Getting help for breast refusal and baby biting breast
Your midwife, child and family health nurse, GP or the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) can support you with breastfeeding your baby. They can also help you find a lactation consultant if you need one.
An ABA counsellor can also help – phone the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268 or use ABA LiveChat.
This article covers breast refusal and babies biting the breast. If you’re having other issues with breastfeeding, you could check out our articles on sore nipples and nipple infections, mastitis and blocked milk ducts, how to increase supply, how to manage oversupply and engorgement and attachment techniques.
Breast refusal: causes
Now and then a baby will refuse the breast. Breast refusal is often just a passing phase, which can be caused by one or more of the following:
- Your baby has a cold. A blocked nose, sore mouth or sore ear can make feeding difficult for your baby.
- Your baby is uncomfortable or in pain.
- Your baby is having trouble attaching.
- Your baby is distracted, which is normal in older babies.
- Your milk tastes different, because you are taking medication, are experiencing hormonal changes, or have eaten something that you don’t usually eat.
- Your milk flow is faster or slower to let down than usual.
- Your baby might have a strong preference for one breast.
- Your baby has had some feeds from a bottle.
- Your baby’s feeding pattern is changing.
- Your baby is full after having other foods or drinks.
Most of these causes of breast refusal will either go away on their own or can be sorted out with a few simple changes to your routine. None of them means you have to give up breastfeeding.
Breast refusal: options
Here are ideas for getting your baby on the breast.
Interaction with your baby
- Relax and be as patient as you can. Trying to feed when your baby doesn’t want to might make things worse.
- Try some skin-to-skin contact with your baby. This might trigger your baby’s feeding instincts.
- Gently sing and walk with your baby.
- Try baby-led attachment.
- Try a new feeding position – see our illustrated guide to breastfeeding positions.
- Hand-express some milk into your baby’s mouth. This might encourage your baby to feed.
- Give your baby a breastfeed after their bath, when they’re warm and relaxed. Or you can offer a feed when you’re in the bath together.
- Offer a feed when your baby is first stirring from sleep or just going to sleep.
- Try again later when your baby is more settled.
- Try breastfeeding in a quiet place.
- Try breastfeeding outside.
- Play some relaxing background music, or feed in a rocking chair.
And if your baby seems unwell, treat your baby’s symptoms or take your baby to see your GP.
For help with working out why your baby is refusing the breast, talk to a lactation consultant or ABA counsellor.
Baby biting breast: causes
As babies get older, they get more playful – and they get teeth.
It’s almost physically impossible for babies to bite while sucking, but they might find it fun to bite your nipple once they’re finished – particularly if they think you’re not paying them enough attention!
Some babies might bite because they can’t wait to start feeding and your let-down is a bit slow. In this case, it might help to hand-express a small amount of breastmilk to trigger your let-down before you offer the breast.
Luckily, biting breasts is usually a passing phase.
Baby biting breast: options
Sometimes babies look a bit cheeky just before they bite. If you see this sign, carefully break the suction by inserting your little finger into the corner of their mouth, between the gums. Gently take your baby off the breast before they have a chance to bite.
If your baby isn’t actively feeding, you can take them off your breast to prevent them from biting.
If your baby does bite, say ‘No’ calmly and firmly, and take your baby off your breast. But try not to get too cross, because some babies might think you’re playing a game, or it might frighten them.
You can also try offering your baby something else to chew on before a feed, like a teething ring or something cold.
If the bite breaks the skin on your nipple, this will usually heal quickly, but rubbing some breastmilk on the area might help. Keep an eye out for signs of infection and see your GP if you start to feel unwell.
You can talk to a lactation consultant or ABA counsellor for help working out why your baby might be biting.