We know the benefits of breastfeeding are amazing for both the mother and her baby.
Although breastfeeding can be a real bonding experience for a mother and her baby, toddler, or older child, it can be frustrating at times.
Babies can be really fussy when breastfeeding and mothers can find it hard to deal with it. After all, isn’t breastfeeding supposed to be natural and easy?
Do you find yourself wondering why your little baby might be squirming, crying, or pulling on and off the breast?
Having a fussy baby is actually very common. Read on for more information about why your baby is fussing at breast.
Why is my baby fussing at the breast?
There are many different reasons why your baby is fussing at the breast.
The main things to check are attachment and positioning. These are the most important things to get right when breastfeeding your baby.
When you get positions right at the very start, things will flow much better!
When babies are attached well they feel secure and comfortable and relax much better throughout the feed. If they are latched well they can also remove milk more effectively.
It’s also important for a mother to feel in control and confident right from the start. Babies are very in tune with their mums, so if mum is stressed, a baby might pick up on it.
Be kind, and don’t put too much stress on yourself when you first start out. It’s normal for a mum and her baby to take some time to learn how to work together.
Reach out for support and breastfeeding help early from reputable services, such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association, La Leche League, or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
In the early days, when your breast milk first comes in, your breasts can feel very full and firm. It can be really hard for your baby to stay latched. This is called engorgement.
It can also happen if your baby occasionally goes too long between feeds or doesn’t drain the breast well.
Babies often struggle to stay latched until the breast softens a little, which happens once some milk is removed.
Reverse pressure softening can help with this. After a few days of frequent feeding, your breasts should settle and it will be easier for your baby to stay latched.
Expressing some of your milk before breastfeeding can also help to soften the breast a little.
Why does my baby keep latching and unlatching?
Getting to know your baby and paying attention when your baby is feeding can help you figure out why she might be latching on and off.
Some babies fuss a little at the start of the feed to get the milk flow going. This stimulates the nerves to get your let-down reflex going.
Once the milk flow starts they often settle into the feed and start to gulp at the breast in a regular, rhythmic way.
If you want to help the let-down happen faster, you can express a little bit before attaching. This lubricates your nipple and starts the milk flow. It can speed up the process for your fussy baby.
Baby keeps pulling away while breastfeeding
Babies are still learning to regulate their suck-swallow pattern. Once the let-down starts, some breastfed babies struggle to keep up with the fast flow of milk. If they’re overwhelmed, this can make them pull away.
Your baby could also be suffering reflux, which can also cause symptoms such as pain, fussiness, and unsettling behavior.
Read some breastfeeding tips in Reflux In Babies – 10 Common Questions Answered.
If you’re particularly full, the pressure in your breast can make it even worse, and reverse pressure softening can help (see above for more information).
Another way to manage a fast let-down is to lean back to slow the milk flow. If your little one is resting in a more upright position on your chest or your body, rather than under your breast, she can manage the fast flow of milk much better.
Read BellyBelly’s article Overactive letdown- 6 tips to manage it for other ideas.
Why does my baby grunt and squirm while breastfeeding?
Imagine being on a liquid diet!
Babies have so much to learn and manage when they’re born. In the first few days of feeding, they work hard to draw out the lovely colostrum, which is just perfect for their needs.
Then, suddenly the milk comes in and they have an abundant flow of ‘full cream milk’ to fill their tiny tummies.
Your body isn’t quite sure yet how much milk you will need, so it gives you an abundance until your baby regulates your supply to meet her needs.
It takes a while for breastfed babies to figure out what’s going on with their new, working digestive systems.
Milk is coming in, something is coming out the other end, and they might also have gas to manage, at either one end or the other.
Imagine you’ve just eaten a huge meal and you’re feeling extremely full. You just want to stretch yourself out to fit in all the food you just took in.
If your newborn baby is particularly squirmy and grunts while breastfeeding, it might be simply that she needs to burp.
It could also be a warning that she’s about to give you an extra job to do. Watch out for a ‘pooplosion’!
Babies soon let you know what is bothering them.
Baby keeps pulling off breast and relatching
Some babies fuss at the breast when they’re trying to draw more milk out.
If your let-down happens but it’s short and sweet, your baby may well become fussy as she works to get more milk out.
A let-down can occur several times throughout a feed and the extra stimulation of your baby fussing and pulling can trigger more milk to come.
When the flow slows, massage and breast compressions during breastfeeds can help more milk to be pushed out. Your baby might settle again as she concentrates on taking the extra milk you are giving her.
The extra stimulation can also help trigger another let-down. Empty the breast really well to promote supply, and keep a close eye on your breasts to protect them from blocked ducts.
Switching from side to side several times throughout the feed can also reduce baby’s fussiness.
If you’re concerned about your supply for any reason, and your baby’s fussiness at the breast continues, reach out for support from an IBCLC or your nearest lactation consultant.
How do I know my baby is full when breastfeeding?
Babies get so much better at feeding as they get older. They also get better at communicating their needs to their mothers.
One minute you’re being taught to feed for at least 15 minutes on each side, so your baby gets enough milk.
The next thing you know your baby gets on and feeds for five minutes, and then pushes away as if she doesn’t want any more.
You’re left thinking she can’t possibly have had enough to fill her, so you try to get her to latch on for longer. This makes the baby feel frustrated, start to cry, and push you away.
Just when you get your head around one aspect of breastfeeding, things change. You simply have to learn to adjust.
If your baby is able to come to the breast any time she wants, she will get very good at telling you when she wants to, and when she has had enough.
Trust your baby and your body to work together.
Often when babies have had enough they’ll detach and pull away from the breast. They can sometimes get frustrated and cry when their mother tries to get them back on.
Another thing they do is fall asleep.
Lifting the little arm that’s most likely resting on your chest is a good way to tell.
If your baby’s hand is closed in a fist and she resists you when you lift it, she’s probably not finished. If the hand is open and floppy she’s probably had enough.
Will my baby unlatch when the breast is empty?
Your breasts are never really empty. You might feel they’re less full, but you can usually squeeze some milk out if you try.
Generally, babies will unlatch when they’ve had enough.
Giving your baby unrestricted access to your breast will help her get what she needs, and also maintain your milk supply.
Why is my baby fussy at the breast in the evenings?
At the end of the day, you can feel so drained, compared with the start of the day.
It’s understandable you might feel like you don’t have enough milk – especially when your baby wants to cluster feed in those witching hours.
Cluster feeding is a normal stage for many newborns and it can continue for several months.
It tends to wear them out after a few hours and they will often zonk out and start to sleep a little longer.
Cluster feeding also helps boost your milk supply and set it up for the next day.
Switch sides and use massage during cluster feeding times, as it can push more milk out or trigger another let-down.
Why does my baby pull away and cry while breastfeeding?
A baby will often refuse the breast at certain times and it can be tricky trying to figure out why.
Here are some reasons to consider:
- Teething. Underneath those cute little gums in your baby’s mouth are tiny teeth waiting to erupt. They could be moving around and giving your little one some discomfort. Check out our article on Teething Symptoms for some great remedies
- Wonder Week. A baby goes through developmental leaps and growth spurts at different stages, as the brain makes many rapid new connections. These times can understandably make babies really unsettled, cranky, irritable and generally unhappy, as they don’t know why they are experiencing all these new feelings. Find out more about how to manage in Understanding The Wonder Weeks
- Tiredness. Feeding your baby to sleep is never the wrong thing to do, and many babies happily go off to sleep at the breast. Some babies refuse the breast and this magical trick doesn’t work for them. Watch out for their cues. If they seem really upset and are fussing at the breast, try another way to help them get to sleep
- Thrush. Sometimes babies can be fussy at the breast if they’re irritated. They might have a white coating on their tongue, which looks like milk residue but it doesn’t wipe away. It could be a build-up of candida albicans, otherwise known as thrush. It can also give your nipples a pretty rough time, too, if they become infected. If you’re concerned that you or your baby might have thrush, have your doctor or health professional check you out
- Menstruation. Did you know your breast milk can change when you go through ovulation or when you get your period? There are also other reasons your breast milk might change. These changes could be causing your baby to be fussy at the breast or not want to nurse. Check out BellyBelly’s article What Does Breast Milk Taste Like to find out more
- Pregnancy. Just like when you get your period, your breastmilk can change when you become pregnant, and your little one might start to get fussy when feeding. Babies are clever and intuitive and can notice when things are a little different. Some babies manage to continue to feed happily during your pregnancy and some don’t like the changes in flavor or amount and could start to show their displeasure.
How do I know my baby is getting enough breast milk?
When your baby is very fussy at the breast it can leave you feeling deflated and doubting your supply and your ability to feed your baby.
If your baby is fussy she could be having growth spurts or developmental leaps. Letting her feed whenever she needs to will boost your milk supply and she will usually settle in a few days.
If you’re concerned about how much milk your baby is getting, watch out for the 3 Reliable Signs your baby is getting just what she needs from you.
What can I do if I can’t figure out why my baby is fussing at the breast?
If you’re worried and nothing you do seems to work, then reach out for help. This is the first and best thing you can do for you and your baby.
Some babies are fussy when they’re unwell. Your doctor can help you rule out any medical concerns such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, food sensitivity, or allergy.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association or a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) are the experts and can guide you with breastfeeding tips, assess what might be going on, or reassure you if you’re still worried.
Just remember – you are not alone. So many mothers are right there with you at the end of the day when everyone is most tired and cranky.
You’re doing an amazing job of being the best mother you can be for your baby. Well done!