Fussing At The Breast – Why Babies Fuss, Cry Or Pull Off The Breast

Fussing At The Breast - Why Babies Fuss, Cry Or Pull Off The Breast

Does your baby squirm around or pound or claw at your chest, when breastfeeding?

Does she pull away from your breast while still holding your nipple in her mouth or come off your breast arching her back and crying?

It might surprise you to hear that this sort of fussy behaviour at the breast is not uncommon.

It can be very frustrating and stressful if your baby does these sorts of things though.

So, why is it that some babies do these sorts of things at the breast?

Fussing At The Breast

Here are 7 common reasons why your baby might fuss at the breast and what you can do about it.

#1: Suboptimal Positioning And Attachment

When a baby is positioned and attached well to the breast, she is more likely to remain relaxed and calm during feeds.

This is because good positioning and attachment helps ensure your baby feels comfortable and can suck and remove milk most effectively and efficiently during feeds.

Seeing an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) can help you optimise positioning and attachment for you and your baby.

#2: Flow Preference

At the start of breastfeeds, a baby sucks are quick and shallow. This type of sucking helps to stimulate nerve endings on your nipple and areola and helps to get your let-down reflex simulated and hence your milk flowing. When this occurs, your baby does sucking that is deeper and more rhythmical as she drinks your milk.

Some mothers have a particularly fast flow at the start of feeds. This might only be when their breasts are particularly full. Some babies, in the early weeks, may find it challenging to cope with a fast flow. They may come off coughing or gagging. A fast flow may make some babies more likely to be fussy with feeds.

You can read here about ways to manage an overactive let down reflex.

For other babies, they may happily suckle while the flow is ‘good’ but then become fussy once the flow slows down. In such situations, using breast compressions to help increase the flow of milk for your baby or switching to the other breast can help.

Some babies who are being fed from a bottle as well from the breast, may develop a preference for the immediacy and consistency of flow from a bottle. This may make such babies fussier with at the breast. Seeing an IBCLC in such situations could help turn this around.

#3: Your Baby Has Finished Feeding

As babies get older, they become more efficient with feeds. However, some mothers might continue to expect their baby to feed for a certain length of time and worry that their baby might not be getting enough if they feed for a shorter period of time and so keep trying to their baby back on the breast.

Provided your baby continues to show reliable signs of getting enough milk and you continue to feed your baby whenever your baby needs/wants to feed, it’s most likely that regardless of the length of feeds that your baby will continue to get what your baby wants/needs.

#4: Not Wanting To Feed Then

It can sometimes be challenging to figure out what your baby wants.

Offering a breastfeed is never ‘wrong’. If your baby fusses and fusses from the very start when offered a breastfeed, it might simply be she doesn’t want to feed then. Try again later on.

#5: Your Baby Is Teething

It’s possible that if a baby has tender inflamed gums due to teething, they may be fussier with feeds.

If you think your baby might be teething it could help for your baby to chew on something cold (e.g. cold teething ring) prior to feeds. For more teething remedies see here.

#6: Wonder Week

From time to time throughout a child’s development, they become clingier, crankier and cry more. Such periods of time are referred to as Wonder Weeks and during them babies are said to be making significantly more connections in their developing brains.

A baby experiencing a Wonder Week may be fussier at the breast. As difficult as Wonder Weeks can be, it can be reassuring to have a possible explanation of why your baby might be out of sorts. Going with the flow and being as patient with your baby as much as possible can help. And remember ‘this too shall pass’.

#7: Tiredness

Some babies will always happily breastfeed to help them drift off to sleep. All babies are different though. Some babies may happily breastfeed sometimes to go off to sleep while other times they might just fuss and fuss at the breast when they’re tired (particularly if they are very tired).

3 Extra Tips For Fussiness

If your baby is fussy at the breast, here are 3 extra tips that could help:

#1: Try Baby Led Attachment

A baby fussing at the breast can certainly be stressful. Handing the reins over to your baby can sometimes help. To do this, you can try letting your baby find your breasts on her own accord using her instincts – this is called baby led attachment.

#2: Walk Around

Sometimes babies who are fussy at the breast will settle into a feed better if you try to feed them while walking around.

#3: Take A Break

If all else fails, take a break. There’s no point continuing to try to feed your baby when you are both stressed. Take a break and try again a little later.

Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly why your baby is fussy with breastfeeds. The good news is that the tips above can to help manage the fussiness even without knowing the cause. If you are still worried, have your baby checked by a doctor because sometimes a baby might be fussy with feeds if they are unwell. Seeing an IBCLC or speaking with an Australian Breastfeeding Association counsellor can help too.

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Renee Kam IBCLC CONTRIBUTOR

Renee Kam is mother to Jessica and Lara, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.


2 comments

  1. My second son fussed a lot while feeding. I found that doing skin to skin would really help to calm him down even when he was 4 months onward. We were having a tough day so I went back to the basics and it definitely helped.

  2. My baby boy has been fussy since 6 weeks. I have to settle him like I would for him to go to sleep to calm him enough to feed well. We try to do as many feeds at home in a dark room with white noise. He’s now 4 months and unfortunately still very fussy but we’ve worked out how to get past it most feeds. I’m hanging out for solids… he also won’t take a bottle! Good luck mums!!

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