What is breast refusal?
Breast refusal, also known as breastfeeding aversion or nursing strike, is when a baby, for whatever reason, suddenly refuses to breastfeed. This may cause parents to believe that their baby is weaning from the breast or that something is wrong with them or their milk. Breast refusal can be very distressing for both mothers and babies.
Understanding Breast Refusal
Breast refusal can be partial or fully, for example babies may still latch, but may be very fussy and unsettled while breastfeeding or they may flat out refuse to even latch onto the breast. It’s important to approach breast refusal with lots of love, patience and understanding and to remember that in most cases it can be solved.
Common causes of breast refusal
Pain or discomfort
Babies may refuse to breastfeed if they experience pain or discomfort while breastfeeding. This can be caused by many different conditions such as thrush, teething, ear infections, sore throats, an incorrect latching technique and so much more.
Some babies develop a preference for bottle feeding due to the faster flow of milk if the correct bottles, teats and feeding techniques are not used. This preference can make them refuse to breastfeed because they have to work harder to extract milk from the breast than from a bottle.
A noisy or overly stimulating environment can distract babies while breastfeeding, which can cause breast refusal. Changes in routines, such as starting daycare or introducing solids, can also disrupt breastfeeding patterns and contribute to refusal.
Stress, anxiety, and any negative emotions can impact breastfeeding. Babies are sensitive to their mother’s emotional state, and if the mother is experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety or negative emotions, it can affect their willingness to breastfeed.
Changes in basic every day things
Changing basic everyday things such as hair care, deodorants and other products and even changes to your hair color or style can cause refusal of the breast,
Solutions for breast refusal
Seek professional support
If you and your baby are experiencing breast refusal, consult an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). They can assess your baby’s latch; evaluate any potential underlying issues such as latch and positioning or supply issues and help you develop a plan to solve the breast refusal.
Rule out medical concerns
Addressing any underlying medical conditions is just as important. Consulting your International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or healthcare provider to help identify and treat conditions like thrush, oral ties, reflux or any other medical conditions that may contribute to breast refusal.
Find a spot to breastfeed away from all the distractions
Creating a calm and comfortable environment can promote successful breastfeeding. Find a quiet space with minimal distractions where you can breastfeed your baby. Dimming the lights and minimizing noise can help create a soothing atmosphere and help baby concentrate better on breastfeeding rather on the distractions.
Offer frequent, gentle opportunities to breastfeed
Encouraging frequent skin-to-skin contact and offering the breast when your baby is relaxed and calm can increase the likelihood of a successful return to breastfeeding. Never force a baby to breastfeed or pressure them into latching, rather focus on creating a positive and relaxing environment. Skin-to-skin, babywearing and bathing are all fantastic ways to encourage a baby’s natural instinct to breastfeed.
Try different breastfeeding positions
Trying different breastfeeding positions can make breastfeeding more comfortable for both you and your baby, especially if there’s any complications that can make certain positions uncomfortable or painful for wither if you. Experiment with different positions such as the cradle hold, football hold, or laid-back breastfeeding to find the most comfortable position for both of you.
Consider breast compressions
Gently compressing your breast while your baby is latched can help increase milk flow, which may be appealing to babies who prefer a faster flow due to bottle feeding. Ensure that your baby is still latched properly during this technique.
Gradual reintroduction of breastfeeding
If your baby has developed a flow preference for bottles, you can gradually reintroduce breastfeeding by offering breast milk in a bottle with a slow-flow nipple, gradually transitioning to a bottle with a more breastfeeding-like flow, and finally transitioning back to breastfeeding. Remember that the most important step to bottle feeding is paced feeding.
Ease into big changes
If you’re planning on using different products or making a big change to your hair, try and make the change gradually to ease your baby into it so they’ll more easily adapt and accept the new changes.
Breast refusal can present many challenges for mothers, but with patience, support, and a thorough understanding of the underlying causes, it can be overcome. Always reach out to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) if you have any breastfeeding difficulties.