Fussing at the breast
Fussing at the breast can be frustrating when you’re trying to settle your baby. You might notice a pattern where your baby latches then unlatches and cries.
Or, perhaps your baby squirms when breastfeeding, or just keeps pulling away while breastfeeding.
It might surprise you to hear that this sort of fussy behaviour at the breast is not uncommon.
It can be very stressful if your baby does these sorts of things though. So why is it that some babies fuss at the breast?
Why is my baby fussing at the breast?
Here are 7 common reasons why your baby might be fussing at the breast, and what you can do about it.
#1: Positioning and attachment issues
When a baby is well positioned and attached to the breast, she is more likely to remain relaxed and calm during feeds.
This is because good positioning and attachment helps to 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: Baby’s flow preference
At the start a breastfeed, a baby’s sucks are quick and shallow.
This type of sucking helps to stimulate nerve endings on your nipple and areola. It also helps to get your let-down reflex simulated and hence your milk flowing.
When this occurs, your baby’s sucking becomes deeper and more rhythmical as she drinks your milk.
How a fast flow can cause fussing at the breast
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.
Therefore, a fast flow may cause fussing at the breast for some babies.
You can read here about ways to manage an overactive let down reflex.
How a slow flow can cause fussing at the breast
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.
Therefore, a slow flow may cause fussing at the breast for some babies.
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 continue to expect their baby to feed for a certain length of time. They might worry that their baby might not be getting enough milk if they feed for a shorter period of time. Therefore they keep trying to their baby back on the breast.
Provided your baby continues to show reliable signs of getting enough milk, and if you continue to feed your baby whenever your baby needs or 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 and needs.
#4: Not wanting to feed at that time
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. Simply try again later on.
#5: Your baby is teething
If your baby has tender, inflamed gums due to teething, he or she 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. Be sure to check out our article about teething symptoms and remedies.
#6: A ‘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. Remember ‘this too shall pass’.
Some babies will always happily breastfeed to help them drift off to sleep.
All babies are different though. Some babies may happily breastfeed and sometimes to go off to sleep, while other times they might just fuss at the breast when they’re tired (particularly if they are very tired).
3 ideas for managing fussing at the breast
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 fussing 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 and baby is still fussing at the breast, 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 fussing at the breast. The good news is that the tips above can to help manage the fussiness even without knowing the cause. If you’re 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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