7 Breastfeeding Tips for Fussy-at-the-Breast Babies

Is your baby balking at your breast? Try these tips to make breastfeeding easier for you and your baby

Mother Breastfeeding Light Background
Photo: Dmytro Mykhailov/Shutterstock

As an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, I get frequent calls from moms whose babies scream and cry during breastfeeding—sometimes rejecting the breast altogether; other times behaving like they simply do not like breastfeeding at all. These mothers are understandably distraught: They worry that they don't have enough milk for their babies, or that there is something wrong with their milk.

The good news is that it's usually a normal, passing phase, and doesn't have anything to do with your milk supply or your breast milk. It's not always possible to pinpoint the exact reason it happens, but fussiness is especially common in the first few months of life, and during evening feedings. Some babies fuss when they are having a growth spurt, or when they are having trouble dealing with a fast milk flow. When babies are really upset, it can be hard for them to calm down enough to breastfeed.

Of course, there are situations when this fussiness is a cause for concern. If your baby is not gaining weight, you should speak to your doctor to discuss milk supply concerns. You may also want to contact a health professional if your baby has signs of an allergy, reflux, illness, or any medical issue that could be causing discomfort.

But in most cases, all you need to do is find ways to soothe your baby, and then try again. Here are some tried and true methods to get a fussy baby happily breastfeeding again.

1. Try skin-to-skin contact

Leah Segura, a lactation consultant based in Midland, Michigan, recommends spending time skin-to-skin with your baby as a way to soothe the fussiness.

"Skin-to-skin contact before an expected feeding (the more the better) is an excellent way to calm a fussy baby," explains Segura. "It can trigger instinctive feeding behaviors, regulate breathing and heart rate, and it even assists babies with neurological development."

2. Switch sides or try different positions

Sometimes something as simple as switching sides or changing breastfeeding positions can work wonders for your baby. Your baby may be ready for the other breast, but just has no clear way to tell you this (thus the fussing!). Or, your baby might find a different position more comfortable or easy to latch onto, especially during a fussy time of day.

3. Have someone else step in to soothe the baby

Sometimes mom just needs a break—and your baby may even sense this. Handing your baby off to a partner or helper can offer the change of scene that everyone needs. You may find that your baby will welcome breastfeeding after a short break, and you may even find yourself calmer and more able to deal with the fussiness.

4. Try motion and darkness

Your baby just spent nine months in the cozy environment of the womb, and it's hard to adjust to the loud, bright, bustling world. If you can find ways to mimic the womb environment, and calm a baby's senses, your baby might take to breastfeeding more easily.

Try wearing your baby in a baby carrier, rock your baby in your arms, or try a baby swing. Dimming the lights or adding a little white noise can add to the ambiance. Try breastfeeding again after you've calmed your baby in this way.

5. Burp your baby

Breastfed babies don't always need to be burped, but when they do have a burp in waiting, it often stops them from being able to nurse. "Hold your baby vertically against your chest to see if your baby has to burp," recommends Maria Paciullo, a New York-based lactation consultant. If your baby is having trouble coping with your milk flow, Pacuillo has some tips for that too: "Try laid-back positioning to make sure baby is comfortable and able to deal with different flow rates."

6. Breastfeed your baby during sleepy times

A great time to try breastfeeding a fussy baby is just when the baby is waking up from sleep. Try to get to your baby before he or she is fully awake, and offer the breast then. Your baby is much less likely to fuss or protest when just rousing from a sweet slumber.

7. Don't be too quick to try a bottle

Many moms get understandably nervous when their baby cries at the breast, and want to just feed the baby right away. Often, mothers find that their baby will take the bottle more readily than the breast (this is partly because babies don't have to work as hard to bottle feed as they do to breastfeed). But there is almost always a way to entice your baby back to breastfeeding, and if breastfeeding is a relationship you want to preserve, these methods are worth a try before offering a bottle.

If these tricks don't work for you, don't be afraid to reach out for help. Breastfeeding is not something moms are meant to do alone, so if you are struggling with a fussy baby, please seek out breastfeeding help. "If breastfeeding is not easy, work with an IBCLC," recommends lactation consultant Maria Paciullo. "And if one IBCLC is not helpful, do not give up. See another."

Having a baby who fusses while breastfeeding can really shake your confidence, but it's worth the time and effort it takes to find the help to get it right.

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