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Baby refuses the breast

During the nursing period, it’s common that baby suddenly refuses the breast for some reason.

The first day, the reason could be that baby is nauseous and vomiting, or quickly falls asleep at the breast. But a healthy baby born at term can survive fine on the reserves accumulated while in your belly. Hold your baby skin-to-skin with his or her airways free, stimulate your breasts/hand express and wait.

Days 2–4, when the milk comes in, your breasts could be swollen and firm, making it difficult for baby to open his or her mouth enough and properly latch. It’s important that baby eats while you continue to stimulate breast milk production. In order to soften a firm breast (so that baby can latch onto the breast properly), use a technique called reverse pressure softening (RPS).

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Other reasons why your newborn refuses the breast are that baby is making an immature tongue movement, or lifting the tongue up to the roof of the mouth or that baby has tongue tie.

At between two and three months, baby starts taking a greater interest in his or her surroundings. Suddenly, a baby who previously nursed well starts reacting to external sounds and voices. Although baby has started to nurse, he or she will pull off the breast to see where the sound or voice is coming from and does not continue nursing.

Many babies recoil if you hold your hand behind the head and press baby’s head against the breast—even if your intention is good. Your baby might react by pulling back instead. Most babies want to decide themselves when they can withdraw their head while nursing. Place your hand on baby’s shoulders/back.

When baby refuses to nurse, this can cause frustration for the mother, the baby and oftentimes, even the partner. The sound of a crying baby goes straight to a parent’s heart and can be extremely stressful.

Try this

  • If your baby refuses the breast, start from the beginning. Frequently hold your baby skin-to-skin with his or her airways free.
  • Hand express or pump to stimulate your breast to ensure milk supply.
  • Offer the breast when your baby is calm and not extremely hungry—perhaps at the first rooting and suck signals, or pick up your baby while he or she is sleeping and offer the breast.
  • Reverse pressure softening, see above.
  • Try different breastfeeding positions, such as laid-back nursing which gives baby full control, or whatever feels best for you.
  • Give baby some expressed milk from a spoon or cup before your offer the breast to calm down baby. Then allow baby to start nursing in baby’s own time.
  • Find a quiet place. You may have to rethink where you breastfeed. It may not be possible to nurse just anywhere and that baby needs a quiet place with subdued lighting for a while. Try to find a good spot, and take your time.

Remember

  • Try to find quiet, stress-free moments together with your baby, even when baby is full and satisfied. Hold your baby skin-to-skin (with his or her airways free). Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Make sure that baby eats somehow. Give baby expressed milk from a cup, bottle or spoon to calm your baby.
  • Stimulate your milk supply by hand expressing or the use of a pump.