baby keeps pulling off breast and relatching

20 Reasons Your Baby Keeps Pulling Off Breast And Relatching

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Breastfeeding can be a beautiful bonding experience, but it’s not without its little hiccups. As a breastfeeding counselor and mom of 2 I know that one common situation you might encounter is when your baby keeps pulling off the breast and then relatching. This may happen for a variety of reasons, and understanding why it’s occurring can help create a more peaceful feeding time for you and your baby.

20 reasons your baby keeps pulling off breast and relatching

It’s normal to feel a bit confused when you’re settling into breastfeeding and this starts happening. Out of the blue, your little one decides to turn mealtime into a sort of stop-and-go game. They might be trying to tell you something—maybe the flow is too fast or too slow, or they’re just taking a breather.

Many parents face the start-and-stop challenge when they first start breastfeeding. With a bit of patience and some gentle adjustments, finding the rhythm that works best for both of you is totally within reach.

Let’s discuss the main reasons this may be happening.

The top reasons your baby keeps pulling off breast and relatching

When your baby is pulling off the breast and relatching, or twisting and pulling while breastfeeding, it might feel a bit like a dance that you both haven’t quite mastered yet. Let’s gently waltz through the common reasons why this might happen and what you can do to smoothen the rhythm.

1. Bad positioning

If your little one is often fussing at the breast, consider your current breastfeeding position. A shallow latch can occur when your baby isn’t snuggled in just right. To help, sit in a comfortable chair and aim for their mouth to cover more of the area below the nipple rather than above. Think about bringing your baby to the breast, rather than the breast to your baby, supporting their neck and shoulders comfortably.

Your baby is incredible – they know when their latch isn’t deep enough and they may try to adjust by themselves by unlatching and relatching.

2. Your new baby is learning to latch

Newborn babies are like tiny scholars of life – everything is a lesson, including latching. Your baby’s mouth learning to grasp your nipple takes practice, especially for babies born early. Make sure their lips are flared out with a large mouthful of breast when you start breastfeeding. If your baby pulls away, just gently encourage them to find the nipple again.

3. Nipple confusion from the pacifier or bottle-feeding

Sometimes, your little one might treat the nipple like a pacifier or a bottle teat if they’re used to alternate feeding methods. This confusion can lead to inconsistent latching. Try to give your baby plenty of skin-to-skin contact and offer the breast when they’re calm and alert.

4. Tongue-tie

anterior tongue tie
Anterior Tongue Tie

A baby with a tongue-tie might have trouble staying latched due to restricted tongue movement. Keep an eye out for signs like difficulty lifting the tongue or moving it side to side. Consult with a lactation expert if you suspect a tongue-tie; they can offer tailored guidance for your breastfeeding journey.

5. Overactive let-down

If you’ve got an overactive let-down, it can feel a bit like your milk is a waterfall rather than a peaceful stream. This may cause your baby to pull off and then relatch in an attempt to handle the excess milk. It might help to express a little milk before feeding, either by hand expressing or using a pump, to take the edge off the initial flow. Always watch how your baby feeds and how your milk supply responds. Milk flowing too quickly or slowly can impact your baby’s ease of feeding.

  • Tip: Try leaning back with your baby close while breastfeeding so gravity can ease the flow a bit.

6. Slow milk flow or low milk supply

Feeling like your milk supply is a slowly dripping faucet? A decrease in breast milk production can cause slow milk flow and might discourage your little one, causing them to pull off and relatch while they wait for more. Make sure you’re hydrated and well-nourished to support your milk production.

  • Suggestion: Offering both breasts during a feeding session might encourage a steadier supply.

7. Gas

Tiny bubbles can cause big trouble. If your baby is gassy, they may pull away due to discomfort. Feedings can become stop-and-go if gas is making your little one’s tummy hurt.

  • Remember: Burp your baby often, especially if they’re squirming or pulling off during feeds.

8. Distractions during feeding

Life is a big, exciting carnival for your baby. Distractions can make them latch and relatch if something else catches their eye. Consider feeding in a quiet, dimly lit room to help them focus on the task at hand – eating!

10 tips how to breastfeed in public

9. Teething

When those tiny teeth begin to push through the gums, your baby might start treating your breast like a teething ring. This can cause some discomfort for both of you and might explain the latch, unlatch, and re-latch pattern.

  • Solution: For relief, offering a cold teething toy before feedings can keep the tears at bay and help your baby stay latched.

10. A growth spurt

Growth spurts happen fast and can make your little one hungrier than usual. This can lead to more frequent feedings where your baby may pull off and reattach as they try to up your milk supply to match their increasing needs. Most babies experience these spurts around 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 9 months.

11. Wet or dirty diaper

As your baby grows, their digestive system is getting better at processing milk, leading to changes in pee and poop patterns. If your baby is squirming or pulling off the breast, they might be trying to tell you it’s time for a change. Keep tabs on those wet and dirty diapers to make sure everything’s on point!

12. Feeling full

Every feeding is a new adventure, and as you spend more time at the breast, you’ll notice the subtle cues. If your baby is latching and unlatching, it may be their way of controlling the milk flow to suit them best, fast or slow. Their little tummy may be full up – monitor their diapers carefully to make sure they are getting enough milk (and you aren’t overfeeding).

Trust me, breastfeeding does get easier – you just need some patience and perseverance!

13. Sickness

If your baby has a stuffy nose, they might struggle to breathe while breastfeeding. Feeding can become a chore instead of that blissful bonding time.

  • What you can do:

    • Clear your baby’s nasal passage with a saline spray or a bulb syringe before feedings.

    • Try breastfeeding in an upright position to help with nasal congestion.

If your baby’s congestion persists or worsens, it’s best to check in with your doctor.

14. Reflux or colic

Dealing with reflux or colic can cause your baby to pull away from the breast as they might experience discomfort during and after feeding. Increased fussiness or hesitation to feed could indicate reflux, and a pediatrician can offer guidance and treatment options.

  • Tips for managing reflux:

    • Feed your baby in a more upright position to help keep the milk from coming back up.

    • Burp your baby frequently to reduce the amount of air swallowed, which can exacerbate reflux.

15. Thrush

Thrush, a yeast infection in the mouth, can make breastfeeding painful for babies, leading them to latch and unlatch.

What to look out for:

  • White patches on your baby’s tongue, cheeks, or gums.

  • A diaper rash that may accompany thrush.

If you suspect thrush, it’s best to talk to your doctor promptly. Both you and your baby will need treatment to prevent passing the infection back and forth.

16. You have your period

When your periods return, you might notice a temporary drop in your milk supply or find that your milk flow slows around your menstruation. It’s pretty standard, and most moms see their supply bounce back post-period. Here’s the silver lining though: even with a low milk supply during this time, the quality of your milk remains top-notch, filled with all the goodness your baby needs. Your breast milk can change its taste too (yes, really!) so your baby may react to that.

17. Pregnancy

If you’re expecting another baby, you can keep breastfeeding, provided your pregnancy is going along smoothly and your healthcare provider gives you the green light. Some mothers experience a decrease in milk supply, especially during the first trimester. It’s natural and often due to hormonal changes.

But don’t worry, many can still maintain a normal supply throughout the pregnancy. Just remember to nourish your body a little extra for both your growing baby and your nursing tot.

18. Fussiness in the evening

Some babies just have a tough time staying latched on during the fussy evening hours, which can be pretty exhausting for both of you. Keep your baby close to sense your calming presence.

If you notice your baby is getting squirmy or starting to fuss, try different nursing positions; “laid-back breastfeeding” is a go-to for many parents. By leaning back and placing your baby tummy-to-tummy with you, gravity helps them get a better grip and might just soothe them.

19. Tiredness

If your baby is pulling away because they’re tired, you’ll notice different behavior at the breast. When they’re sleepy, babies often have a shallow latch and might slip off more easily. To help your baby to latch effectively, support their head gently but allow them to tilt it back a bit. This position tends to open up their little mouths wider.

If sloooooow milk flow is making them drowsy, breast compressions can pep things up a bit. Give your breast a gentle squeeze to increase the flow. It’s like giving them a little nudge that says, “Hey, there’s more where that came from!” Plus, it might just keep them nursing instead of nodding off.

20. Breast preference or wanting to switch sides

It’s pretty common for babies to signal when they want to switch breasts, and it’s totally okay to follow their lead.

Signs your baby wants to switch to the other breast:

  • Pulling away: If your baby keeps pulling off and looking at you, they might be ready to move to the other breast because the current breast is ’empty’.

  • Fussiness: A sudden bout of fussiness could mean they’re not getting milk as fast as they’d like.

  • Distracted nursing: When babies take frequent breaks or seem interested in everything but feeding, they might be asking for a change.

Quick tips:

  • Respond to cues: Pay attention to your baby’s signals — they know what they like!

  • Stay relaxed: Keep calm and offer the other breast gently, without any rush.

  • Alternate start breast: Begin the next feeding with the breast you ended with last time to maintain balance.

Just like us, babies have preferences, and your baby might simply favor one breast over the other. Often, it’s about where they feel most comfy or what works for their hunger at that moment. So, if your baby is keen on switching to the other breast, give it a go.

What is normal in breastfeeding?

It’s common for most babies to show a variety of nursing behaviors as they learn to breastfeed effectively.

When you begin nursing, it’s typical for a baby to latch and then re-latch. This is part of the learning process for both of you. Pay attention to your baby’s chin; a slow, steady movement usually means they’re getting just the right amount.

Here’s a quick list of what you might notice:

  • Frequent nursing: Newborns often nurse every 1-3 hours.

  • Varying length of feedings: Some feedings may be long, others short. It’s all about meeting your baby’s needs.

  • Different sucking patterns: Your little one may alternate between quick sucks to stimulate your milk flow and slow, deep sucks when milk is being consumed.

  • Comfort nursing: Sometimes your baby will stay close, sucking for comfort.

Breastfeeding is a skill that you and your baby are mastering together. It takes time and patience.

It’s okay if your experience doesn’t match someone else’s – what matters is finding your rhythm.

Signs your baby is hungry and wants a feed:

  • Rooting or turning their head toward the breast: “I’m hungry, feed me please!”

  • Sucking on their hands or fussing: “I need a snack, like, now.”

  • Coming off the breast and crying or becoming fussy: Sometimes, it’s the flow that’s the issue, not the appetite.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Stay calm and give your baby a cuddle: This can be comforting and might just be the ticket back to a peaceful feed.

  • Try switching sides: If one side isn’t doing the trick, the other side might just have the flow your baby prefers.

  • Look for a pacifier: Sometimes babies just need to suckle without the milk flow.

When to seek help with latching

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, breastfeeding challenges like your baby pulling off and relatching persist, and it might raise a little flag of worry in your mind.

If your baby struggles consistently during feedings, professional advice from a lactation consultant, doctor, or healthcare provider can support your breastfeeding journey.

They can provide the support you need, offering a personalized approach to your breastfeeding journey answering any questions you may have. Here are a few specific situations where seeking help is a smart step:

  • Persistent pain: If breastfeeding hurts despite trying different positions and ensuring a proper latch, a professional can assess for issues like tongue tie or infection.

  • Baby’s weight gain: If you’re concerned your baby isn’t gaining weight or seems hungry after most feeds, a doctor can check for adequate growth and milk intake.

  • Unusual symptoms: Look out for any unusual symptoms such as persistent crying, refusal to feed, signs of allergies that might be linked to dietary sensitivities, or an indication of a potential medical condition (such as difficulty breathing while nursing).

A reassuring hand can make all the difference, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help when you need it. After all, your peace of mind matters just as much as a full tummy for your baby.

Baby unlatching and relatching FAQs

Yes, many babies will unlatch themselves when they’ve had all the milk they need and feel full. This is a natural indication that they’ve reached the end of their feeding session or are ready for their next nap.

Babies might unlatch and relatch multiple times during a feeding session for several reasons. This could be due to excess milk flow making it difficult for them to keep up, or they might be trying different nursing positions to get more comfortable. Some babies do this when they need further support to latch effectively, especially if the mom has large breasts or if the baby likes to nurse in a particular way like a laid-back position.

To stop your baby from comfort latching, you can gently break the suction and unlatch them once they start showing signs of being full or if your baby falls asleep. Offering a pacifier or a finger to suck on can provide comfort without encouraging them to stay latched for non-nutritional sucking. Watch for cues that they are seeking comfort rather than hunger and to try comforting them in other ways, like rocking or cuddling.

If your baby is pulling off your breast, it might be a response to a fast milk let-down or because they are getting too much milk at once. Try nursing in a position that gives the baby more control over the milk flow, like the laid-back breastfeeding position, where gravity can help manage the flow. Pay attention to your baby’s cues and allow them to take breaks if they need to. Some babies pull off if they’re distracted, so minimizing distractions in the room can make this less likely.

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