer. In the meantime a cuddle or a game may distract your baby or a walk outside may relax you both. 

The number of feeds your baby needs changes as she grows older. 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.

Regardless of the number of feeds ensure your baby is getting enough milk and if you are concerned speak to your LMC/GP.

Here are some of the many reasons a baby may refuse the breast.

Baby-centred reasons

  • Attachment problems

  • Baby confused by bottle feeds

  • Overtiredness/overstimulation

  • Baby refusing one breast

  • Recent immunisation

  • Illness, e.g. a cold or earache, sore throat

  • Feeding pattern is changing

  • Distractions

  • Introduction of other foods

  • Teething

  • Biting

  • Overuse of a dummy (or pacifier)

  • The weather

  • Discomfort associated with sucking

  • Weaning

Milk Supply reasons

  • Fast flow

  • Low supply

  • Slow let-down

Mother-centred reasons

  • Overtired or overstressed

  • Sick or taking prescribed or over the counter medications

  • Unusual food in your diet

  • You smell different for some reason- e.g., different perfume, deodorant, chlorine/ salt from swimming; visit to hairdresser, smoke

  • Hormonal Changes

  • Menstruation and pre-menstrual tension

  • Ovulation

  • Pregnancy

  • Oral contraceptives


Things to do… to get your baby on the breast

  • Be as patient and calm as you can,

  • Try different feeding positions

  • Walk and Feed

  • Try Breastfeeding in the bath.

  • Try and Feed when sleepy

  • If your baby will take a bottle or dummy, take it out and try sneaking the breast in.

  • Feed in a rocking chair.

  • Express some milk into your baby's open mouth to encourage him.

  • Baby Massage

  • Try playing some favourite relaxing background music.


Remember breast refusal is normally temporary - if you need further help don't hesitate to contact me.