Has your baby been happy breastfeeding for months, but they suddenly are distracted while nursing? Maybe it seems like they’re too busy to eat. Distracted nursing is actually a really common problem, but fortunately, there’s several easy fixes.
Often, mothers assume that their baby is “ready to wean” or “not interested in the breast” any more if they get distracted during nursing. But that’s not the case! After all, a baby’s only food source for the first six months of life is the breast or bottle. They’re not going to stop being interested in the only food they can get.
In fact, it’s totally normal for babies to be distracted while nursing occasionally (especially around the 4 month mark).
But if your baby is constantly pulling away from the breast, it can be frustrating for both you and your child. And it can hurt! If your baby is happily breastfeeding, suddenly hears a noise, then turns around to find out what it is, you quickly learn what nipple whiplash feels like.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to suffer your sore nipples with no help. In this article, we’ll talk about what causes babies to get distracted during nursing (or bottle feeding), plus 13 tips to help get your baby to focus on eating.
What causes babies to get distracted during nursing (or bottle feeding)?
When babies are first born, they have a natural instinct to latch on to their mother’s nipple and start suckling. However, sometimes babies can get distracted while nursing and lose their grip on the nipple. There are a few different reasons why this may happen.
Brand new babies may be distracted by their own movements. They may flail their arms or kick their legs, which can cause them to lose their grip on the nipple.
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Some babies simply may distracted by what they feel with their little bodies. They may need to be burped or have their diaper changed before they can continue nursing.
Four month fussies and breastfeeding
A newborn is fine to just lay in your arms, cuddle up, and breastfeed. Tiny babies can only focus their eyes to approximately the distance between your breast and your face, so they aren’t distracted by other things they see around them.
As babies get older and their brain develops, they become more aware of the world around them. Not only that, but the accompanying growth spurt makes babies hungrier and often more irritable.
This development peaks around 4 months. Babies are often distracted by external stimuli, such as noise, bright lights, or older siblings running around in the background.
In fact, there’s a name for this phenomenon – the four month fussies. Fortunately, the 4 month fussies only last a few weeks, so even if it’s stressful at the time, just remember that it won’t last forever.
13 tips to help your baby’s distracted nursing
While it’s helpful to learn why your baby is getting distracted while breastfeeding, you likely just want to know how to fix it! Try some of these tips and see which work best for you and your little one.
Find a quiet, dark environment
If you’re finding that your baby is getting distracted while nursing, it may help to find a quiet, dark environment. This will help minimize stimulus and allow your baby to focus on nursing.
Try turning off any lights and closing the curtains or blinds. You may also want to turn off any electronics in the room (so no scrolling Instagram while nursing, at least during this phase).
If possible, find a room where you can sit in comfortable silence and bond with your baby while they eat. This is harder when you’re out and about, but hopefully you’re in a place that has a nursing room, or you could go back to your car for a few minutes to nurse (NOTE: My point about going to the car to nurse isn’t to say that you shouldn’t nurse in public; you are allowed to breastfeed anywhere your baby has a right to be. However, if your baby is distracted in a noisy restaurant, it might be easier to nurse in the car).
Sing or shush quietly
Just like us, sometimes a baby may find an environment too quiet. If that’s the case and your baby is fussy and distracted, try shushing or quiet singing.
Even gentle bouncing to calm them before trying to nurse again (your birthing ball is great to bounce on while soothing your baby).
Use a fan or white noise machine
If you’re struggling to get your baby to focus while nursing, you’re not alone. Many mothers find that their little ones become easily distracted, making it difficult to breastfeeding. One way to help your baby stay focused is by using a fan or white noise machine. The sound of the fan can help to drown out any background noise, making it easier for your baby to latch on and eat. Additionally, the steady rhythm of the fan can help to soothe and calm your baby.
If you don’t have a fan or white noise machine, you can also try using a portable speaker or even downloading a white noise app on your phone. With a little trial and error, you’ll soon find a sound that helps your baby focus and enjoy a peaceful feeding.
Rock your baby while feeding
Another way to help keep your baby focused is to rock them gently while they nurse. The movement can help to lull your little one into a trance-like state, making it easier for them to stay latched on and drink their fill.
Additionally, the rocking motion can soothe you and stimulate your let-down reflex, making it easier for your baby to get the milk flowing. So if you’re struggling to keep your baby engaged during feedings, try rocking her gently in your arms. It just might do the trick.
Use a baby carrier
Carrying your baby in a carrier while you nurse them can help to increase their sense of security and calm them down if they are fussy. For this reason, there are many benefits to putting your baby in a baby carrier while you nurse them.
For one, it can help to promote bonding between you and your child. Additionally, the warm, cozy environment can help your baby to latch on more easily and stay latched on for longer periods of time.
NOTE: A nursing tank can make it much easier to comfortably breastfeed in a carrier. Here’s some of my favorite nursing tanks and camis.
Additionally, wearing your baby in a carrier can help to increase milk production. So if you are looking for a way to make nursing easier and more enjoyable for both you and your child, consider using a baby carrier.
RELATED: Best baby carriers – different types of baby carriers
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Try a different position
The novelty of a new nursing position may be enough to settle your baby to eat. My personal favorite is the side-lying position. Lying on a firm mattress or the floor, lie on your side and face your baby (they’ll be on their side too). From there, you can feed your baby with either breast (although to be honest, it will take a little practice from both of you to get good at it!).
Pay attention to hunger cues
Believe it or not, your baby feeds less well when they are extra hungry. Just like you get hangry if it’s been too long since you’ve eaten (or is that just me?), so does your baby. Once they are overly hungry, they are often too upset to latch easily.
That’s why it’s important to notice right when your baby begins to get hungry, instead of waiting until they are upset.
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Although every baby is different, there are some common early hunger cues that breastfed babies tend to display.
One of the most common cues is rooting, which is when the baby turns their head towards your breast and opens their mouth. Another common cue is sucking on their fist or fingers.
Crying is usually a late sign of hunger, so if your baby is crying, they may be already be agitated and it may be more difficult to latch them on.
Try a nursing necklace
A nursing necklace is a great way to distract your baby from playing or looking around by giving them something to play with with their hands (or even feet).
A nursing necklace is a great way for your child to focus on something else while breastfeeding. If you notice that your baby is tugging at your hair or scratching at your skin, a nursing necklace might benefit you both.
Plus, a nursing necklace can actually be a cute fashion piece for you too! They come in several styles and colors so you can get one that matches your personality.
The best non-toxic nursing necklaces are made of silicone or natural materials such as wood. These materials won’t cause allergic reactions in baby, nor will they contain chemicals that are bad for your baby.
RELATED: The best nursing necklaces for mom to wear
Check for teething
Any parent who has gone through the teething process knows that it can be a difficult and painful time for both baby and mom.
While teething usually occurs between 4-7 months (again, sometimes correlating with the 4 month fussies), some babies can start teething as early as 3 months old. Symptoms of teething can include drooling, chewing on anything and everything, irritability, and waking up more at night. In addition, a baby’s increased drooling can irritate the skin around the mouth, making it sore and sensitive.
Teething can also cause pain during breastfeeding for mom as well. When a baby is teething, they may try to bite down while nursing, which can be quite painful for mom.
If you suspect that your baby is teething, there are a few things you can do to help ease their discomfort. Giving them a clean wet washcloth to chew on can help to soothe their gums, and chilled teething toys can also be effective.
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If you have any concerns about your baby’s teething process, be sure to talk to your pediatrician.
Only use low-flow bottle nipples
It is often recommended that formula fed babies move from a slow-flow nipple during the newborn stage to a faster flow nipple as they get older. However, this isn’t the course of action you want to take with your combination breastfed/ bottle fed baby.
Your breasts’ nipples do not magically gain a faster flow as your baby gets bigger, so no matter how old your baby is, they’ll still get a somewhat low flow from your breasts. If they take a fast-flow bottle during the day (when you’re at work, for example), and then are supposed to nurse in the evening, they may become frustrated when they aren’t getting milk as quickly as they like.
To avoid this preference, simply keep your baby on slow flow bottles at daycare or wherever else they take bottles.
Offer when baby is sleepy
Babies are less distractible when they are sleepy (hey, just like me!). So despite the common “feed, play, sleep” advice (which is not how most babies are built, by the way), your young infant will be much more willing to settle and eat when they’re ready to drift off to sleep. Plus, there’s nothing better than a baby taking a nap on you.
Repeat after me: It is biologically normal for your baby to fall asleep while nursing. There is no need to try to stop it.
Continue night feeds
It follows that if it’s easier to get babies to eat when they’re sleepy, they’ll also eat well when they wake up for night feeds.
That’s one of the reasons its so helpful to have a cosleeper bassinet in your room. It makes it so much easier for your baby to nurse at night without you having to get up and trudge off to the nursery.
RELATED: The best non-toxic co sleeper bassinets
And spoiler alert: If you’re still exclusively breastfeeding in the first month, you actually will get more sleep than if you use formula.
Be mindful of your own reactions
Your baby can read your body language, and they feed off you (no pun intended). If you are becoming stressed and agitated because your child won’t eat, it will make it harder for your baby to relax enough to nurse.
RELATED: Mindfulness for moms
Find a way to incorporate mindfulness or meditation into your nursing sessions. With my second daughter, I made it a practice to really notice my feet on the floor below the rocking chair. I paid attention to the feeling of her little bottom snugged into the crook of my elbow, and how it felt to support her body with my arms.
Body scan activities, breathing, and, and paying attention to your senses can help you relax so you can be calmly present for your baby.
How to know your baby is full (instead of distracted)
It can be difficult to know when a breastfed baby is truly hungry. Many new parents worry that they’ll either over or under feed their nursling.
If you’re unsure whether your baby is hungry, try offering them the breast. If they start to latch on and suck, then they were probably hungry. However, if they refuse the breast or only suck for a short time, then they may not be interested in eating at that moment. Trusting your instincts and getting to know your baby’s cues will help you learn how to correctly interpret their hunger signals.
Conclusions on how to help your baby with distracted nursing
Babies are constantly learning and developing, even while they’re nursing. If your baby seems distracted at the breast, don’t worry – it doesn’t mean they’re no longer interested in nursing. It just means their brain is working hard to process all the new information it’s taking in.
Fortunately, there are lots of great ways to help your baby stay focused during nursing. Try using one of these tips to help keep your little one on task and getting the nourishment they need.