Managing breastfeeding strikes and breast reluctance

How do I deal with a baby who is now reluctant to breastfeed?

If a baby has become suddenly or gradually less willing to breastfeed, this breastfeeding strike or breast reluctance may last for hours, days, or more. Some babies never resume breastfeeding. When a baby is not breastfeeding and mothers wish to provide breast milk or resume breastfeeding if possible, they need to express to maintain their milk supply and feed the baby. There are ways to encourage the baby to resume breastfeeding. Mothers can try different holds and different times, such as when the baby is asleep or during playtime. Mothers could also try increasing their milk supply. If they are away from the baby a lot, they can try to increase the amount of time they spend together.

A) Managing breastfeeding strikes and breast reluctance

There are number of causes of breastfeeding strikes or breast reluctance. Addressing the cause may help the baby return to the breast.

Managing breastfeeding strikes and breast reluctance and supporting babies who cannot latch have many common approaches including:

  • Offering the breast every time the baby feeds.
  • Keeping the baby calm.
  • Ensuring appropriate latching and positioning techniques are used.
  • Maintaining the milk supply.

If you wish to provide breast milk or resume breastfeeding if possible, you will need to express to maintain your milk supply and supplement your baby with milk to meet the baby’s needs. Depending on how long the breastfeeding difficulties have persisted, you may also need to increase your milk supply.

B) Encouraging the baby to return to the breast

As babies who have breastfeeding strikes and breast reluctance are generally a little older and the problem is more a preference than an inability to latch and stay latched, additional tools include:

  • Using different breastfeeding holds such as vertical, laid-back, or side-lying holds.
  • Dripping a little milk on the breast before offering it.
  • Offering the breast:
    • At different times, such as when the baby is tired or during playtime.
    • While co-bathing.
    • While the baby is asleep. This is called a dream feed.

If you are away from the baby a lot because of work, try to increase the amount of time you spend together by:

  • Going home for lunch.
  • Having the baby brought to you.
  • Meeting the baby at a third location.
  • Keeping the baby close at night.
  • Breastfeeding during the night.
  • Minimizing any unnecessary separation from the baby.

If the baby will still breast feed a little, a tube-at-the-breast system may encourage the baby to keep feeding. 

If using bottles for the baby’s supplement:

  • Use a bait and switch technique by giving a little milk from a bottle, taking it out of the baby’s mouth, and quickly offering the breast.
  • Try a slower flow nipple.
  • Change bottle nipple shapes or change to another way of supplementing the baby with milk.

Older babies are less likely to accept a nipple shield but it is worth trying a few times.

Babies will gradually stop breastfeeding. It is relatively rare in babies less than a year old and usually happens at between two and four years old. If the baby has decided to wean, it is unlikely that the above tools will be effective.