When a baby is born, breast milk is their first line of defense against sickness. The colostrums their mother makes will give them much needed antibodies, and seal their intestine against harmful bacteria. After the mother's milk comes in, it is rich in nutrients, and is easy for the baby to process, making it the ideal food for their needs. However, sometimes, babies refuse to nurse, and put themselves in significant danger as their body weight declines, and they are not getting what they need. The following is a look at why babies may refuse to nurse, and what you can do about it.
One of the reasons a baby may refuse to nurse is because they are having problems latching on. To correct such problems, you need to identify why latch-on problems are occurring in the first place. The most common reasons include the following:
- The baby is sleepy. To solve this problem, undress the baby, change it's diaper, do not wrap it in blankets, and don't attempt to nurse until they are fully awake.
- Your breasts are engorged or overly full. This makes it difficult to get the nipple because it is flattened out. Try hand expressing before trying to get the baby on. After nursing, pump to empty your breast, and use an ice pack to help with the swelling.
- Nipple confusion. If a baby has been given a pacifier or a bottle during the first week of life, they may get confused about nipples, and get furious or refuse to eat when put up to the breast. Limit pacifier and bottle use to ease this confusion, and wait a couple of hours before coaxing the baby to eat.
Babies Refuse to Eat
There are other reasons that babies refuse to eat, but the above mentioned reasons are the most common. If your baby is refusing to eat, there are a few things you can do to encourage nursing. Consider the following options:
If your baby starts, but won't stay nursing:
- Make your nipple more accessible. Sometimes refusal to nurse is not due to lack of hunger, or anything else, it is simply that the baby can't get a good hold on your nipple. This may be because it is flat, inverted, etc. So, to help eliminate this problem, consider hand expressing before putting your baby to your breast. This will help to soften up the areola, and extend it to make it easier for the baby to get a hold of it.
- Get them excited to eat. Sometimes babies are frantic or upset, and thus eating is forgotten, and screaming takes over. If your baby is calmed, they will generally be more willing to eat. Try putting a drip or two of milk or colostrums right in their mouth to alert them to the fact that they could eat. If you are in a pinch, consider using sugar water to get your baby's appetite up.
- Make sure your baby is properly positioned. Sometimes a refusal to eat is merely a matter of it being difficult due to the position they are in. If your baby is turning their head side to side, with their mouth open, they may be trying to find the nipple, so pull them close so their tongue can feel your nipple.
- If your baby is not latching on, or refuses to suckle at the breast, try getting them to suck on your finger for a few seconds before to entice sucking. Just make sure your nails are clipped short so that it is not uncomfortable for the baby.
- Firm up your nipple. If your nipple is too soft, and the baby keeps losing it when nursing, and thus becomes frustrated and gives up, consider using ice applied to your nipple to firm it up some and make it easier to stay on.
- Keep trying. If your baby is distracted, they may refuse to eat, so let them be distracted, then try again a few minutes to an hour later. For example, your baby may be refusing to eat because they are trying to poop. When they are done, try again.
- Try the football hold. Sometimes a baby won't want to eat off one breast or the other. If this is happening with your baby, consider using the football hold on that side.
Problems Why Baby Refuse to Nursing
If you have had your baby, and they are more than a day or so old and still have not been able to get the hang of nursing, or latching on, and are refusing to do so, they may have one of the following problems:
If your baby has a recessed jaw it may be difficult for them to latch on and eat, and thus you may think they are refusing, when in reality they simply can't do it. A baby with a recessed jaw can only latch on if their chin reaches the breast before their upper lip, otherwise they do not get enough breast tissue into the mouth to get proper suction. So, if your baby suffers from this problem, consider hand expressing some milk out of your breast before the baby is put on, in order to soften the breast and make it easier to latch on to. In addition, tilt the baby's head back some as you bring it to the breast so that their chin gets there first. If this does not work, you may have to pump and feed your baby with a bottle for a few months until they grow out of the problem.
If your baby is refusing to eat it could be because the frenulum (the string like tissue that attached to the underside of the tongue) is too short, or is connected really far forward on the tongue making it hard for baby to extend their tongue past their bottom lip. This is most common in boy babies. If this is the problem, the baby will be able to suck a finger or nipple just fine, but may not be able to grasp the nipple. Thus, making mom think they are refusing to eat. To solve this problem, your physician should clip the frenulum releasing the tongue. It is a procedure that only takes a few minutes and can be performed by a surgeon or a dentist.
Some babies have a bit of nipple confusion, and push their tongues forward when trying to eat. It appears as if they are refusing, when it reality, they are trying to latch on, but keep thrusting the nipple out because they are doing it wrong. Eliminate rubber nipples for a time, and help them relearn to nurse with your help.
If your baby's tongue protrudes, they may have difficulty with nursing because they can't get the nipple past their tongue. To help with this particular problem it is best to use the football hold, and help guide the nipple into the mouth, helping baby to open their mouth wide.
Some babies suck on their own tongues, and thus come off the nipple after only a few sucks. This is recognized by their cheeks dimpling, and a clicking noise being made when they try to eat. You may also notice that their tongue is far back in their mouth, or near the roof. Help the baby learn to nurse, so they will not refuse by waiting until they open wide, with tongue down before inserting the breast.
Some More Suggestions
If with all of the above advice you are finding that your baby is still having trouble and is refusing to nurse, try some of the following suggestions:
- Keep working at it, but try it with shorter intervals as it can be really upsetting to both you and the baby. Try for few minutes, then wait half an hour before trying again. It often helps to get help from a lactation specialist or nurse. If you are in the hospital, ask for help. Try the side-laying position as it offers the most visibility and is easiest for baby. If you are getting help, and things are not working, ask for a different nurse, some are better than others.
- Do not use a nipple shield. While they may help your baby latch on better, they often lead to other problems. For example, a nipple shield may not allow for adequate nipple stimulation. It may also not allow the proper sinus compression, which leads to a low milk supply, and does not allow for you to empty to breast fully. In addition, it might make the baby only willing to nurse when you use a nipple shield.
- If your baby is refusing to nurse, you should still help them get the benefits of breast milk, thus you should express your milk at least eight times a day, and bottle feed your baby. If you are going to go this route, then be sure that you use an electric pump so that you can fully empty your breasts.
- Consider regularly visiting a lactation specialist until you solve the problems with your baby.
- Do not give up. It can be really discouraging if you can't get your baby to nurse, but for most after about ten days they achieve success. However, it is important to note that for many it can take up to a whole month before the baby will latch on appropriately. Get support, and help, and be persistent.