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You probably figure excessive crying is due to one of your baby’s basic needs needing to be met.
It can be especially frustrating when you are trying to meet that need, but it seems like the mere sight of the breast sets them off crying even more.
You begin to wonder why it is that they are rejecting their food source and fussing when breastfeeding.
Is My Baby Excessively Fussy, or Just Crying?
Fussing while breastfeeding can be the result of a number of factors, but it usually looks the same in most babies.
You will have screaming, arching of the back, resistance to the breast, turning away from stimulation, and trying to squirm or push their way right out of your arms.
In this post, we will go into detail about 8 common reasons your baby may be fussing when you are trying to breastfeed – as well as what you can do to soothe your baby to prepare for feeding.
8 Common Reasons for Fussing when Breastfeeding
1. Poor Positioning
In order to optimize milk flow, you and your baby need to develop a good, deep latch. That means your baby’s mouth is wide open around the entire nipple, and their nose is against the breast.
The problem with a poor, or shallow, latch (when your baby is barely on the nipple) is that they cannot effectively drain the breast of milk.
This can lead to frustration for them as they are unable to get the milk they want, not to mention sore nipples and risk for plugged milk ducts (mastitis) for you.
Sometimes getting a proper latch takes practice for baby and mom, especially if there has been an injury during birth (i.e. dislocated jaw).
You can try tickling your baby’s nose and mouth to get them to open wide before placing the breast/nipple inside.
You may also be having troubles with finding a comfortable position for you and your baby. Try something other than a cross-body hold, like a football hold, that will allow your baby to have a strong attachment and prevent the both of you from becoming uncomfortable or frustrated.
If you are having trouble with your latch or finding a good breastfeeding position, do not hesitate to get in touch with a lactation consultant for help.
2. Breast Shape
There are some factors out of your control when it comes to milk flow and attachment, such as nipple or breast shape and size.
Some women believe that breast size will determine how much milk they make. They figure the bigger the better.
However, overly large breasts can be some of the most difficult to breastfeed with, as babies cannot get the full nipple in their mouths and therefore cannot attain a good latch.
Nipple shape can also cause some problems with proper latch and milk flow. Since breastfeeding requires a nipple to stretch into the baby’s mouth, flat or inverted nipples can make that quite difficult.
You can determine if you have flat or inverted nipples by performing a pinch test. Hold your breast at the areola and press gently but firmly at the base of your nipple.
If your nipple protrudes or becomes erect, your nipples are just fine.
If you do have flat or inverted nipples, there are things you can do to help prepare them for successful breastfeeding. Try manual stimulation or pulling back the areola before you start breastfeeding to get the nipple or protrude as much as possible.
3. Change in Flow
Your baby may be frustrated with the flow of your milk. It may be too fast or too slow, both of which can cause a hungry baby to become fussy and irritated.
Overactive letdown can simply be a matter of timing; you may have waited too long to feed your baby or you could have just taken a warm shower, which can stimulate milk flow.
If you notice your baby choking or gulping excessively, or if you notice a lot of milk dribbling out of their mouth while feeding, your milk flow may be too fast.
A hungry baby can easily become frustrated if milk flow is too slow; they want to eat but they cannot get milk quick enough. This can be the result of a slow letdown, when your milk takes longer than usual to come down and become accessible to your baby.
If you are experiencing slow letdown, you may want to look at your current lifestyle. Stress, certain medications, excessive caffeine intake, and smoking can all cause slow letdown.
However, these are not the only causes, and you should contact your doctor if you have concerns.
4. Change in Milk Content
When your baby is fussing at the breast, the problem may lie within the milk itself. Certain foods that you eat can affect the taste or make-up of your milk, causing discomforts or reactions in your baby.
A study was performed at the University of Copenhagen to test the theory that certain foods can change the taste of breast milk. It was found that certain chemicals found in food could indeed find their way into the breast milk, changing the flavor.
However, this can also vary depending on the woman (50% variation in flavor levels amongst the women in the test group). So, you may or may not be affected as strongly as other women.
Some foods you eat can also cause gas or trigger an allergic reaction (or intolerance) in your baby.
The most likely culprit for both is dairy, but nuts can also cause a reaction, and foods that may cause you gas (garlic, spicy foods, broccoli, and cabbage) could also have the same effect on your baby when ingested through breast milk.
Excessive caffeine and alcohol levels can also have negative effects on your baby’s behavior, as well as their digestive system, causing them to be more fussy than usual.
In moderation, some alcohol and caffeine is fine; we all need a drink now and then to combat the stress and exhaustion of parenting a baby.
However, you just need to be careful of how much and when (in comparison to your baby’s next feeding) before deciding to indulge.
5. Timing of Feeding
There are some times that your baby is not ready to eat, and forcing them onto the breast can cause quite the outburst.
In some cases, your baby may just not be hungry yet. Sometimes mothers will rely on their milk letdown rather than their baby’s hunger cues, believing it is time to feed before baby is ready.
Starting solid foods can also be a factor when you are still breastfeeding. Solids will keep your baby full for longer than breast milk, so they may not be ready to nurse at their next “scheduled” feeding time.
Follow your baby’s hunger cues to determine when it is time to feed rather than a schedule. Young babies will become more alert, and begin rooting (turning face toward stimulation searching for the breast) or sucking on their hands.
Other times, your baby may just be finished eating earlier than you expected, feeding for a shorter time that what is “normal.” Watch for signs that your baby is finished eating. Their sucking will slow down, and they will relax and release the nipple, showing satisfaction and no more hunger cues.
Growing up can cause a lot of discomforts for your baby, causing them to be more fussy than normal.
Teething and growth spurts can be physically uncomfortable, and neurological development can lead to your baby becoming more easily distracted by noise, light, and movement.
Teething can lead to your baby wanting to nurse more than normal, seeking to find relief from the pain. At the same time, they may become frustrated when breastfeeding, as the sucking action causes a lot of discomfort in their gums.
There are also periods known as wonder weeks, when it is believed there are considerable leaps in a baby’s mental development. These periods are often characterized by clinginess, crankiness, excessive crying, and less sleep.
Now, wonder weeks are not to be confused with growth spurts, which can also be periods of fussiness, accompanied by increased appetites.
Wonder weeks refer to mental development, and growth spurts refer to physical growth.
Overly fussy babies can often be mislabeled as high needs or just having a poor temperament, but the fact is that they may just be tired.
Many parents may overlook tiredness as a cause for fussiness while breastfeeding since many babies nurse to go to sleep. However, babies have a hard time eating when they are overly tired and just want to sleep.
Some babies just need more sleep than others do. You cannot simply rely on what others say about how much a baby should sleep. Do not try to create a schedule; rather watch for sleepy cues and time your feedings around those times.
Make sure your baby gets the minimum requirement for sleep, and let them determine when they are ready to wake up.
If your baby sleep longer, they probably need the extra time. After a few days of letting them sleep how they determine, you will likely find yourself with a much happier baby.
There are few things worse than a sick baby.
They cannot communicate what they need or what they are feeling, and they simply cry out of discomfort and confusion. Having a baby who is dealing with an illness or infection can make feeding time very difficult.
There are several ailments that can cause fussiness at mealtime.
The first is thrush, which is essentially a yeast infection that can develop in babies’ mouths or on mothers’ nipples.
It is characterized by white spots on the inside of the baby’s mouth, which can be very sore – making sucking painful – and require antibiotics to treat.
When it comes to colds, nasal congestion is one of the worst things that can contribute to a baby’s fussy eating habits.
Breastfeeding requires a baby to be able to breathe through their nose to maintain a good latch and continue sucking. If they cannot breathe, they cannot eat, and that will inevitably lead to tantrums.
Prolonged nasal congestion or cold symptoms can also lead to the development of an ear infection, when fluid builds up in the inner ear, increasing pressure and causing pain.
You may notice your baby pulling their ears a lot and crying if they have developed an ear infection.
You may find that your baby spits up excessively and becomes bothered by the frequency and acidity. With colic, your baby may just be completely inconsolable. Neither is very common with breastfed babies, but they are still possibilities.
10 Tips to Soothe Baby when They are Fussing at the Breast
When your baby has gotten to the point of being extremely worked up, crying uncontrollable and completely inconsolable, you will need to calm them down before they are even able to consider breastfeeding.
They are unlikely to respond to the breast and are unable to latch as they are crying. There are a few soothing techniques you can try to get your baby to calm down enough to focus on eating.
1. Baby-led Attachment
You should never force your baby to eat or latch. If they are upset, they will not be able to, and forcing them will likely just make them even more upset. Instead, you should try the baby-led attachment approach.
This is when you allow the baby to use their instincts to find the breast.
If they are able to smell it and feel it close enough to them, they may calm down enough to find the breast and latch on. Once they are eating, they are going to calm down very quickly.
2. Walk Around
Sometimes babies just do not want to sit still; even if they are in your arms while you are sitting and feeding them, they may not feel like they are actually being held.
Babies also like to feel the movement of being carried in your arms. It feels like they are in your belly again, being rocked to sleep by your movements.
Try standing up and walking around with your baby. You can either do this while nursing or just before in order to calm them down.
3. Swaddle/Sling Carry
Babies like to feel secure and close to mom. After 9 months cramped in the womb, being exposed in the great big world can feel unsafe and scary to a little baby.
Try swaddling your baby or carrying them in a sling so that they can feel the way they did in your belly: safe and secure.
4. Take a Break
After several attempts at getting your baby latched and breastfeeding, failing every time, you both may just need to take a break.
Take some time to walk around or change what you are doing.
Maybe you can take a few minutes to play together, or you can lay on the bed and just look at each other for a little while. Sometimes your baby just needs a moment to calm down on their own.
There are a lot of benefits that can be found with baby massage.
Now, it may sound strange, but baby massage is not the type of massage you think of with adults. You do not want to be pounding and pushing on your fragile little baby.
Simply rubbing your baby’s back, belly, arms, and legs is enough to qualify as a baby massage.
This technique is especially useful for relieving stress in colicky babies and aids in digestions, which can relieve gas and constipation.
6. Burp Baby
Gas buildup can be very uncomfortable for babies.
It is less common in breastfed babies, as they do not swallow as much air as bottle-fed babies do, but it can still occur due to bacteria buildup and other cases of excessive air swallowing, such as the hiccups.
Burping your baby can help to relieve the discomfort due to gas buildup, especially when you burp in the middle of a feeding and after. This can also reduce reflux, as air bubbles in your baby’s belly will cause them to feel full and spit up “excess” milk.
7. Avoid Stimulation
As babies get older, they become more aware of the world around them and they can be easily distracted, especially while eating.
Babies can also become overstimulated very easily, especially with all the noise and technology that is present today.
Overstimulation can cause crankiness, crying, and turning away from you (or the breast). To calm your baby down, you should remove them from all the excitement and go to a nice quiet room where they can relax and focus on nursing.
8. Skin-to-skin Contact
There is a reason mothers are given the chance to hold their babies skin-to-skin as soon as they are born. Amazing chemical reactions happen within both mother and baby, releasing hormones that relieve stress and promote bonding.
Skin-to-skin contact can help to calm your baby when they are overly upset. It allows them to hear your heartbeat, smell your skin, and feel you close. It eliminates the need for them to cry for you since they know you are close by to meet their needs.
9. Soothing Sounds
You may think that silence is the key to a happy baby, but you would be surprised by the noise level that your baby is used to.
In your belly, they were used to all of the whooshing sounds of your blood stream, the pounding of your heart, and the gurgling of your digestive system.
When you are trying to calm your baby down, try implementing some soothing sounds. These can be CD’s with white noise or nature sounds (ocean waves work great), or simply your soft voice talking, singing, or shushing in their ear.
10. Calm Yourself
Your baby feeds off your emotions; they can sense when you are stressed out and it stresses them out too. This means that the more upset you are, the more high-strung they will be.
If you feel your blood pressure rising as the result of your baby’s incessant crying, take a few moments to breathe and calm yourself down.
Ask dad if he can take the baby in the other room for a few minutes; take a quick break on the front porch before attempting to breastfeed again.
There are several factors that can contribute to your baby’s excessive fussiness, fighting and crying when you are trying to breastfeed.
Narrowing down the possible cause(s) can help you find the right way to soothe your baby and remedy the situation so that you can both relax and have some peace during feeding times.
Do you have any questions or comments about your baby’s fussy behavior while breastfeeding? Let us know in the comments.
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