Baby Fussy While Nursing? Causes & Solutions Explained

Breastfed infants gain a lot from breastfeeding, particularly in bonding and nutrition.
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So, your baby is contentedly nursing when all of a sudden they screw up their tiny face and start wailing, what is going on?

Has your baby suddenly gone off your milk? Is there anything you can do to prevent your baby getting fussy during breastfeeds?

Find out the answers to all your questions here! There are many reasons why a baby might become fussy at the breast. If your baby gets fussy while nursing, rest assured that fussiness while nursing is very common, and that there are things you can do to prevent your baby crying while eating.

Read on to find out all about why babies can sometimes become fussy while nursing and what actions you can take to reduce fussiness in your baby and make nursing easier for you both.

For more parenting tips, check out our guide to a 9-month-old schedule and [activities for 6-month-olds] too.

Why Do Babies Fuss When Feeding?

Why is my baby suddenly fussy while nursing? Find out here!

Breastfed babies can become fussy due to over or under-production of milk.

If your baby is fussy when breastfeeding, you might be worried that there is something wrong with your milk, or that your baby is struggling to digest it.

If there is any kind of problem with your milk production, it is likely to be either a fast let down or a let down that is too slow for your baby's liking. A fast let down is a fast flow of milk from the breast. If the flow is too fast it can cause the baby to cough or splutter as they struggle to swallow the milk as it is being released from the breast. A fast let down is often attributed to an oversupply of milk. One way to manage this is to express some milk before letting your baby latch on. You can also take your baby off the breast if you think the flow is too fast, and wait a moment or two to see if it slows down before letting your baby latch on again. If you express too much milk prior to feeding, however, this can stimulate your breasts to produce even more.

Signs that a baby might be struggling with a fast milk flow include choking and spluttering while breastfeeding, frequent swallowing while appearing distressed, biting the nipple to try and quell the flow, coming on and off the breast while feeding, and crying or refusing to feed. Your baby might also be more gassy than usual and you might find your baby needs to burp more frequently after feeds. This could be because they are swallowing more air due to frantic sucking. Feeds might also be shorter as your baby gets a lot of milk in a short space of time. Your baby might not fall asleep easily after feeding and may seem discontent and hard to settle after an unsatisfying, stressful feed.

You can combat some of these issues by changing the way you position your baby while breastfeeding and making sure they are properly latched on. Your baby should have a good mouthful of breast while breastfeeding, and not simply be sucking on the nipple. You could also try breastfeeding with your baby positioned above your breast. Gravity should help slow the flow of milk this way.

Make sure to feed your baby on demand when breastfeeding and don't stick to a rigid feeding schedule. If you stick to a strict schedule your breasts might become over-engorged between feeds, and your baby might be over-hungry by the time they nurse, resulting in a faster milk flow and a fussy baby.

Your milk flow may, on the other hand, be too slow for your baby's liking. If your supply is low or you have a slow flow, your baby might become impatient and start fussing while feeding. If your baby is fussy while nursing and you think it may be down to a low milk supply or slow flow, there are a few things you can do to amp up milk production and increase the rate of flow. Try taking a warm shower or bath before nursing your little one as this is a tried and tested way to encourage milk flow. Milk production can slow down if you are anxious or stressed, so taking a warm bath is a good idea as it can help your body relax enough to let down. The heat from warm water increases blood circulation and stimulates oxytocin production, the hormone responsible for milk let down.

Feed your baby little and often to keep your milk production up and running. Breastfeeding more frequently is often enough to stimulate increased lactation. Hold and cuddle your baby to you before breastfeeding as the hormones released when cuddling your little one can stimulate let down. You can also try massaging your breasts before and during breastfeeding to encourage milk flow.

Rarely, a problem with your baby's ability to swallow can cause them problems when breastfeeding. Dysphagia is most common among premature babies but can occur in any baby. The problem is more prevalent in babies who have been on feeding tubes before breastfeeding and are struggling to transition to the breast. If you have concerns about your baby's ability to swallow you should see a lactation consultant or your pediatrician.

If the problem is not due to letdown issues, your baby might be fussy because they are going through a growth spurt. When a baby is undergoing a developmental change like a growth spurt, they may need more milk than they used to. Your milk production might not yet have caught up with your baby's changing calorific needs, and your baby might start fussing when breastfeeding, while waiting for your body to catch up. Growth spurts require a higher intake of calories so that the baby can continue gaining weight while they grow. If your baby is fussy while breastfeeding, consider this as a possible explanation.

What Can I Do About It?

Why is my baby fussy while nursing and is there anything I can do to help?

A baby might be fussy at the breast for a number of reasons.

There are plenty of things you can do to help prevent your baby fussing and crying while breastfeeding. A fussy baby is likely to calm down once you try some of these tactics, so give them a go, and if nothing changes then consider speaking to a lactation consultant to ask for their advice.

1. Make sure you are breastfeeding on demand and are not sticking to a rigid feeding schedule. Every mother's daily routine is different and not all mothers can feed on demand every time because they may have work or other family commitments which make it difficult. However, if you don't feed on demand you may well experience engorgement of the breasts and problems with let down. Your baby might also be over-hungry when coming to the breast and have problems latching on due to their distress.

If you are expressing milk, make sure you are expressing every three to four hours as going longer between pumps can result in a decreased milk supply. Supply and demand is key: if you don't feed or express often enough, your breasts will stop producing milk.

2. If your breastfeeding routine has changed you may start noticing problems with letdown, or notice your baby fussing more often while feeding. Changing your feeding routine can mess with your letdown so you may experience issues while transitioning to a new routine. As long as you are sure to express or feed often enough, your body should adjust to the changes, as will your baby after a few days.

3. Check your baby's mouth for sore gums and erupting teeth as teething could be a cause for pulling off the breast and fussing and crying. Your baby might still want to nurse for comfort while teething but may find it painful at the same time. There is no need to stop breastfeeding when the first tooth comes through, as the WHO recommends breastfeeding if you can until your child is at least two years old.

4. If your newborn won't stop crying they might be suffering from colic or trapped wind. Many people think colic is caused by babies swallowing too much air while feeding, and recommend burping a baby after a feed to release any trapped air. If your baby cries after feeding, they might be suffering from tummy ache caused by swallowing air while nursing, so hold them tummy down in the 'football hold' or hold them over your shoulder and gently pat their back to release the gas. Hopefully, once they are able to burp their stomach ache will subside.

5. Is your baby fussy while nursing on one side only? Many babies develop a preference for one breast and only want to feed from the same breast each time! You can make sure both breasts keep producing the same amount of milk by offering the lesser-used breast first when starting a nursing session and then letting your baby switch over. If they just feed from one breast, the other breast will eventually stop producing milk.

Some mothers will choose to feed from one breast alone if they have a fast milk flow in the other breast, for example. Feeding from the one breast can reduce that overly fast milk flow in the other.

6. If your baby crying at the breast is due to a slow let down or low milk supply, try massaging your breast during breastfeeding to amp up milk production and increase the flow.

7. If your baby is fussing because they are growing, be prepared to feed more often. Growth spurts require more calories so your baby will want to feed more often or feeds may start taking longer. Your baby might get fussy while waiting for your milk supply to catch up with their changing needs, but your body should catch up soon enough.

8. A baby crying after feeding might signify that they haven't found their usual comfort in their breastfeeding session. You might have to find other ways to soothe a colicky or teething baby, for example, if breastfeeding alone isn't enough to calm them. Try walking around the house with your baby in a sling or going out for a walk in the fresh air with the sling. You could also try white noise or try engaging them in a game of peekaboo!

9. Breastfed babies might develop a preference for the taste of your milk. If you change your diet, your baby might detect a new taste in your milk and reject it. Some mothers think that eating fibrous vegetables such as broccoli and sprouts can result in excess gas in a baby, leading to fussiness.

10. Turn off all distractions while nursing to improve your baby's ability to concentrate on the task at hand while nursing. If there is loud music playing or lots of chaotic ambient noise and people coming and going, your baby might get distracted and lose their latch. If your baby is calm and relaxed they are more likely to be able to latch on and suck in a measured fashion. If they are overstimulated or anxious they might suck frantically or erratically, leading to coughing, spluttering, and losing their latch on the breast.

11. Finally, breastfeeding can be full of ups and downs, but breastfed babies extract huge benefits from breastfeeding. Breast milk is incredibly nutritious and breastfeeding establishes a strong bond between mother and baby. Try to hang in there even if your baby is fussy, as the benefits will outweigh your anxiety in the end. However, if your baby isn't putting on weight or your milk supply seems to have stopped, consult a lactation specialist, who can give you personalized advice.

If you found this article helpful, then why not take a look at what to do about babies waking up too early, or what to do if your baby has climbed out of their crib?

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