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Baby Fussing At Breast: 6 Things to Look Out For When Breastfeeding

Updated: Feb 29

Feeling frustrated by your baby pushing and arching away from you when you try to breastfeed? Does he start tugging at the breast and thrashing his arms and legs about after just a few sucks? Does he hold your breast in his mouth, shouting into it like a microphone and beating into your breast with his fists?

Our Lactation expert, Rowena Gray shares her insights below. For more information from Rowena register for our in-person Baby and Breastfeeding Masterclass or download our Baby Basics Expert Guide. Rowena has also recorded this Breastfeeding Video you can download it here.

Why is my newborn fussing at the breast?

This ‘fussing’ is your baby’s body language to tell you he’s unhappy about being at the breast. But why does this happen, and what can you do about it? After all, you know he’s hungry – why won’t he feed?

The good news is that fussing at the breast is very common, and there is usually a good reason for it.

Baby not hungry

Baby’s fussing could mean “I’m not ready yet”. Perhaps the baby needs to burp or fill its nappy (or needs a nappy change) before he can relax and enjoy breastfeeding. Discomfort will distract him from feeding, and you may not realise what he needs to do until after the event!

→ Stop offering the breast momentarily and hold the baby close to your chest. Wait for a moment. Any wind can come up (or down) as needed. It may take a little time, depending on your little person. When he’s ready to feed, he will start to look for the breast, and you can try to feed again.

Fussing can happen when you’re breastfeeding to a schedule and waking your baby to feed by the clock instead of waiting until he shows you his feeding cues. A tired, sleeping baby is not interested in feeding – he will be frustrated by the offer to feed when he wants to sleep.

→ Unless medically indicated, there is no reason to wake your baby to breastfeed regularly. When he wakes by himself, he will be hungry and eager to feed.

Baby is full

Your baby’s feeding and sleeping patterns naturally change as he grows. He may not feed as frequently or for as long as you expected him to. At some feeds, he may want just one breast, not two. His pattern may change from feeding when he wakes to wait until just before his next nap. This natural change in feeding pattern might leave you worried that he’s not feeding enough, so you continue to offer the breast when he doesn’t want it anymore. His fussing is his way of saying “No thanks”.

→ Offer the breast but allow the baby to accept or decline. Never force the baby to the breast. Stop for now and offer the breast again later. Allow yourself to adjust to the baby’s changing needs and trust that he will always feed when he’s hungry and to his appetite.

​Wrong breastfeeding position

Baby needs to be well positioned on your breast to latch deeply and access all the milk he needs. A shallow latch does not stimulate a good milk flow, and his fussiness indicates his frustration.

→ Baby-led attachment is helpful when you’re up against a fussing baby. Take your bra off and hold your baby upright between your breasts. Allow him to help himself to the breast and to adopt a position that’s most comfortable for him (this might look strange and uncomfortable to you). This positioning keeps your hands out of the way and encourages the baby to latch himself. You’ll be amazed at how effective this simple change can be!

If the baby struggles to latch, have an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or your health practitioner assess the baby’s mouth for oral ties or other reasons for a poor latch.

Breastmilk flow could be too fast or too slow

Have you noticed that you have one breast that seems to have a faster milk flow than the other? Does your baby feed better on the faster side and fuss more on the ‘slower’ side? Or do you have so much milk that the baby pulls off and screams as soon as your let-down starts? Your baby likes his milk to flow at a pace that’s comfortable for him. Too fast can be uncomfortable and frightening, and too slow can be frustrating.

When your breast is full, your milk flow is faster. When your breast softens, the milk flow slows. The baby may fuss with this flow change and may indicate it’s time to swap to the fuller breast.

Some mothers struggle with milk production, and their baby’s fussing is a frustrated response to a slow milk flow. Low milk production and slow let-down have multiple causes and can be exacerbated by stress and tiredness.

→ Gentle breast compressions throughout each feed are helpful to encourage your let-down and help the baby remain calm at the breast. Slow, deep breaths and giving your baby lots of kisses just before breastfeeding helps lower your stress levels and enable your oxytocin to flow more freely for a better let-down.

Some mothers produce too much milk. Constantly full, fast-flowing breasts can make feeding uncomfortable as the baby gulps, gags and tries to catch his breath before pulling off and screaming.

→ Positioning the baby in an upright baby-led position helps the baby to have control over latching on and off the breast when the flow is too fast. Express a little milk by hand before feeding to make the breast less full can also be helpful.

A Lactation Consultant can help you position and assess you and your baby for causes of low milk supply and find methods to increase or slow down your milk supply and flow.

Combination breast and bottle feeding

Your breast milk flows differently from milk from a bottle. Baby needs to suck for a few moments at the breast to stimulate the milk flow – this contrasts with the instant milk flow from a bottle teat. Combining breastfeeding with bottle feeding can lead to baby fussing at the breast due to a preference for the faster, easier bottle.

→ Avoid mixing breastfeeding and bottle feeding unless necessary whilst you’re getting started with breastfeeding. If you need to mix feed, choose a bottle teat better suited to breastfeeding babies (a slow-flow teat that requires the baby to create suction for the milk to flow and not a teat that pours freely) requires no effort from the baby). ** Needing to give the baby a bottle regularly is not a normal part of breastfeeding. See a Lactation Consultant if you are experiencing difficulty in making enough milk for your baby. They can also give you great tips for combining breast and bottle more easily.

Baby in pain or sick

The baby needs to be comfortable to feed well. Perhaps his recent birth has caused some bruising on his head or neck? Has he just had his immunisations and feels a little ‘off’? Is baby teething? Does he have a fever or early signs of illness and seems less interested in feeding than normal? Does the baby look to be in pain or vomit after feeds?

→ Immunisations, teething or illness are short-lived causes for fussy feeding. Do your best to remedy the baby’s discomforts and hang in there for a few days until the symptoms pass. Discomfort directly associated with feeding can make every feed stressful and difficult for both mum and baby. Suppose your baby is physically uncomfortable at the breast for other reasons. In that case, your Lactation Consultant can help you find a more comfortable position and recommend other health practitioners to help your baby’s comfort.

Fussing at the breast is your baby’s saying, “Stop!”. It is not always easy to work out why. Offering the breast when you sense the baby is or should be hungry is always OK. But let your baby decide whether to accept or decline the offer. If he pushes away, try not to feel rejected and offer again quickly. If you’re concerned about your baby, consult your doctor, health nurse or lactation consultant for further support.

To learn more about breastfeeding from our Lactation expert, Rowena Gray, join our Baby Basics Masterclass or download our Baby Basics Expert Guide.

Rowena Gray is a mother to 3 young daughters, a nurse, a midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has been both a consumer and giver of copious amounts of breastfeeding advice! She has a private practice in Melbourne. Rowena is also the author of ‘Born to Breastfeed - the first six weeks and Beyond’

Baby fussing at mothers breast while feeding


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