Help, My Baby’s Refusing to Nurse!

Breastfeeding your baby can certainly feel like a roller coaster at times.  Just when you think you have established a successful breastfeeding routine with your baby and overcome hurdles such as engorgement, cracked nipples or even mastitis, something else comes along and takes you right back to square one.

By far one of the most – and often unexpected – challenges of breastfeeding is when your baby decides to go on strike. A breastfeeding strike or aversion to nursing can come seemingly out of nowhere. One day your baby is happily nursing as normal and the next? They turn their head away, regularly unlatch or seem completely disinterested in feeding, sometimes refusing to nurse completely despite having gone considerable hours since their last feed.

A nursing aversion can be quite stressful for Moms; especially worrying that your baby is getting enough milk.

Here are some reasons why your baby may be avoiding the breast and what you can do to help: 

  1. Pain or discomfort 

A baby refusing to feed is often a sign that something isn’t quite right, and being uncomfortable or experiencing pain is the most obvious suspect. If your baby is teething, this can often cause their gums to feel quite tender and sore. As such, the nipple resting against their gums can feel really uncomfortable and prevent them from wanting to latch.

What can I do?

If teething seems likely, or you can actually see the start of some pearly whites breaking through the surface, you may want to consider placing some teething gel or powder onto your child’s gums before attempting to feed. These teething aids help numb the gums and prevent pain whilst feeding, often making your child far more willing to participate!

  1. Illness

Your child may be feeling under the weather and as such, it’s worth checking whether your baby has a fever by taking their temperature at home. If your baby is congested or has a cold, this can also make breathing difficult when latched on to the breast.

What can I do?

Nasal decongestants or vapour rubs can help your child breathe more easily, making it far easier for them to breathe and nurse simultaneously.

  1. Unpleasant tastes

Have you changed your deodorant recently? Switched perfume or applied any lotions on your body that may cause your skin to taste different? Babies are creatures of habit, and something as simple as a product switch can make your baby feel uncomfortable, causing you to smell unfamiliar or not like the mom they know and love.

What can I do?

Be careful about the products that you use, and where possible avoid applying anything directly to your nipples.

What if that doesn’t work?

Try not to panic. Although it can be stressful if your baby strikes for a prolonged period, try not to let your stress show, as this in turn can distress your baby. Stay calm and keep trying.

You may want to move to a quiet calm room that is free from distractions and cuddle your baby close using skin to skin contact to comfort and reassure. If this fails, you may even want to try nursing whilst they’re asleep. As daft as this may sound, the aversion they experience when they’re awake may not be present when they’re sleepy or dozing, and they will often still take the breast when offered.

When should I worry about a nursing strike?

If the strike continues for more than a few days or you are finding less wet diapers that normal, you should contact your doctor for some advice.

Lucy Cotterill
Lucy is a UK-based parenting and lifestyle blogger who has also featured in the Huffington Post. A Mom of two daughters, Lucy is passionate about sharing the true reality of parenthood and helping others through their first experiences. In her free time she loves to write, go on day trips with her family and photography.

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