Breastfeeding is so much more than just nutrition.
It’s also nurturing, providing a baby with warmth and security.
It can help a tired baby go off to sleep and provide pain relief for a baby who has a belly ache.
Indeed, many babies will want to breastfeed for many reasons other than just hunger.
Of course, every baby is unique, so all babies breastfeed differently. Some babies attach, actively feed, come off and then are content until they show feeding cues and want to feed again. For such babies, once their belly is full they are content and don’t want to feed again until they are hungry.
Other babies attach, start off doing lots of active sucking and thereafter spend lots of time comfort feeding, resting and finally doze off. Most babies do a mixture of these ways of feeding over the course of a day.
So, let’s explore 4 reasons your baby may want to attach to the breast.
But just before doing so, how do you know a baby wants to attach to the breast? Answer: When she shows feeding cues.
#1: Your Baby Is Hungry Or Thirsty
Of course, the most obvious reason a baby would want to attach to the breast is because she is hungry or thirsty.
Interestingly, when the weather is very warm, many babies will want to have shorter but more frequent feeds. In this way, they get milk that is more thirst quenching and get it more of often. Pretty clever, huh?
Whereas, if your baby is hungry, she will likely feed for longer and hence gradually get a higher percentage of milk that is higher in fat and calories as the feed progresses.
#2: Your Baby Is Tired
Many mothers around the world know breastfeeding is a natural sleep tonic that helps babies drift off to sleep in the most natural way possible. For more information about breastfeeding to sleep, read here.
This is because breastmilk contains a wonderful hormone called cholecystokinin which induces sleepiness in both you and your baby.
When tired, some babies attach, suck and peacefully drift off to sleep. Others are fussy, coming on and off, on and off, until finally falling asleep. Other babies are reluctant to attach and want to be soothed in other ways to go off to sleep.
#3: Your Baby Has A Belly Ache
It’s common for young babies to have unsettled periods every day where they cry a lot, make fascial grimaces, go red in the face, arch their baby and don’t settle to sleep (or at least not easily or for long). During unsettled periods, it may be that some babies have a belly ache.
Since breastfeeding is a natural pain reliever, it may be that some babies seek to attach to help relieve a belly ache they may be experiencing during these times.
If your baby wants to attach during these periods however, the feeds may be different than how she usually attaches and feeds. It might seem like she has a real love/hate relationship with breastfeeding during these periods. She may fuss about, come on and off and arch her back and cry when she comes off. There are many reasons why a baby might come off the breast crying as you can read about here.
It’s important not force a baby to feed, so if she (and/or you) is getting quite upset about what is going on, it can help to take a break from breastfeeding (e.g. by getting up and walking around, or giving your baby to someone else) and try again later when you are both calm.
Baby Led Attachment
Another thing that can help is baby-led attachment. This means letting your baby instinctively seek your breast rather than putting her to your breast. By doing this, you are completely giving the option to seek your breasts and feed over to her, and this can make you both calmer. To do baby-led attachment:
- Sit in a semi-reclined position.
- Have as much skin-to-skin contact between you and baby as possible. For example, remove your top and bra and have your baby just in a nappy. If it’s cold, place a blanket over both of you.
- Place your baby upright on your chest facing you with her head just above your breasts.
- Let her lead the way as she instinctively moves towards one of your breasts. You can help by keeping her body aligned if she gets twisted and providing her with support behind her neck and shoulder blades.
#4: Your Baby Needs To Feel Secure
Babies are born into a world that is completely new and foreign to them. They have come from a place where the temperature was consistent and where they had a continuous food source. Suddenly, when they are born, they enter an environment where they can see, smell, experience temperature changes, feel hunger or pain, etc.
For these reasons, your baby may want to attach to your breast because it’s a place of familiarity and warmth, and because it’s simply how she is able to make sense of things.
It can be really challenging trying to figure out what your baby wants. You may feel like you don’t know what you’re doing as you’re getting many mixed messages from your baby. Please know you are not alone in feeling this way and there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ ways of doing things. Just work with your baby, and with what you feel she is telling you, and in this way all her needs will be taken care of.