Is your baby latching and unlatching while they are breastfeeding? There are lots of reasons a baby may pop on and off the breast during feeding and even times when it is completely normal. How your baby behaves during latching and nursing gives you important clues as to what might be going on and point you in a direction of how to make changes to fix it. Time to do some detective work to figure out why.
Reasons your baby may pop on & off
Adjusting their latch
In the early weeks, your baby follows their reflexes to latch at the breast and feed. Repeating this over and over again, every time they nurse begins to build a memory of muscle patterns. They become faster at latching and gain more ease during the process allowing them to begin to nurse in many different positions.
If your baby is not in a position to latch well, they may pop on and off trying to adjust their latch for more comfortable and effective milk removal. You can help them out by positioning them on your body allowing them to do their part of the process easier. Your baby should have lots of contact with your body and be in a position that allows their ear, shoulder, and hip to be in one straight line.
Give your baby time to latch. It is normal for them to bob their head while navigating to the nipple. Avoid holding the back of their head giving their neck freedom to move. When your baby has their head tilted back, in a similar position to when you drink from a glass, they can have their chin forward and land on your breast first. They can open their mouth nice and wide and take in a lot of breast tissue for a deep latch.
Slow milk flow
When you are thirsty and grab a glass of water, doesn’t it feel so refreshing to drink big sips of water to quench that thirst? As you continue to drink, your pace slows down. The same goes for your baby. Babies love a fast flow of milk when they begin nursing when they are hungry. As they begin to get full, they will slow things down until they are full.
When milk is not flowing quickly, baby may get frustrated and push at your breast or begin to pop on and off. Breast compressions can help move more milk down your ducts to keep your baby getting a sip of milk with each suck.(1) If you are experiencing a low milk supply, taking galactagogues can help boost your supply. Different herbs help in different ways. Choose herbs that target the reasons your supply may be affected. Legendairy Milk’s product chart can help you choose the best option for you.
Too much milk
Oversupply and overactive milk ejection reflex are two reasons your baby may pop on and off your breast, while breastfeeding when there is too much milk coming at them too fast or faster than they can handle. Your baby may come off your breast choking and sputtering or need to burp more often. Because they are not full yet, they will want to latch and feed more. If milk is still faster than they are comfortable with, off they pop again.
To address the root cause, you have to look at the big picture. Start with adjusting how you are holding your baby and positioning them on your breast. Giving your baby the opportunity to get a deeper latch, they may be more capable of handling your fast flow. If that doesn’t do the trick, it is time to take a deeper investigative dive.
Oversupply can happen because of the way breastfeeding is being managed or from inflammation. It can cause plugged ducts or mastitis for mom and cause discomfort for your baby. They may have more gas, more liquidy or frothy dirty diapers, and seem to always be hungry.(2) Adding in more pumping sessions than you need signals the body to make more milk and can create more than you need for your baby and lead to oversupply. Cut out foods that you have a sensitivity or intolerance to and work on healing your gut to reduce inflammation in your body.
Gas, colic, or reflux
When a baby's belly is upset, it makes breastfeeding less comfortable and they may pop on and off the breast while feeding. If your baby can pass gas easily, it is not an issue. If they seem bothered and are straining or struggling to pass gas it may be due to food sensitivities.
Colic is diagnosed when there doesn’t seem to be another reason for your baby’s crying. The criterion of diagnosing colic is a baby who cries for at least 3 hours a day, 3 or more times per week and it has been happening for 3 weeks or longer even though the baby is otherwise well-fed and healthy. Moms who have a history of migraines have a higher risk of their baby having colic.(3)
Reflux is when the contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. It is often accompanied by excessive spit-up except in the case of silent reflux where your baby may not spit up at all, but experience the same burning feeling in their esophagus during an episode. Sensitivity to dairy contributes to some of the cases of babies experiencing reflux. Cutting out cow’s milk may improve symptoms of reflux.(4)
We all have a frenulum that connects our tongue to the floor of the mouth. There is also a frenum where the lower lip and upper lip meet the gums and in 4 near our cheeks, making 7 frenum total in the mouth. If the frenulum is tight and restricts the full range of motion of the tongue or other areas of the mouth, it will affect a baby’s ability to feed.
Ties can not be diagnosed by just looking in the baby’s mouth. It requires meeting with a SACLC / IBCLC who has continuing education and the skill sets necessary for the evaluation of oral function.
The tension caused by ties can affect other areas of the body. How your baby moves can tell you a lot of information about where they are experiencing tightness and tension. Bodywork can help correct misalignments and reduce muscle strain patterns before and after releasing your baby’s ties. It often helps improve feeding and other symptoms related to ties immediately after the first visit.
It is normal for babies around 3-4 months of age to start getting even more interested in the world around them. Your baby may start to pop on and off the breast or seem to be playing games while they are nursing. This is normal and there is no need to worry. Their nursing sessions during the day may start to include many shorter feeds and they make up for a missed time during the middle of the night feeds. Cutting back or cutting out the middle of the night feeding during this time can result in dramatic drops in milk supply and poor weight gain when you go to your baby’s next weigh-in.
Enjoy their new stage! Sing songs and engage with them while they are nursing. Smile and tell them how much you adore them. Learning how to nurse in a ring sling can be a game-changer. You will be able to walk around and give your baby the movement and stimulation they like while they can focus on feeding.
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