Baby Won't Breastfeed: Now What?

March 25, 2020


Why Do Babies Stop Breastfeeding?

During the first year of life, exclusively breastfed children may go through some brief to long term nursing interruptions. These pauses can happen at various stages of your breastfeeding journey, but often occur from about six to 12 months of age. 

What factors contribute to nursing strikes? Do these signs point to signs of weaning? What do you do during these feeding interruptions? Our hope is to give you a few ideas about what is happening and how to handle the issue – both physically and emotionally.

Nursing Strikes: When Your Baby Won’t Breastfeed

Nursing strikes involve a baby or toddler suddenly refusing to breastfeed. In these cases, they are usually visibly upset and will not accept your nipple. Nursing strikes come out of the blue and are not associated with weaning. Weaning occurs gradually, where a nursing strike is abrupt.

It will take time and patience to come to some conclusions as to what - emotionally, mentally, and/or physically – occurred to cause your little one to modify their feedings so rapidly.

A nursing strike may occur due to physical factors related to mom or to baby. Have you been sick? Did you eat something different? Does baby have an ear infection or is she teething?

You may also want to consider any recent emotional factors as it relates to breastfeeding. Maybe there’s a new pet in the home that causes the baby anxiety when it’s nearby during breastfeeding. Or perhaps you’ve had a dramatic change in your schedule due to a vacation or shift change.

There are many reasons why your little one may go on a nursing strike, and you may need to learn how to deal with engorgement and how to keep up your supply of breastmilk. We’ve compiled some tips on how to encourage the baby back to the breast with some emotional and physical techniques.

Weaning: When Do Babies Stop Breastfeeding?

Weaning is when your child gradually moves from one main source of nutrition (your breastmilk) to consuming one or more additional items (cow’s milk or similar replacement, pureed and soft foods, toddler snacks, substantial meals), either along with your breastmilk or replacing your breastmilk altogether.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding babies breast milk for the first 6 months and then developing a combination of various nutritious foods, along with breast milk. Whole cow’s milk can be consumed when your child is one.

Once your child begins to really take in the world around them and becomes more aware of their five senses, weaning may occur. Signs of weaning include:

  • Abbreviated nursing sessions
  • Infrequent nursing sessions
  • Increased touching/pulling/biting/playing with your breasts instead of feeding
  • Using nursing sessions as more of a comfort/soother

In addition to these effects on your nursing sessions, when baby starts weaning, you may notice that she is walking and exploring, as well as talking and vocalizing her happiness/sadness/frustration.

During this time of infrequent and/or short feeding sessions, be sure to utilize your breast pump and store your breast milk for future use, if desired. Some mothers even use this time to gradually stop breastfeeding altogether.

Other Issues to Consider: When Baby Refuses to Nurse

Here are some other common (and a few less common) reasons that your child may stop breastfeeding, take a temporary pause or hinder you from breastfeeding to begin with:

  • Poor breastfeeding latch
  • Flat or inverted nipples
  • Cracked or sore nipples
  • Nipple confusion
  • Mouth irregularities
  • Premature baby
  • Tongue-tie
  • Acid reflux, food intolerance or food allergy
  • Weak sucking
  • Cleft lip or cleft palate
  • Effects of breast surgery (implants, reduction, mastectomy)
  • Genetic or hereditary disorders

If you are concerned about any of the issues above, seek out professional advice from your primary care doctor, a lactation consultant or your baby’s pediatrician.

How to Deal When Your Baby Stops Breastfeeding

Whether your little one is on a hunger strike or you’re on the path to child-led weaning, it can be emotionally, mentally and physically trying on your child and YOU.

When breastfeeding is taken away (suddenly or gradually), feelings of self-doubt and sadness are normal. But so is joy and happiness – your little one is entering a new phase of life, and you no longer have to be tied up by marathon breastfeeding sessions!

Do not hesitate to talk to your lactation consultant, primary care physician or mental health advocate to discuss any feelings of unhappiness, worry, concern or anxiety felt during this time. This is your journey and you can feel how you want to!

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