Feeding problems: baby refusing to eat both bottle or breast!

All infants and mothers have their good days and bad days. There are days when breastfeeding or even being close is not what babies want to do. This can be frustrating for you as a mother trying to get your child to nurse.

Feeding problems: baby refusing to eat both bottle or breast
Feeding problems: baby refusing to eat both bottle or breast

When a newborn refuses the breast, this is typically called breast refusal. When a baby or toddler who had previously been nursing well suddenly refuses the breast or bottle, this is called a nursing strike.

Don’t consider the breast refusal or nursing strike as a rejection of you. Your child is experiencing a breastfeeding problem, and he doesn’t have the words to tell you what the problem is, so the onus is on you (and, ideally, a lactation consultant or other health care professional) to start troubleshooting the problem.

If you are experiencing a nursing strike or baby refusing to breastfeed, there are many causes why it might be happening. A few of those reasons include:

  • Could your child be in pain?  Is there something going on with your child health-wise that warrants an investigation? Think of things like sore teeth, a sore mouth, a sore throat, an ear infection, etc. With an older baby or toddler, you might also consider injuries to the mouth—bumps, bruises, or tiny cuts/abrasions. Your health care provider and the lactation consultant can help you brainstorm other possibilities.
  • Teething pain
  • Ear infection
  • Stuffy nose from allergies or a cold
  • Changes in routine
  • A lengthy separation from mom
  • Distractions (talking, television, other people)
  • Change in laundry detergent, perfume, bath soap
  • Change in milk supply
  • An inflexible feeding schedule
  • “Sleep training,” or letting a baby cry it out
  • Travel away from home
  • Has breastfeeding been painful for your child? Is it possible he’s so frustrated he’s waving the white flag? Could he be struggling with a breastfeeding problem that you’re not aware of—a poor latch, milk supply issues, etc.?
  • Is your baby responding to stress in the family? Babies are very tuned into the feelings of people they love.

Be sure to look for minor issues such as these before jumping to other conclusions. Sometimes the reason is simple to spot. And going back to the old laundry soap is much easier than having a baby who refuses the breast!

Deal with a nursing strike and baby refusing to eat both bottle or breast

Provide reassurance to your baby and encourage him to warm up to the idea of breastfeeding again by having plenty of skin-to-skin contacts.

Offer the breast when your baby is sleepy or half asleep. He may be less inclined to refuse the breast. Don’t get stressed or upset if he refuses the breast. Continue to offer and pump your breast milk in the meantime. You can feed it to him by an alternative means (ideally avoiding a bottle). You might want to try using a lactation aid taped to your breast (to provide your newborn with an immediate payoff for continuing to breastfeed) or to feed your baby breast milk from a medicine dropper or tiny shot glass-style baby cup. Your lactation consultant will discuss the pros and cons of these and other feeding options with you.

We recommend reading the article: How to get a breastfed baby to take a bottle