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Why does my baby cry while breastfeeding?

Updated: May 12

One of the most stressful breastfeeding experiences for any new mum is to have your baby fussing or crying while breastfeeding.  It can be hard to understand the reason why and can leave you feeling dejected and concerned about what you might be doing wrong.

 

Rowena Gray teaches at the Parents You've Got This Baby Basics Masterclass. Book your place now or download her Breastfeeding video here.


Every time your baby fusses or cries, he is using his body language to try to communicate to you that something is not working for him right now.  There is always a perfectly good reason as to why he’s being so fussy but what’s so challenging in the early weeks is that almost everything your baby does seems to be giving you the signal of  “I’m hungry!”.   But there are many other reasons why your baby may be fussing at the breast or crying at the breast even when you know he is hungry.  

 

Is he uncomfortable in some way? Is he desperately hungry and can’t get the milk fast enough?  Is the milk flowing too fast?  Is he just wanting to be settled to sleep for now?  Is he struggling to latch and finding feeding frustrating?  These are just some of the reasons why you may find your baby is crying or fussing while breastfeeding.  Let’s explore these reasons and others a little more closely. 



He’s just not ready to feed yet / Has he had enough and just wanting to be settled to sleep?


Fussing and crying at the breast can be your baby saying “no thanks Mum!” if he’s just not ready to feed yet.  He will always feed when he’s hungry and always feed to his appetite so if he’s pushing you away or crying while on the breast he may not be ready to feed yet or is saying he’s had enough.  If this is the reason he will settle as soon as you stop offering the breast and give him a cuddle.

 

Your baby will go to the breast not only to feed but to suckle himself back to sleep.  If your baby is wanting time at the breast to soothe himself to sleep, but gets a flow of milk that he doesn’t necessarily want, he can be fussy or cry at the breast.

 

Fussing and crying at the breast is especially common when trying to feed your baby to a schedule or waking your baby by the clock to feed.  A sleeping baby is not interested in feeding and he will be frustrated by the offer when he just wants to settle to sleep.



Is he uncomfortable in some way?


Positioning your baby in a certain way may cause him some discomfort in his head, neck or shoulders, particularly if he was born by forceps or vacuum extraction.  Does he have any bruising from the birth?  What was his position in the womb and could he have some tensions in his head and neck as a result?  Different tensions in his body can make certain positions uncomfortable to be in.  If your baby is older, consider if he’s teething, or has he just had immunisations, or is he showing other signs of becoming unwell (fever, generally unsettled)?

 

Or does your baby need a nappy change, a burp or a cuddle first before he feels more comfortable to feed?



Is he desperately hungry and can’t get the milk fast enough?


It can take a few seconds or more for your letdown to come sometimes which can make your baby impatient and desperate to feed.  Or if you are struggling with a low milk supply and the flow is quite slow you may find your baby is easily frustrated and is crying while breastfeeding. This behaviour can be exacerbated by combining bottle with breast feeding as the flow of many bottles is significantly faster than the flow of milk from the breast.   Your baby may also show fussy behaviour simply because the first breast is ‘done’ and he wants to swap to the other side for more. As your breast softens, the flow slows down and this change in flow may cause your baby to fuss to indicate it’s time to change sides.



Is the milk flowing too fast?


A fast flowing breast can be quite frightening for your baby - imagine trying to drink from a fire hose!  Milk flowing too fast is uncomfortable and frustrating and can cause your little one to be very fussy and cry while breastfeeding.  


**If your baby is seemingly gulping and choking at the breast you should consider having his oral function assessed by a lactation consultant (IBCLC) who can check for oral ties as this can significantly impact your baby’s ability to coordinate sucking and swallowing to feed comfortably.



Is he struggling to latch and finding feeding frustrating?


Difficulties in latching is a common challenge for new mums in the early weeks.  If your baby has a shallow latch to the breast he will not be able to stimulate a good flow from the breast and his fussiness indicates his frustration.  If you have painful feeds or damaged nipples then your little one is not latching deeply enough to stimulate a good flow of milk.  If he can’t draw the milk he wants and needs then this can make your little one very fussy and frustrated at the breast.  

 

It’s not always easy to work out why your baby is fussing or crying while breastfeeding.  If you are concerned about your baby’s feeding you should seek support from a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).  This is hugely beneficial in helping you to get breastfeeding off to a great start and to help you gain confidence for fuss free breastfeeding!



crying while breastfeeding



Rowena Gray is a mother to 3 amazing daughters, nurse, midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and has been both a consumer and giver of copious amounts of breastfeeding advice!  She is the author of ‘Born to Breastfeed - the first six weeks and beyond’ - available online (booktopia) and as an e-book through amazon.

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