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What to Do When a Child Won't Breastfeed

Extensive research has shown that breastfeeding is full of benefits not just for your child, but for you too. And while that doesn’t mean it is appropriate for everyone, if you’ve made the decision to breastfeed and your child won’t go along with it, it can be extremely frustrating. Here are a few reasons why they might not be nursing and a few tips for changing their mind. 

Nursing Strikes and How to Stop Them

There’s a lot of reasons your baby might be refusing the breast. One of the most common ones is a nursing strike. As babies get older, they generally tend to slowly stop nursing on their own. However, this is rare before nine months to a year, which means if your very young infant suddenly stopped nursing, they might be on a nursing strike. 

Nursing strikes usually last anywhere from a few days to nearly a week, sometimes longer. This doesn’t mean they're totally over nursing. It might take some extra encouragement for a few days, but chances are good that your child will come back to the breast. During this time, pump your milk to prevent lactation from stopping and breast problems, like engorgement, from setting in. You may be able to get your child to drink from a bottle. Other methods to try are a sippy cup or a spoon; in some cases an eyedropper or feeding syringe may be necessary to get nutrition into your child’s body. If your child seems sick, go to the doctor. Ear infections are common in infants, and even a slight cold can be serious for a newborn. 

With patience and time, things should return to normal. However, if your baby is over a year old, they may be trying to tell you they're ready to seize independence and give up nursing. If you’re missing the bonding time of breastfeeding, find something that still allows you to be close for a few minutes every couple of hours. 

Hyperlactation

Sometimes, your body may be making more milk than your child actually needs. This is called hyperlactation, and it may be making your milk come out fast and furious. Your breasts may feel constantly painful and engorged, and your child may exhibit a series of signs in addition to refusing to nurse:

  • Gagging
  • Nursing for a briefer time or more frequently than normally 
  • Biting down on the nipples
  • Fussing or rigidity during nursing
  • Spitting up more than normal

If you suspect this is the case, or your child is continuing to refuse to nurse, it might be time to seek help. Lactation specialists are trained to provide help in just such a crises. They may also be able to help you figure out exactly what’s going on, and suggest other ways to manage nursing refusals.