Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to bond and communicate with your new baby. Unfortunately, trying to understand what an infant is trying to say can sometimes be a difficult feat. Crying, fussiness, and changes in feeding behavior can cause a lot of stress for both a baby and their mother. Although babies cannot speak, their observed behaviors can say a lot. Many breastfeeding moms feel guilty and discouraged by their baby’s frustrating behaviors and often assume something is wrong with themselves or their breast milk. This frustration can result in switching to formula and giving up on breastfeeding all together.
Knowing some common baby behaviors can help moms understand what their babies are trying to say, help alleviate some of the frustration, and help them continue nursing.
1. Crying after feeding
Many newborns cry 5-15 minutes after a feeding. Mothers often assume this is because their baby is still hungry and that they do not have enough breast milk to feed them. This is a common time for moms to want to try giving in to formula to stop the baby from crying. The truth is a baby’s gut is not yet fully developed. They often have a bowel movement or urinate soon after eating and communicate this by crying. Sometimes they can also get gassy and do not understand why they are feeling uncomfortable. Instead of assuming a baby is still hungry, a mother may want to check the diaper, give their baby an extra burp, or try comforting them. This is usually just a phase that most babies grow out of after a short while.
2. Cluster feeds
Babies often want to nurse more frequently during their fussy times in the late afternoon and early evening. The baby may nurse for a few minutes, pull away and cry, and then nurse for a few more minutes, over and over for a couple of hours. This often makes mothers think that they are not making enough milk. Babies often become overstimulated throughout the day and as a result become fussy in the evening. As long as baby is happy during the day, they usually just want to decompress with mom and just feed more frequently. This behavior is very normal and does not mean there is an issue with mom’s milk supply. It is usually just a phase that ends after the first 3-4 months.
3. Fuss or arch away from breast when baby seems to be hungry
This behavior occurs when a baby gives hunger cues, but when they are placed on the breast they seem to not want to nurse and start fussing or arch away. This may be more commonly seen in an infant who is 4-7 months old and is easily distracted. An infant can be very overstimulated by their environment and become agitated when feeding. If this behavior is occurring, it is not that the baby does not want their mother’s milk; it is more likely that there are some loud noises, bright lights, or sudden changes in the environment that the baby does not like.
Please remember to contact your pediatrician or lactation consultant if you have concerns with your baby’s behavior or eating habits.
By Kelly Martin, MCD, RD, CLE