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

Is your baby fussy while breastfeeding? Whether they're rejecting the breast altogether or acting like they don't enjoy milk, these tips might help stop the screaming and crying.

baby girl breastfeeding
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Lactation consultants get frequent calls from parents whose babies scream and cry during breastfeeding—sometimes rejecting the breast altogether, and other times behaving like they don't enjoy breastfeeding at all. These parents are understandably distraught: They worry they don't have enough supply for their babies, or there's something wrong with their milk.

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

Of course, breastfeeding fussiness can sometimes be cause for concern. If your baby isn't gaining weight, you should speak to your doctor about potential milk supply problems. You should also contact a health care 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 for babies who are fussy at the breast.

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. They may be ready for the other breast, but just have 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. Let Someone Else Soothe the Fussy Baby

Sometimes parents just needs a break—and your baby may even sense this. Handing your baby off to another caregiver 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 carrier, rocking them in your arms, or using a baby swing. Dimming the lights or adding a little white noise can add to the ambiance. Breastfeed 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 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 During Sleepy Times

Try breastfeeding a fussy baby when they're just waking up from sleep, before they're fully awake. Your baby is much less likely to fuss or protest when just rousing from a sweet slumber.

7. Be Patient When Baby Is Fussy While Breastfeeding

Many parents get understandably nervous when their baby cries at the breast, and they just want to feed right away. Often, parents 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's almost always a way to entice your baby back to breastfeeding, and if breastfeeding is a relationship you want to preserve, try the methods in this article.

If these tricks don't work for you, don't be afraid to reach out for help. Breastfeeding is not something parents are meant to do alone, so if you are struggling with a fussy baby, seek an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). "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 for many parents, it's worth the time and effort it takes to find the help to get it right.

Updated by Nicole Harris
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