Baby Refuses To Suck Breast

Sometimes the baby seems to be hungry and behaves as if he was demanding the breast, but when his mum tries to feed him, he refuses to suck and cries. Sometimes he simply clenches his mouth shut, turns his head, pushes the mum away, and cannot be latched on the breast in any way.

But sometimes the baby starts to suck and then suddenly bursts into tears. He releases the breast and there is no chance he will suck any more. Some babies start to suck again, but do it very nervously, struggling at the breast, crying, and they also stiffen and strain their whole body, rapidly arching their back.

Fortunately, this condition is usually temporary and passes quickly. However, it is always good to know its cause.  


There are many reasons why the baby cries during breastfeeding. Below there is a list of those most probable.

  1. Milk flows from the breast fast, as a strong stream, and the baby cannot swallow it fast enough. In such case, he may choke and cry. He swallows a lot of air, which leads to aching stomach, and he starts to associate eating with pain.  

  2. Milk flows from the breast too slowly or not at all, so the hungry baby is irritated.

  3. You feed in an incorrect position or the baby is incorrectly latched on. In consequence, the baby is uncomfortable or he grasps the breast too shallowly and does not extract enough milk from it.

  4. The baby is afraid of pain. It may happen when the baby (e.g., following the C-section) underwent indelicate mucus suction with a mechanical or manual aspirator, and now he associates taking anything in his mouth with pain. Fortunately, this situation passes, as hunger, taste of milk and tender caresses of his mum convince the young person that suckling is good.

  5. The baby refuses to suck because he is too sleepy. This situation usually occurs after the labour, when it was long and difficult, or pharmacologically supported (the baby experiences the effect of medicines administered to his mum). It also happens in newborns with neonatal jaundice. 

  6. The baby refuses to grasp the breast because eating is painful. This may happen when the baby:

    • undergoes painful teething;

    • has aphthas or cold sores in his mouth;

    • has a throat infection;

    • has an ear infection;

    • suffers from baby colic.

  7. The baby may not want to suck when an infection is developing. He may then generally be restless, irritated, with an increased temperature and poorer appetite.

  8. The baby has a cold. Blocked nose makes breathing difficult and the baby stops suckling.    

  9. The baby does not want to suck because he is restless in a new environment (too many distracting stimuli) or irritated by an excessive number of stimuli during the day. This may happen when that day significantly differs from the normal pattern familiar to the baby.

  10. Refusal to suck may also be related to a distinct change in milk taste, e.g., when you have eaten bigos or a dish containing plenty of garlic. The milk taste can also change due to hormonal processes (e.g., before menstruation or during a pregnancy).

  11. The baby is not hungry. When the baby is offered additional food or drinks, he may fill up on them and now does not want to suck the breast.

  12. The baby does not want to suck the breast because he prefers a bottle. When you are supplementing the feeding using a bottle with an incorrect teat, it may turn out that your baby got used to the easier method of eating and now rebels when you try to give him the breast (see the chapter Baby prefers a bottle).

  13. Sometimes your changed smell is responsible for the baby's aversion to suckling the breast, for example, when you changed your perfume or soap, the smell of which he associated with you.

  14. Bad mood of the feeding mum can pass onto the baby. When she is nervous and restless, the baby will also be restless, tearful and can refuse to suck the breast.

  15. When the baby bit your nipple painfully and you cried out loud, he could be really frightened with your reaction and now refuses to suck, being afraid this situation would recur.

  16. The baby is too hungry. Great hunger makes the baby irritated and he cries desperately. It is difficult to latch the baby on the breast when he is in hysterics, and when it is finally achieved, the baby sucks so greedily that he swallows a lot of air. In consequence his belly starts to ache, he stops eating and cries again... 

What you can do

  • First of all, try to find out the reason for the baby's protest. Do not react nervously, as this will only aggravate matters. Hold the baby, calm him down and make sure he is not suffering from anything: check if he has no fever, blocked nose, aphthas in his mouth or visible teething symptoms. Notify the baby's doctor about any doubts.

  • When you have problems with latching the baby on during the first days after the birth and you are still at the hospital, seek personnel's assistance: ask a doctor or a midwife for advice, or request a visit from a lactation consultant or advisor. When you had a C-section, do not let anybody tell you that the baby does not want to suck because you have no milk. This is not true! When after such a birth (after all, supported with medications) the baby is too sleepy, wake him up for feeding. You can delicately tickle his cheek (stimulating the rooting reflex) or feet. When this is not effective, change his diaper, undress the baby, roll him delicately to his sides and encourage him to act by talking to him.

  • Choose quiet and cozy places for feeding, so the baby is not distracted by additional stimuli. Try to relax and be calm, so your nervousness is not passed to the baby and oxytocin secretion, responsible for milk flow, is not inhibited.

  • Place the baby at your breast in such a position that he does not have to turn his head to reach the nipple. Check if he grasps the breast correctly. He should hold the nipple with the areola in his mouth. If he lies uncomfortably or sucks too shallowly, he will get tired without eating enough, and in consequence, he will start to associate feeding with problems, so he will welcome it with crying (read more in: Incorrect way of breast grasping and suckling, Breastfeeding positions).

  • For the baby to suck the breast willingly, do not supplement breastfeeding with a formula, and do not give him glucose or herbal teas to drink. Until 5–6 month of age your milk is enough for him. Additional drinks are also not necessary, even during a heat wave. When you are worried that you do not have enough milk, read tips provided in the chapter Insufficient milk supply.  

  • Latch the baby on to the breast always when you see first signs of hunger, do not wait until the baby signals it to you by crying, because then he is already so hungry that it will be difficult to him to suck smoothly and effectively.

  • When the baby chokes and cries because milk flows out too fast, at the beginning try to catch the first, very strong stream of milk with a tetra nappy or a nursing breast pad, and latch the baby on to the breast when the milk flow is steadier. You can also extract some milk before feeding, or breastfeed lying on your back (read also Too fast milk flow, Breastfeeding positions).

  • When the baby suffers from stomach ache and cries, because he swallows too much air when he eats nervously or greedily, lift him up to burp him: place the baby tummy down on your lap or lift and hold him against your shoulder (in case of a newborn or a small infant, support his head). After burping, latch the baby on again. When necessary, burp the baby even a few times during one feeding, at the same time, correcting the latching.  

  • When the baby is irritated by too slow milk flow, depending on the possible reasons follow the tips in the chapters: Insufficient milk supply or Milk stasis.

  • Do not eat food that changes the taste of milk if you see that the baby does not like a specific flavour.   

When the baby refuses to suck the breast for longer, ensure lactation is maintained. You must regularly extract milk manually or with a pump, and give it to the baby in the way not interfering with a correct suckling technique. Regular milk extraction in a situation when the baby does not empty the breast is very important, also because it prevents development of painful milk stasis. During that period, monitor the baby's weight, to check if he gains on weight correctly.

If you excluded all possible medical causes (the baby is healthy, is not teething, does not have aphthas or suffer with colic), you do not supplement breastfeeding or give additional drinks, and you made sure you feed the baby in a position comfortable to him, and know he has no problems with correct latching on, and yet he still clearly does not want to suck, you can also try:

  • feeding the baby when he is very sleepy;

  • feed while moving -  such change helps to convince some babies to suckling the breast, so you can breastfeed in a rocking chair or walking with the baby in a sling;

  • feed in a quiet and slightly darkened room, without any company and other "distractions";  

  • feed without a shirt, so the baby has a direct "skin to skin" contact with you - this method is helpful for newborns who are learning cooperation with mum's breasts.

And if nothing works, consult a lactation consultant or advisor - invite them to your place or go to a clinic. In United Kingdom you can contact Lactational Consultants of Great Britain (IBCLC) and certified lactation advisors (CLA). A list with their names and contact phones can be found at many websites focusing on breastfeeding, for example Lactation clinics operate at most of obstetrician hospitals, as well as at outpatient clinics, and even at some clubs catering for women's needs.

You can also call one of helpliness:

  • National Breastfeeding Helpline – 0300 100 0212
  • Association of Breastfeeding Mothers – 0300 330 5453
  • La Leche League – 0345 120 2918
  • National Childbirth Trust (NCT) – 0300 330 0700