So your baby cries while breastfeeding… What is a mom to do?
It could be right off the bat. Or it could be weeks down the road after breastfeeding has gone well for a while.
It’s SO frustrating when your baby cries or fusses while breastfeeding because the answer to why isn’t always apparent. That’s what I’m here to help you with!
When Your Baby Cries While Breastfeeding
You made it past the first weeks of breastfeeding. Through the sore nipples, sleepless nights, and difficulty latching. It’s been a few months of breastfeeding successfully when all of a sudden – baby doesn’t want the breast anymore.
So you pump and offer a bottle which baby is happy to take. Now it’s days or weeks later, and baby doesn’t want the breast at all. Maybe they prefer the bottle over breastfeeding.
This issue is surprisingly common, especially around the 3 month mark! Babies start to become more aware of their surroundings and have longer wake-times between naps. They see the world around them and how much fun it is.
Your baby may feel hungry and want to eat quickly to get back to all they’re discovering about themselves and the world they see. Not to worry, there are steps you can take to get baby back on the breast.
Why Baby Cries and Fusses During Breastfeeding
First, make sure there isn’t anything going on with your baby.
- Your baby may have a cold, ear infection or be teething. Sometimes a cold or teething may make your baby refuse to breastfeed.
- Your baby could also be intolerant to the foods you’re eating. The most common culprit is dairy. Babies are often fussy, but if you notice ezcema, hives, colic, vomiting or blood in your baby’s poop- your diet may be a problem. It takes two weeks to cut dairy from your diet before you’ll notice a difference in your baby.
- Other causes of crying at the breast include thrush or a difference in let-down from one side to the other. Pay attention to your body and anything that might affect breastfeeding.
If your baby doesn’t have any signs that something else is the cause, read on. Otherwise make an appointment with your pediatrician.
What To Do If Baby Fusses While Breastfeeding
There are many different routes to take when your baby cries while breastfeeding. The most important thing to do is rule out any problems with your baby.
- If Baby Has An Ear Infection. If your baby has an ear infection, they may fuss and cry while nursing. Your baby will also be fussy throughout the day and will probably run a fever. If you notice those signs, contact your doctor.
- If Baby Is Teething. If your baby is teething, they may cry and fuss while nursing. You can try to use a natural product to numb their gums or give them a teether before nursing. The best teethers to use can be frozen to cool and numb their inflamed gums.
- If Baby Has A Cold. If your baby has a cold, difficulty breathing may cause them to fuss at the breast. Before you feed them, use a bulb syringe to clear their nose. You can also try breastfeeding near a humidifier or in a steamy bathroom. Sitting your baby upright may also help them breathe easier while breastfeeding.
- If Baby Has Thrush. Thrush is a yeast infection that can occur while breastfeeding. It will appear as white patches in your baby’s mouth that can’t be rubbed off. You may have symptoms in your breasts like painful, red and scaly nipples. You and your baby will both need to be treated with antifungals if this is the problem.
If you can’t find anything wrong with your baby, they may just be going through a time of breast fussiness. Crying and fussing while breastfeeding could be caused by your baby preferring the bottle to breastfeeding. Sometimes babies just don’t want to breastfeed happily (or at all), which is called a nursing strike. If you can’t find another reason, try the following:
This trick works like a charm on some babies. Take some pumped milk and place it into a small cup. Start breastfeeding and if your baby cries, fusses or refuses the breast, offer a cup instead of a bottle. Slightly tilt the cup so your baby laps the milk out… Don’t try to pour the milk into your baby’s mouth. Just tilt it so your baby’s tongue can reach the milk and lap it out.
The reason I suggest this is simple… babies don’t like it and will want to breastfeed instead!
Babies have an urge to suck, so if they aren’t able to suck from the bottle, they have to work at getting milk another way. This should work quickly if you and your baby stick with it. Often a few days of this and babies decide they would rather just breastfeed than try to drink from a cup.
During the process, if your baby becomes hysterical, just get up, rock them, and try to calm them. Once calm, offer the breast until they refuse and then offer a cup.
Try not to force the breast- we want all breastfeeding experiences to be positive! This trick doesn’t work for everyone so if it doesn’t start to get better, another option might be better.
Your baby may be frustrated by a slow let-down. When breastfeeding, your baby has to stimulate your breasts to release milk. Your breasts don’t immediately release milk in the same way a bottle does.
You can try using breast compressions while your baby is breastfeeding. To do breast compressions, place your thumb and forefinger on either side of your breast. Each time your baby sucks, press your thumb down squeezing your breast. This encourages more milk to come out per suck.
Another thing you can do to encourage a let-down is to stimulate your breasts before feeding. You could try some hand expression, breast pumping, or breast massage before feeding time. Stimulating your breasts to be ready for a feeding encourages them to release milk more quickly so your baby doesn’t have to work as hard.
Sometimes babies are so engaged with the world around them that feeding becomes lower on the priority list. Around 3 months, babies start to become more aware of the world around them. It’s a common time for fussing or crying while breastfeeding.
Limiting distractions can help. Try feeding your baby in a dark, quiet room. You could also try feeding your baby right when they wake up from a nap when they’re still drowsy and not over-stimulated by their environment.
Tips For Bottle Feeding
If you have to give a bottle because your baby is fussing and crying while breastfeeding, try following these specific steps.
- Have someone else give the bottle. Your baby will start to learn the milk from mommy only comes from one place if they only get a bottle from someone else. If you can’t do this, don’t stress just follow the other tips.
- Use a newborn nipple. You could also use a slow-flow nipple. Essentially, you want to make the bottle less rewarding. If it takes more effort to eat from the bottle, your baby is more likely to breastfeed happily.
- Hold the bottle horizontal. Again, making the bottle less rewarding can help. Holding the bottle horizontal takes out the effect of gravity. Your baby has to suck harder to get the milk out.
- Try paced feeding. Don’t let your baby take the entire feeding in big gulps that only last a few minutes. Instead, pace it. Pay attention to when your baby slows or stops sucking and remove the bottle (or tilt it so there’s not milk in the tip). This simulates the let-down that naturally occurs while breastfeeding and makes the bottle more challenging.
- Latch your baby to the bottle like a breast. It’s extremely tempting to just pop the bottle into your babies mouth- whether they open it or not. Instead, place the bottle nipple near your baby’s upper lip. Wait for your baby to recognize it and open their mouth. Only then place the bottle nipple inside.
Making the bottle more challenging can help if your baby fusses and cries while breastfeeding. If the bottle is a bit more difficult to get the milk out of, your baby won’t be as easily rewarded with milk. Following these tips can help with nipple confusion and getting your baby back to happily breastfeeding.
Keep Times At The Breast Positive
If your baby still fusses and cries while breastfeeding, take heart. It takes some babies longer than others to get back to nursing. Overall, the most important thing is to keep your baby happy while they are near your breasts.
It could cause an aversion to breastfeeding if your baby is unhappy and screaming their head off every time you place them near you to feed. Try to avoid them associating your breasts with something negative.
Instead, don’t force a feeding. You can even take the pressure off by just holding them skin-to-skin and not trying to nurse at all. Talk to your baby, hold them close and cuddle them often. Remind them that breastfeeding is a wonderful thing to do with mommy.
Something To Consider
After the newborn phase, babies become more efficient at breastfeeding. Some babies can finish an entire feeding in as little as 5 minutes! Your baby might start to become full faster, so be in tune with their eating changes. Trying to force your baby to the breast if they’re full can lead to fussiness and crying.
Don’t let this get you down! You’re a good mama. Breastfeeding is a journey full of ups and downs. This is just another bump in the road. Throughout your breastfeeding journey, you’ll encounter many different obstacles and you will work through them! Give it some time and don’t give up.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.
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