Breastfeeding hurdles: How to overcome breast refusal in your baby

Javeria Adenwalla
Javeria Adenwalla
Javeria is a writer, a yogi and an absolute lover of life. She reports live from the trenches of motherhood, stepping on metaphoric landmines, and sharing her experiences with unwavering optimism as she raises her three musketeers. Whenever life throws her off balance, she swivels back to zen mode with the power of yoga. When she’s not busy mastering the art of parenting,...
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 8 mins read

You survived the early days of breastfeeding, from engorgement that made you feel like you had watermelons attached to your chest and nipples that felt like they were on fire, to non-stop feeding sessions that left you wondering if you’d ever get a moment of peace. But then you gradually begin to settle in with it all, ready to bond with your little one and bask in the magical experience of nourishing them with your own body. Just when you thought you had mastered the art of nursing, your little bundle of joy decided to give you a run for your money by refusing the boob. The reality of breastfeeding is that it can turn into an emotional rollercoaster releasing a barrage of feelings from confusion, anxiety, frustration, and guilt to downright helplessness.


When it works, breastfeeding can be an amazing bonding experience between a mother and her baby. It provides the best nutrition for your little one, and it’s also an excellent way to soothe and comfort them. Breast refusal can be frustrating but it is a common issue a lot of new mums face.

If you’re currently dealing with breast refusal and wondering how long it lasts, what it looks like, and most importantly, how to manage it, we’ve got some tricks up our sleeve to help you overcome this hurdle.

What is breast refusal?


Breast refusal is when your little milk monster suddenly decides to go on strike, leaving you feeling like a dairy farmer with no customers. It can happen to any baby, whether they’re a seasoned pro or a rookie at the boob game, and there are plenty of reasons for it – teething, illness, or maybe they’re just going through a rebellious phase. But don’t worry, with a little patience and some troubleshooting, you’ll be back to breastfeeding bliss in no time.


What does breast refusal look like?


Breast refusal can manifest in different ways. It’s essential to identify the signs of breast refusal to know what you’re dealing with. Here are some of the signs:

  • The baby turns their head away from the breast.
  • Your little one starts to let out screams and cries when you bring them close to the nipple.
  • The baby may latch on for a quick sip but then pull away.
  • Some babies may be picky and refuse one breast while accepting the other.

If any of these signs feel like déjà vu, then it’s likely that you’re facing the challenge of breast refusal.

While the signs mentioned above are pretty clear, there are other subtle yet concerning signals to watch out for.

  1. Your baby is nursing less frequently or for shorter periods than usual.
  2. Your little one appears to be hungry, but they won’t latch onto your breast.
  3. During feedings, some babies may even become fussy and start to cry.

If you notice these signs, it’s time to take action.


How long does breast refusal last?


Breast refusal can last for a few days or a few weeks, depending on the cause.

  • If your baby is refusing the breast because of teething, it can last until the teeth break through.
  • If it’s due to an illness, it may last until your baby recovers.

But don’t worry, this too shall pass. Just remember to stay calm and collected, identify the reason behind the refusal, and take the necessary steps to get your little one back on track.

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How to deal with breast refusal


Look, we’ve all been there – you’re nursing away, thinking everything’s hunky-dory, and then your baby decides to go on a milk strike. Here are some tips to help you navigate the treacherous waters of breast refusal.

Offer your baby the breast frequently:

Offer your baby the breast often, even if they’re refusing it. Be persistent, but not pushy. And if all else fails, switch it up! Try different nursing positions, like the football hold or cradle hold. It’s like a game of Twister, but with boobs!

Check for any physical issues:

Check your baby’s mouth for any signs of thrush or tongue tie, which can make breastfeeding uncomfortable. Consult with a lactation consultant or a doctor if you notice anything unusual.

Take care of yourself:

It’s amazing to nourish your little one with your own body, but it can also leave you feeling like an empty human juice box.  Breastfeeding can be a real marathon, both physically and emotionally. So don’t forget to give yourself some TLC! Make sure you’re eating enough, staying hydrated, and catching those Z’s when you can. And hey, if you can get your partner or family members to lend a hand, all the better.

Try a nipple shield:

If your baby is struggling to latch onto your nipple, you can try using a nipple shield. It’s a silicone cover that goes over your nipple and can help your baby latch on more easily.

Offer a bottle:

If your baby is still refusing the breast, you can offer a bottle of expressed milk. It’s essential to continue pumping milk to maintain your supply. We don’t want to dig ourselves into a deeper hole while trying to come out of the one we’re in by decreasing the milk supply.

Switch it up:

If you’re feeling a bit stuck in your breastfeeding routine, mix it up a bit! If you usually nurse in a peaceful spot, try switching things up and nurse in a more exciting environment, or if you’re already in a lively area, give a peaceful spot a chance. Changing the location or timing of feedings could give you and your little one a fresh new experience.

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How to fix the case of personal favourite 


The one time when instead of a parent, it’s the offspring who can be called out for having a personal favourite in the house. Before we attempt to unravel the signal your baby is sending, let’s dive into why they might be more partial to one of your breasts.

Low milk supply:

If one breast is producing less milk than the other, your baby may prefer the breast that has more milk.

Positioning:

The position you hold your baby in while nursing can affect how easily they can latch onto one breast versus the other.

Breast shape or size:

Some babies may find it more challenging to latch onto one breast if the nipple is inverted or if the breast is larger or smaller than the other.

Injury or pain:

If you have an injury or infection on one breast, your baby may refuse to nurse from it.

Preference:

Just like adults, babies can have preferences. Your baby may have a preference for one breast over the other due to past positive experiences.

Overactive letdown:

If one breast has a more forceful letdown than the other, your baby may prefer the breast that is easier to nurse from.

Deciphering your baby’s boobie preference might seem like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube blindfolded, but armed with this comprehensive list above and a little bit of perseverance, you’ll be cracking the code in no time.

Let’s fix this


Here are some tips to get that baby to chow down on both sides of the buffet line:

Experiment with different nursing positions:

Sometimes, a baby may refuse one breast because they’re not comfortable in a particular nursing position. Experiment with different positions to find one that works well for you and your baby.

Address any milk flow issues:

If the baby is refusing one breast because of a slow milk flow, try pumping the breast for a few minutes before nursing to increase the flow.

Offer the “unpreferred” breast first:

If your baby has a preference for one breast over the other, offer the unfavoured breast first when they are the hungriest and most eager to feed. You can also start by offering the breast when your baby is sleepy or drowsy.

Pump both breasts equally:

If the baby is refusing one breast because of an oversupply on the other side, try pumping both breasts equally to maintain a balance.

Seek help from a lactation consultant:

If you’re struggling to resolve the issue, don’t hesitate to seek help from a lactation consultant who can provide additional guidance and support.

Remember, every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Be patient, and keep trying different approaches until you find what works best for you and your little one.

Conclusion


I know that breast refusal can be a real pain in the tush for both you and your little one, but with a little bit of patience and perseverance, you can overcome this hurdle and get back to the joys of breastfeeding.

Remember, it’s totally normal for babies to go through a rebellious phase, even when it comes to their food. Think of it as your baby’s way of flexing their independence muscles.

Be sure to take care of yourself along the way and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Breastfeeding is an incredibly beautiful and beneficial experience for both you and your baby, and with the right guidance and support, you can continue to enjoy it for as long as you choose.

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