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Why Does Your Baby Grunt And Squirm While Breastfeeding?
Babies do a number of cute, strange, and downright frustrating things while nursing, which I presume is why you’re here – wondering why your baby squirms while breastfeeding and how, exactly, to deal with that.
Don’t worry, you are NOT alone!
And that’s why I’m here now, writing this post. When it comes to twiddling, grunting, unlatching, and squirming, I’ve been there, and I want to help you figure out why your baby squirms while nursing.
Honestly, this is pretty common behavior, and there might not be anything wrong at all! On the other hand, there could be something going on that needs to be resolved, which is why I want to share a list of the most common reasons why breastfed babies can get a bit squirmy while eating.
Without delay, I’m going to get right to the list, and then we’ll go over some other questions you might have about your baby’s “breastfeeding behaviors”.
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to replace professional medical advice
Reasons a Baby Squirms While Breastfeeding
The reasons a baby squirms while breastfeeding can vary, depending on age and a number of different factors. Newborns and younger babies get a little fussy sometimes to express discomfort.
As they get older, they might get more wiggly and playful while nursing, which we lovingly refer to as “gymnurstics”.
Why is your baby so wiggly while feeding? Here are some reasons why your baby might be fussing at the breast.
1. Letdown Issues
Is your milk taking too long to let down? Or do you have a “firehose letdown” (in other words, it comes out too fast)? Either of these issues could be causing your baby to get frustrated and squirm.
When your baby latches and starts to suckle, very little milk will come out at first. Sometimes, it takes a few minutes to let down, which could be frustrating if your little one is especially hungry. You can help stimulate the flow of milk by massaging or compressing the breast while nursing.
A baby’s suckling stimulates the release of oxytocin, which causes the milk to flow much faster. Sometimes, it’s actually too fast, making it difficult for a baby to keep up. Again, your baby could squirm if they’re overwhelmed by the fast flow.
If this is the case, try changing up your position. You might want to try either a laid-back or a side-lying position to slow the flow of milk.
Trapped air in the tummy can cause discomfort and fussing while nursing, especially in younger infants. This is because their digestive systems are brand new and haven’t developed yet.
Additional reasons for gassiness include a poor latch and a fast letdown, both of which bring extra air into a baby’s tummy.
You can typically avoid excessive gassiness by burping your baby frequently. 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.
And if you suspect that your baby is gassy, you might need to help relieve the discomfort. Tummy massage and bicycle kicks can help relieve a baby’s gas.
Babies with acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, can get uncomfortable while nursing because the acid is coming back up from the stomach, causing squirminess.
You might notice that your baby spits up excessively, although they could have “silent reflux”, meaning they’re uncomfortable from the acid without actually spitting up.
Try nursing your baby in a more upright position, such as in the laid-back position, and try to keep their head elevated after eating. When my firstborn was still pretty young, I brought her to a chiropractor, which helped stop the projectile vomiting (and she completely stopped spitting up).
Is your baby getting distracted or overstimulated? If they’re having a hard time focusing because their siblings are running around or the TV is turned on, it could explain the squirminess.
Sometimes, you just need to find a dark, quiet area to feed your baby (which I realize can be a little tricky when you have other kiddos to keep an eye on!).
If you have older kids, try to find a quiet time activity when it’s time for a feeding, such as coloring, play-doh, or a sensory bin.
Cutting teeth is painful! If your baby is around six months old (give or take) and seems fussier than normal, they could be teething, which would explain the squirming.
Avoid frozen teethers, which could hurt the gums – I’ve actually been throwing silicone pacifiers into the freezer because they remain soft when cold, yet my baby really enjoys the brief moment of coolness in her mouth.
We also avoid teething gel and amber teething necklaces, since they aren’t the safest options.
When a baby has thrush, there will often be redness and white patches in the mouth. You might also notice bleeding if you try to wipe away the patches. Because it can be uncomfortable, babies sometimes get squirmy and fussy while nursing when they have thrush.
If you suspect that’s what is going on, check with your baby’s pediatrician for a diagnosis and treatment plan.
7. Growth Spurt
When babies go through growth spurts, they might want to nurse more frequently because they’re hungrier than normal.
Babies go through occasional developmental leaps, as well, which is when they’re learning something new in the world around them. This can mean they’re more easily distracted.
As I mentioned earlier, you might need to move to a quieter area so that your baby can focus on eating – and try to have patience, because it won’t last forever!
8. Uncomfortable Position
There is a good chance that a squirmy baby is simply in an uncomfortable position and is trying to get comfy. Make sure that your baby’s body is aligned with their head so that their neck isn’t turned awkwardly.
You can also try nursing in a different position altogether, whether that’s the football hold, side-lying, or a laidback nursing position.
9. Full Tummy
If your babe nursed recently and wants to comfort feed, but they still get a letdown, they might start squirming because their tummy is already full. If this is the case, you can try offering a pacifier if they’ll take one, or offer comfort in another way.
Often, breastfed babies refuse pacifiers.
Have you ever been told your baby is “using you as a pacifier?”. Totally normal! They’re finding comfort in you, not “using” you.
However, we found that our third baby really took to the Tommee Tippee Ultra Light silicone pacifier, when our first two didn’t care for any brand we’d tried. Unfortunately, I hadn’t heard of the ultra light ones until Baby #3 came along.
For some reason, babies can get a little squirmy when they’re tired, so if it’s about naptime, that could explain it.
My little girl just turned one and she often starts wiggling around when I’m nursing her and she’s starting to get tired but can’t fall asleep – possibly overstimulation from trying to keep up with her big sisters.
When this happens, I typically get the big kids to bed and then dim the lights so she can fall asleep more easily.
11. Wet or Dirty Diaper
As you might imagine, having a soiled diaper isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, and some babies have more sensitive bottoms than others. If your baby starts squirming while breastfeeding, check if their diaper needs to be changed before starting to worry.
12. Ear Infection
Does your baby squirm every time you feed him or her on one side? It could be due to an ear infection. Look for additional signs of ear infection:
- Trouble sleeping
- Pulling on ears
- Excessive ear discharge
- Elevated temperature
- Difficulty hearing
If you notice squirming while nursing on one particular side, try switching to the other side and see if the squirming continues. If you suspect an ear infection, contact your baby’s care provider to have it checked out.
13. Low Milk Supply
Finally, if your baby isn’t getting enough milk, they could be squirming in frustration and trying to get more milk out. Worried about a sudden drop in milk supply? It could be due to:
- Hormonal changes
- Sleep deprivation
- Severe dehydration
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.
Should You Be Concerned?
Generally, I wouldn’t be concerned about a baby squirming while breastfeeding. Most likely, your baby is either gassy or the letdown is too fast/slow for their liking.
However, if there are other concerning symptoms in addition to the squirminess, then you’ll definitely want to contact your healthcare provider and/or a lactation consultant to figure it out.
What To Do When Baby Squirms While Nursing
The first thing you’ll want to do is determine WHY baby squirms while nursing. It could be completely harmless, or there could be an underlying issue. The above list of reasons babies squirm while breastfeeding might be helpful in determining the “why” so that you can figure out what to do about it.
1. Use massage and compressions to stimulate a quicker letdown.
2. Try a laid back or side-lying position to slow a fast letdown.
3. Burp your baby frequently and use massage to relieve gassiness.
4. Breastfeed in a dark, quiet room to avoid distractions.
5. Keep your baby’s head elevated during and after nursing if you suspect reflux.
6. Give your baby something cool to chew on before nursing.
7. Nurse on demand to increase milk production when your baby is growing.
8. If your baby is full and they need comfort, offer a pacifier or lovey.
9. Check your baby’s diaper.
10. See a healthcare provider if you suspect thrush or an ear infection.
Baby Wiggly While Feeding?
In this article, we covered a list of possible reasons why your baby squirms while breastfeeding, along with some potential solutions and other frequently asked questions.
Squirminess isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, unless it’s accompanied by other, more concerning symptoms. So, while it may be frustrating, there might not be much you can do about it.
Again, though, be sure to consult with a professional if you think there’s something more serious going on.
And best of luck!