Help! Baby Latching and Unlatching Repeatedly While Nursing

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How frustrating it is when you have got plenty of milk, but your baby won’t stay latched on and cries? Learn the reasons why your baby latching and unlatching repeatedly while nursing and what you can do to help your baby focused while nursing.

It breaks your heart when you see your baby latching, unlatching, and crying while nursing even though she is hungry. The baby, who has always happily come to your breast for food and comfort, now won’t stay latched on and cries!

Baby Latching and Unlatching Repeatedly While Nursing - baby feeding at the breast

When your baby does this, you start worrying about your milk supply and the health of your baby. Also, when a baby suddenly pulls their head off while nursing, you may feel the painful bite on the nipple.

Both of my babies did this when they were around 3 to 4 weeks and around 4 months of age. First time when it happened to me, I had to take help from a lactation consultant. She was great at suggesting things that helped me deal with this issue.

However, there is no universal solution to this problem and there are several reasons why your baby latching and unlatching repeatedly while nursing. But you will be happy to know, this behavior of a baby is normal, short-lived, and almost all babies go through it once in their breastfeeding journey.

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Reasons Why your Baby Latching and Unlatching Repeatedly While Nursing

Before we go into details, latching and unlatching while nursing has nothing to do with your baby learning to latch in the first few days of breastfeeding or babies who won’t latch at all.

Now that’s clear, here are the reasons why your baby won’t stay latched on while nursing.

Too Much Milk

The most common reason for baby latching, unlatching, and getting frustrated while nursing is either too fast or too slow milk supply.

To find out the reason for your baby’s behavior at the breast, you need to pay attention to when your baby won’t stay latched on and cries.

If your baby latching and unlatching in the morning, it could be that your engorged breast releases too much milk so quickly that your baby cannot handle it.

If your baby latching and unlatching while nursing, for this reason, you may find your baby starting with a deep latch and then slipping back to a shallow latch.

The Solution for Fast Milk Flow         

If you have a fast milk supply or over-active letdown, it may make your baby drink milk too fast and choke. They latch and unlatch repeatedly while nursing as they can’t keep up with the flow. Here is what you can do to make your milk supply more manageable for your baby.

  • Pump some of the milk before feeding or express milk by hand and once the first let-down passes, put your baby back to the breast.
  • Feed your baby in a laid-back position.  Gravity will do its trick to slow down your milk supply.
  • Take your baby off the breast when you have a letdown. Catch the excess milk leak onto a towel. Once let-down slows offer the breast again.

Too Slow Milk

If you find your baby latching, unlatching, and crying in the evenings, it could be that your milk flow is too slow that the baby is getting frustrated at the breast.

If your baby is doing this, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are not making enough milk. It is just that your baby is not getting the amount of milk she wants at that moment.

There are several reasons why you have a slow milk supply

  • Most babies fuss while nursing during the evening as your milk supply is low in volume but higher in fat at night. Frequent nursing and switching from breast to breast may satisfy your baby.
  • If you pump too close to your baby’s next meal, your baby may not have enough. So, if you are pumping to boost your milk supply, make sure you pump after you finish feeding your baby.
  • If you are a working mom and your baby is being fed bottle too quickly, your baby may find your milk supply too slow compared to bottle and start latching and unlatching in the hope to adjust mil flow.
  • You truly have a low milk supply.

The Solution for Slow Milk Flow

Baby latching, unlatching, and getting frustrated because of slow milk flow or delayed let-down can be tackled using the following tips.  

  • Hand expresses or pump your breast before feeding to stimulate the let-down. Once you see the flow, put your baby to your breast.
  • Massaging your breast while your baby is nursing to stimulate your milk flow.
  • Use a warm towel or compress for a few minutes before feeding to stimulate letdown.
  • If you see your baby about to unlatch, try breast compressions. It will help your mil slowing and keep your baby interested in feeding.
  • If you think your milk supply is truly low, you may want to start taking supplements or postnatal vitamins specifically formulated to increase your milk supply.
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Growth Spurts

You may find your baby latching and unlatch reputedly during a growth spurt. They go through growth spurts during the first year of their life. And during growth spurts, you will their changed behavior like a baby wants to feed more, fussing, crying, biting your nipple, latching and unlatching repeatedly while nursing and may not sleep.

You can expect growth spurts in a baby around 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3, 6, and 9 months of age. My both boys were super fussy at the breast during their growth spurts.

The Solution for Growth Spurt

During growth spurts, all you need to do is feed them whenever they want. Even if it is 15 minutes after your last feeding session, feed them.

Initially, you may not have enough milk supply for this sudden increase in demand, but your breast will keep up with demand in a day or so. I know, it gets tiring for mom (been there!). So, don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated and eat a well-balanced diet.

Related Reading: How much Water should Breastfeeding Mom Drink?

Developmental Milestone

Just like growth spurts in babies, developmental milestones can also affect how a baby feeds at the breast. Some babies get more distracted while feeding while others want to nurse more than usual. You can also find your baby fusing and crying than usual while breastfeeding. Once your baby starts recognizing the surroundings around her, she will get distracted easily with a little bit of noise from dad or siblings or dog.

The solution

If you find your baby curious and too distracted with her surrounding, feed the baby in a quiet and darkroom. Another solution that worked for me was wearing a nursing necklace for mom. A nursing necklace is a necklace made from food-grade silicone or wood and worn by mom to give baby something to fiddle and twiddle while breastfeeding. It comes in different colors and shapes of beads to keep your baby occupied while nursing.

A nursing necklace for a distracted baby not only keeps her occupied while nursing but also can be a great sensory activity for your baby.

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Teething Baby

A teething baby is in pain because of their sore gum. The teething baby may want to feed more or latch and unlatch in an attempt to relieve pain in their gum. During teething, you may find your baby fussy and clingy than usual and it can affect their behavior at the breast.

The Solution for teething baby

If you think your baby is teething, give them teether or something cold to chew on before feeding. I will help numb their gum and that may stop them from latching and unlatching while nursing.

Another solution is offering them a non-toxic teething necklace worn by mom to chew on while they are cuddling to you. When babies are in pain, they naturally come to you more than usual. While they are cuddling, you can offer a teething necklace to chew on and relieve the pain in their tender gum.

You can also offer them a teething necklace to chew on when they unlatch while nursing to save yourself from baby chewing on your nipple (ouch!).  

Sick Baby

The sick baby also behaves differently at the breast. Especially, when your baby has a stuffy nose, she is more likely to latch and unlatch while nursing. Nasal congestion in babies makes it hard for them to breathe while nursing. They unlatch to breathe from their mouth.

The Solution

If you find your baby latching and unlatching repeatedly because of nasal congestion, put 1-2 drops of nasal saline in her nose right before feeding. It will help clear up the stuffy nose so they can breathe while feeding. You can also keep your cold mist humidifier on when you are feeding your baby.

Gassiness in Baby

Sometimes, burping is all it takes to stop the baby from latching and unlatching repeatedly while nursing. If you have a fast let-down or too much milk, your baby will gulp lots of air while nursing. A gassy baby is a fussy baby. Trapped air can cause stomach-ache and make the baby uncomfortable while nursing.

The Solution for gassiness

Burp them in between and after feeding. Frequent burping during feeding will ease their gas pain and keep them comfortable at the breast. Tummy exercise or gas drops will help relieve gas pain in infants. I have written an article about ways to relieve gas pain in infants. Check it out to find out effective remedies to relieve gas pain in babies.

Check out this video to learn different massaging techniques to relieve gas pain in infant.

Baby has Reflux

Reflux in babies can also make babies uncomfortable at the breast and cause popping on and off while nursing. Babies with silent reflux usually won’t stay latched on and cry because of the pain associated with feeding.

The Solution for Baby Reflux

You need to see your pediatrician if you think your child has reflux. But you can start with the following suggestion during feeding to see if it helps.

  • Feed your baby in an upright position – Try a breastfeeding position that keeps your baby fairly upright during feeding.
  • Offer them small frequent feeding
  • Keep your baby upright for 30 minutes after feeding

To find out how to manage reflux, read this article on Reflux in Babies.

lose weight while breastfeeding
Lose Weight NOT Milk Supply While Breastfeeding

One Breast making less Milk than Other

Sometimes, babies prefer one breast over another because of the difference in milk flow between the two. Every mother has one slacker boob, and it may make the baby impatient leading to popping on and off while nursing.

The Solution for Slacker boob

You may want to try adding a pumping session after feeding your baby from your slacker boob to build up the milk supply of the affected breast. Also, massaging your breast while your baby is feeding will help keep milk flowing

To learn more about fixing milk supply in your slacker boob, read this article on, Is it Possible for one breast to dry up while breastfeeding?

Comfort Nursing

Sometimes, the baby comes to the breast for comfort rather than nutrition. If your baby comes to your breast for comfort nursing, she wants to suck but doesn’t want milk. So, whenever she gets milk in her mouth she unlatches. And when you offer nipple again, she will take it and suck at it again.

A baby who is latching and unlatching repeatedly in this situation wants to suck at the breast for comfort only and getting milk in the mouth frustrates her.

The moms with an oversupply of milk see their babies popping on and off while nursing. With oversupply, every time a baby suck at the breast for comfort gets milk in their mouth and it makes them frustrated.

The Solution

If you think you have an oversupply of milk, try feeding your baby in the laid-back position and let gravity help your milk supply.

Baby Latching and Unlatching Repeatedly While Nursing: Conclusion

Here you go, mamas! You have all the possible reasons why your baby latching and unlatching repeatedly while nursing.  Finding out the reason is the biggest step in resolving this issue. I hope the tips highlighted in this article helps you go back to your normal breastfeeding routine.

If you find your baby’s behavior at the breast affecting him in any way, take help from a lactation consultant or your doctor. Lactation consultants are a great help in resolving any issue associated with breastfeeding.

Good Luck Mama!

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