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Why Is Your Baby Pulling Off While Nursing?
Baby latching and unlatching repeatedly? Or unlatching and crying? Hang in there, there’s likely a reasonable explanation for this common (yet, perhaps, frustrating!) behavior.
Luckily, these things are typically short-lived and resolve quickly.
However, this doesn’t mean you should disregard it entirely! While your baby could simply be getting impatient for a letdown, there could also be an issue – like reflux or gassiness – that needs your attention.
I’ve put together a list of reasons why your baby might be latching and unlatching, along with possible solutions that you could try.
This is assuming that you’re PAST the first few days of learning how to breastfeed after giving birth (because that’s a completely different story!). We’re also assuming that you and your baby have gotten a successful start to your breastfeeding journey, and the repeated unlatching began sometime after that.
That said, let’s dive right into that list!
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to replace professional medical advice.
Reasons Why Baby Might Be Latching and Unlatching Repeatedly
The reasons a baby latches and unlatches repeatedly can vary depending on their age and a number of different factors. Newborns, for example, could feel uncomfortable in certain positions, while a toddler might just be getting distracted.
Why is your baby unlatching and crying – or just unlatching and relatching? Here are a few ideas.
1. Slow Letdown / Slow Flow
When a baby latches and begins to suckle, only a little bit of milk will come out at first. The suckling stimulates your letdown, which is when it starts flowing faster. So if your baby is really hungry and the letdown is taking too long, they might get frustrated, unlatch, and possibly cry.
A slow letdown is just that – it doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t making enough milk!
The Solution: You can help stimulate the flow of milk by massaging or compressing the breast while nursing.
2. Fast Letdown
On the other end of the spectrum, your baby might not be able to keep up with the milk flow. This happened frequently with my first two babies, especially before my supply had regulated. When this happened, though, they would start coughing, then they’d eventually relatch and continue nursing.
The Solution: If this is the case, you might want to try either a laidback or a side-lying position to slow the flow of milk. Laidback breastfeeding looks something like this:
3. Low Milk Supply
If your baby isn’t able to get enough milk out, they could be latching and unlatching repeatedly, trying to get another letdown.
Worried about a sudden drop in milk supply? It could be due to:
- Hormonal changes
- Sleep deprivation
- Severe dehydration
The Solution: If it has indeed dropped, you can try these tricks to bring it back up:
- Offer both sides
- Try switch nursing
- Power pump
- Replace pump parts
- Take a “nursing vacation”
I explain these five tips (and others) in the linked article on increasing your breast milk supply quickly.
4. Uncomfortable Position
If you’ve ever tried eating or drinking with your head turned awkwardly, you’ll know how difficult it is to swallow properly.
Is your baby also squirming while breastfeeding? Repeated latching and unlatching could simply be due to nursing in an uncomfortable position.
The Solution: Make sure that your baby’s head and body are aligned (so that their neck isn’t turned awkwardly). Or try a completely different nursing position: the football hold, side-lying, or a laidback nursing position.
5. Silent Reflux
Even babies can get acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, and they might get uncomfortable while nursing because the acid is coming back up from the stomach.
A baby with acid reflux might spit up constantly, but a baby could also have silent reflux meaning they’re uncomfortable from the acid without actually spitting up.
The Solution: It can help to nurse with your baby’s head in an upright position (try laidback breastfeeding with baby’s head higher than their body). Also, try to keep their head elevated after they get done eating.
Another idea: I brought my firstborn to a chiropractor several times when she was just a couple months old, which helped stop the projectile vomiting (and she completely stopped spitting up shortly afterward).
6. Stuffy Nose
Ever tried to eat with your mouth closed when you’ve had a stuffy nose? Try plugging your nose and see how well it works! Babies with a cold often come up to breathe, latching and unlatching repeatedly throughout a feed.
The Solution: Before breastfeeding your baby, clear out their nose with a nasal bulb to make breathing while nursing easier.
7. Air Bubbles (Gas)
Trapped air bubbles, or gas, in the tummy can cause unlatching and fussing – especially in younger infants. This is because their digestive systems haven’t had time to fully develop yet.
Gassiness could also be caused by a poor latch or a fast letdown bringing extra air into a baby’s tummy.
The Solution: Burp your baby frequently to avoid excess gas. I’ve had good luck alternating between patting my babies’ backs and massaging upward, starting around the middle of the back and running my hand toward the neck.
Think your baby might be gassy? Try giving a tummy massage, along with bicycle kicks to help relieve their gas.
As babies get older, they are more easily distracted and overstimulated. Think your baby is having a hard time focusing when siblings are running around or the TV is turned on? That could explain why they’re unlatching and relatching.
The Solution: You might just need to find a dark, quiet space where you can feed your baby – I know, I know! It’s not exactly simple when you have other kiddos to keep track of.
For big kids, try to find a quiet activity while your baby is nursing, such as play-doh, sensory bins, and play-doh.
Teething can be a difficult time for everyone involved! Is your baby around six months old and fussier than usual? Then teething could be the culprit.
The Solution: For a teething baby that is having trouble breastfeeding, you can give them something cold to chew on before nursing. A cold, damp washcloth works, as does frozen fruit in a mesh feeder.
Things to avoid:
- frozen teethers
- teething gel
- amber teething necklaces
Lately, I’ve been putting silicone pacifiers into the freezer because they remain soft when cold, yet my teething toddler really enjoys the moment of coolness in her mouth.
10. Comfort Nursing
Sometimes, when babies are comfort nursing rather than nursing for nourishment, they are even more easily distracted, or they simply want to snuggle and have a little drink here and there.
The Solution: Honestly, it doesn’t typically bother me, and I simply feed on demand. When my baby is hungry, she will drink more, and when she just needs a snuggle, she might only nurse for a minute, then run off to play.
I know that I’m providing more than just food for my little girl – I’m providing a sense of security. And that means everything to her.
11. Growth Spurt
During a growth spurt, babies often want to nurse more. Cluster feeding is common and it helps create more milk supply – but sometimes the milk isn’t coming out fast enough and your baby might unlatch and try again shortly after that.
The Solution: I’m all about feeding on demand, so if your baby is cluster feeding during a growth spurt, pay attention to their cues and go ahead… Feed your baby!
12. Developmental Milestone
Like with growth spurts, reaching a new developmental milestone can affect every baby differently. Some babies are more easily distracted while breastfeeding during this time, and you’ll notice that your baby unlatches to look around, or possibly even cries after unlatching.
The Solution: Don’t give up! Keep persevering, and find a dark, quiet space to feed your baby if you feel that your baby is overly distracted. Know that it’s just a season, and everything will get back to normal soon!
How Do I Stop My Baby From Latching and Unlatching?
If your milk has already let down and your baby is suddenly latching and unlatching repeatedly, make sure your baby is comfortable or try switching them to the other breast.
If it still continues (and your baby doesn’t seem distressed), ask yourself if they could simply be distracted or comfort nursing. You can try moving to a dark, quiet space or take a break and try nursing again later.
Why Does My Baby Keep Unlatching and Crying?
If your baby is unlatching and crying during a feed, there is clearly something wrong, whether the letdown is taking too long or the milk is flowing too slowly. Or your baby could be uncomfortable from gas or teething.
Silent reflux is yet another possibility, so if you are unable to figure out what is causing your baby to unlatch and cry (assuming this is happening frequently) you might need to visit with your pediatrician.
Baby Latching and Unlatching Repeatedly at Night
Does your baby repeatedly latch and unlatch at night? If you have ruled out all of the reasons listed above, then your baby could just be cluster feeding or simply need to feel your presence while they sleep.
Some exclusively breastfed babies seem to want to nurse all.night.long. And when they get too relaxed, they might accidentally unlatch, then want to relatch as soon as they realize they are no longer suckling.
It’s tough, I get it! But it’s also biologically normal for babies to want to be close to the nursing parent during the night.
Baby Keeps Unlatching and Turning Head
If your baby unlatches and turns their head while breastfeeding, they could be uncomfortable. Try burping or repositioning them. If it continues frequently and your baby cries or seems distressed, it would be worth investigating further with a professional.
Why is My Baby Not Latching on One Breast?
Odd as it sounds, some babies simply have a breast preference. It’s possible that you have a low supply on one side, the letdown is too fast on that side, or perhaps they’re uncomfortable lying on one side for some reason: an ear infection, teething, and so on.
It’s frustrating, for sure! You could pump on the neglected side to keep up your supply or, if this continues indefinitely, express just enough to alleviate engorgement and let that breast dry up.
In today’s post, we covered a list of possible reasons why your baby isn’t staying latched, along with some solutions for each.
Why is your baby latching and unlatching repeatedly? Do you suspect teething or other discomfort? Or is your milk taking too long to let down?
Often, this is a temporary issue, although you might have to do some detective work. Good luck!