Breastfed babies are often imagined as these adorable, sleepy little things, suckling away at breast milk and staring into mom’s eyes, the perfect picture of calm splendor.
Then you have your newborn baby and find out quickly that it’s not quite like that in real life.
A baby squirming while breastfeeding can be daunting for old and new parents alike.
Whether bottle-feeding breast milk or latching and nursing, you still end up with a fussy baby now and then, and the baby squirms like a fish out of water rather than having that peaceful and serene skin-to-skin contact you see in the movies.
And that’s okay. Life isn’t a movie. If your baby doesn’t always fall asleep moments after the baby’s mouth finds the nipple, while your milk flow remains an open tap, you’re not in the minority.
It happens to a lot of us.
Why is my baby fussing when fed?
Many different factors can be considered on babies squirming while breastfeeding.
Bottle-fed babies may have different reasons for squirming than nursing mothers and their babies, but you can get to the bottom of it.
It just takes some determination and the process of elimination.
The following are the different reasons why your baby squirms when feeding.
Getting answers as to why it’s happening is the first step in correcting the issue. The mother and the baby will instead have a more peaceful session together, so let’s investigate!
Baby squirming while breastfeeding
If you sometimes bottlefeed your baby and nurse other times, and the squirming seems more prevalent when you nurse, then it’s important to pay attention to the issues mentioned in this section.
1. The position makes the baby uncomfortable
If your baby is squirming during a nursing session in a position that used not to bother them, it can be that baby has hit one of many growth spurts they will experience during development. They may no longer fit comfortably in the position they’re used to being in.
Fussy behavior due to an uncomfortable position may include the baby stopping to nurse, thrashing their head, spitting out the nipple, kicking, and even using their arms to push away from you.
Young babies turn their heads from side to side, trying to get away.
Trying a different position or adjusting your feeding schedule so that baby is getting enough milk is one way to remedy this issue.
A growth spurt means you have a hungry baby more often, and a breastfed baby sometimes pulls away in response to overwhelming hunger.
If the baby is squirming and seems smashed into the position or so hungry that the baby begins to throw tantrums when offered the breast, then change your position, and adjust how often you feed.
You can consult your lactation consultant if you are unsure how much more milk your little one should get as they grow bigger and start to develop more.
You may try letting the baby feed on demand for a while.
2. Slow letdown
If your baby is squirming, or if you feel the baby pull hard on your breast or nipple impatiently for the first few minutes of nursing, you may have a delayed letdown, which can be very frustrating for a baby.
When the baby sucks and nothing happens, you may hear the baby grunt or feel the baby squirm while breastfeeding.
They may be losing their patience. They want an immediate milk flow and get frustrated when they can’t get any.
To remedy this issue, try some breast compressions, or squeeze it gently for a few minutes before latching baby so that the letdown has time to come in.
3. Forceful letdown
It may overwhelm your baby if you have a very fast letdown.
This can happen in one breast or both, so you must pay attention to whether your baby squirms when trying to nurse from just one side.
To remedy this and not waterboard your baby with your milk, try pumping for a few minutes to get the letdown out of the way, and then offer the breast.
4. Ear infection
Many babies will fuss or wiggle away when feeding if they have an ear infection or other health issues.
Baby’s health is of utmost importance, so if the baby wriggles away every time you try to nurse on one side or notice other signs of ear issues, then call your child’s doctor and make an appointment.
Remember, babies can’t tell you they don’t feel good, so you have to watch their cues to find out if they are in pain or discomfort.
Other signs include ear pulling, hair pulling, crying, not sleeping, fever, and ear discharge.
5. Poor latch
If your baby can’t get a good latch, then they aren’t getting the fast flow of milk they want from a feeding session, and it’s very frustrating for both you and your baby.
New parents may not be able to recognize what a bad latch looks like automatically, but with a little bit of information, you may be able to start spotting it quickly when it happens.
You should not be able to see any nipple or areola. That should be deep in the mouth of your baby.
If latching suddenly starts to feel uncomfortable, or if you notice that you have sore nipples, then you may not be getting a good latch.
If you are having trouble getting the baby to latch correctly, make an appointment with a lactation consultant to learn how to get the best latch possible.
Thrush is an oral infection that causes a minimal amount of pain. It comes from too much yeast.
If the baby pulls away from the breast, and there is a white film or coating on the inside of your baby’s mouth and the tongue, then it may be thrush, and your baby may need an antibiotic.
Thrush looks like milk residue, but it doesn’t wipe away easily.
Don’t pick at it, and don’t stop feeding the baby. You and your baby may both need treatment for it.
7. The baby’s diaper is soiled
It’s very inconvenient to stop nursing to change a diaper.
You may think you’ll be better off just finishing the nursing session and then changing the dirty diaper.
However, baby prefers a clean butt.
Taking the time to stop nursing long enough to change the diaper and then offering more milk may make all the difference in the world when it comes to the baby squirming away from you.
Baby fights bottle but is hungry
It’s hard to tell, at least in the early stages of infancy, why a hungry baby will pull away from a bottle.
Why wouldn’t someone eat when they are hungry?
A baby who uses a bottle doesn’t have to worry about a good latch or a letdown, so why wouldn’t the little one just relax and take the bottle?
While some of the issues listed above, like ear problems, thrush, or a dirty diaper, can all be reasons your baby is refusing the bottle, there are a few other reasons you may be seeing this behavior in babies.
1. Food sensitivity
You may notice that when you offer a baby bottle, your child is excited about it until about halfway through.
Then, suddenly, it’s like a switch gets flipped, and the baby is no longer interested and refuses to eat.
Your baby may have a sensitivity to the food you are feeding.
If you supplement with formula, try changing the type of formula. This may give you a much different feeding experience.
2. Gastroesophageal reflux disease
More commonly known as GERD, or simply acid reflux, it occurs when the stomach acid in the belly moves upward and into the esophagus.
Many women have extreme heartburn when pregnant.
Imagine that same feeling with a newborn who doesn’t understand what is happening.
You can see a doctor to find out whether some medication is warranted, but you can also make immediate changes that may help.
Feeding the baby in a more upright position instead of a prone or flat position helps the stomach acid to stay where it should be due to gravity.
3. Baby is tired
Falling asleep when feeding is more common with a newborn or young infant.
It’s a normal stage of development, and getting enough sleep helps them make huge leaps forward in their growth.
Be sure that you feed your little ones while they are wide awake.
When babies sleep in the middle of breastfeeding or having a bottle, they get fussy when they are woken up. Also, waking them during a nap disrupts their body’s development and the reinforcement of the immune system.
4. The baby would rather have solid foods
If you have started feeding solid foods, the baby may just not have much interest in a baby bottle anymore.
Babies who have experienced the textures and flavors of different table foods often start to reject formula and breast milk and may begin to demonstrate squirming away or fighting you.
Infants must be fed breast milk or formula until twelve months of age, but before that, you may slowly wean them so they can start trying real foods.
Keep trying to bottle feed your baby; if they refuse to do it, call your pediatrician and explain what is happening.
You can do other things to ensure your baby gets the breast milk they need for their development.
You can make breast milk popsicles, breast milk snacks, and even breast milk smoothies to give to your little one who has decided they are too big for a bottle.
5. The bottle is too tight
If the nipple is secured too tightly inside the ring on the neck of the bottle, your little one may have trouble getting the milk out of it.
A pressure vacuum occurs, and your baby must work much harder to get any of the milk.
For lazy eaters (there are a lot of them), it can be frustrating and not worth it to work so hard to get the milk needed from the bottle.
Adjust and loosen your bottles (obviously not so that they’re leaking milk) and see if it makes any difference in your child’s willingness to eat.
6. The baby doesn’t like the bottle
Some babies are just picky.
If you take a group of parents and bring up the subject of baby bottles, you will hear comments like, “My little one will only use (insert brand here) bottles and will rather starve before using a different brand.”
That mom may sound overly dramatic, but chances are, she’s not.
Babies can be picky about bottles, just like adults are picky about brands of other items.
Some nipples are hard, some are soft, some are big, some are small, and some actual bottles are easier to grip, etc.
Not all baby bottles are created equally.
If your child seems to want nothing to do with the actual bottle, you may need to try a different brand.
Ask your friends or pediatrician which baby bottles they will recommend.
Do some research, and try different brands until you find the one that baby loves.
Squirmy babies at feeding time
It is frustrating to start feeding your infant and discover that it’s like trying to bathe a cat rather than the sweet bonding experience you were hoping for.
But it doesn’t have to be like that forever.
Taking the time to educate yourself on the issues causing this squirming and fighting can go a long way towards correcting the problem.
It just takes a little bit of amateur detective work.