This scenario happens a lot with breastfeeding moms: your baby's been nursing fine for months when, suddenly, they decide they want nothing to do with your boobs. As frustrating as this may be, it's something many nursing mothers go through it. Your baby is essentially on a "nursing strike," which often looks very different for each baby. It's generally nothing to be worried about and can often be treated depending on what's going on with your baby. So, what are the signs your baby doesn't want to breastfeed? Turns out there are several, and all of them can mean something different.
"Typically babies do want to breastfeed, but they may go on nursing strikes or get frustrated if the milk supply is low, they're teething, or mom has a forceful let down," Leigh Anne O'Connor, an international board certified lactation consultant, tells Romper. And those are just a few of the possible underlying issues that may be present. Whatever the issue actually is, you can trust that your baby's cues will likely guide you to the source of the feeding problem. You can also take comfort knowing that most"nursing strikes" are temporary and can be resolved.
Even though these feeding problems can be fixed, it's still often a really distressing experience for both mom and baby, but you have to remember one thing — it's not your fault. You're not doing anything wrong. Besides just trying to breathe and have patience during this difficult time, paying close attention to your baby's behavior at the breast will be key. Here are five commons signs to look for that mean your baby isn't interested in breastfeeding, for one reason or another.
1. They TurnAway From Breast
If you're baby starts breastfeeding and turns away, or refuses it all together, that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't hungry. According to La Leche League International (LLLI) a baby refusing their mother's breast may be teething, have thrush, an ear infection, or a cold — all of which would make it hard (and even painful) for the baby to nurse.
2. They Shake Their Head At Breast
By 10 to 12 months, Mayo Clinic noted that most babies can shake their head "no." This also means that babies this age can shake their head "no" at your boob.
A baby that's old enough to shake their head may be telling you they are sick or nursing is hurting, or they could be showing signs of self-weaning. Babies typically self-wean sometime after the one year mark, and they do it in a number of ways, according to Kelly Mom. Only you will know if your baby is truly weaning, or if something else is causing them to shake their head. If you're not sure, you can always ask a lactation consultant to observe you and your baby and have them offer you an expert opinion.
3. They Clamp Down And Bite
So maybe your baby seems interested in breastfeeding, but bites down on your nipple. Rest assured, your baby isn't trying to express their hatred for your breast and they aren't trying to stop breastfeeding. Rather, they might have a mouth condition called clampdown bite.
According to LLLI, clampdown bite is a reflex that causes the baby to clamp down with their jaw when swallowing. A baby with clampdown wants to breastfeed, but probably isn't getting a proper or comfortable latch and may even refuse later down the road. As explained in the post, a baby with the reflex can be fed expressed breast milk and they will most likely outgrow it. The big advice here though is make sure your baby is gaining weight. If they're not gaining weight, that means they're not getting milk.
4. They Dribble Milk After Suckling
A little dribble is normal for babies, but a lot of dribble — not so much. If a baby is dribbling a lot of milk out of their mouth or even borderline spitting up, it may be a sign that they don't want to breastfeed for various reasons. According to Kelly Mom, you may have really fast flowing breasts and the baby may need to dribble some out to keep up. Very Well also noted that a baby may be letting some milk go if they're full. They may also just be tired and need time to rest.
5. They Try To Play While Breastfeeding
A baby might not want to breastfeed if they're too excited about their environment. A baby who wants to play, and is distracted, will probably put breastfeeding on the back burner, according to the aforementioned LLLI post. As long as too much time hasn't gone by since their last meal, it's fine to let them play and skip a snack.
Generally speaking a baby that won't breastfeed, can't breastfeed, as noted in Kelly Mom. Your job is to identify what the problem is and try to work around it, which could mean expressing milk and putting it in a dropper, or feeding it to your baby on a spoon. If nothing you're trying is working, or you're really concerned, you can always call your baby's pediatrician or a lactation consultant for assistance.