You’ve been told that newborn babies need to be fed every 2 hours and then by the age of 1-2 months you can start feeding on demand. But, what happens when you start feeding your baby, thinking that she’s hungry, but the baby keeps crying at the breast or the bottle and refuses to feed. This can be daunting, especially to first-time parents or parents to a newborn.
There are many reasons why your baby starts being fussy or crying while feeding, like your baby may not be hungry, or you have a fast let-down, or she gets impatient with your milk flow if she’s used to or like a faster flow of milk, she is colicky, or sleepy, she has a growth spurt, she’s teething, or your baby might be having a preference of one breast over the other, she may not like the current nursing position, or she’s very distracted, your baby might have acid reflux or a stuffy nose. To calm your baby down, you can go to another room, dim lights, cuddle your baby, and do more skin-to-skin. You can also go for a walk outside with your baby. Calm and settle your baby down and try to feed her again. What you need to remember is that it is just a phase which will pass soon and meanwhile try to be patient and calm; your baby can sense if you’re stressed. It becomes a matter of concern if your baby’s weights isn’t increasing or is decreasing, and then consult your baby’s pediatrician immediately.
When your baby seems like she doesn’t like breastfeeding at all or rejects breasts, all together can make a mother distraught and question her milk supply. But, what you need to understand is not every time your baby cries while feeding can be because of multiple reasons other than low milk supply. The good thing about this is that this is just a phase and will pass away as your baby grows.
A few reasons why your baby might be crying while feeding
It is difficult to pinpoint why exactly your baby is crying or is fussy while feeding, but with the time you’ll know exactly why your baby is crying, and you can take necessary steps.
Your milk flow is too fast or too slow
Babies tend to have a preference, if they are used to fast flow of milk maybe through a bottle, they then tend to lose patience while breastfeeding because compared to the breast, the milk flow is faster in bottles and not much efforts have to be put by the baby.
Another reason can be if your baby is not used to bottles and is only exclusively breastfed, then she might be having trouble with the fast let-down of your milk.
If your baby is getting fussier or refuses to breastfeed in the morning, the reason can be that your breasts are engorged and when your baby latches, you have a fast let-down reflex making your baby cough, gag or choke. If your baby keeps getting out of breath, she will reject and cry at that moment.
If your baby is fussy in the evening, the reason might be that you have a slower let-down in the evening compared to the rest of the day, and your baby is getting impatient.
Solution for fast let-down reflex –
- Express through pump or hand express your milk in a bottle. You can use it to later feed your baby or DIY to make it a breast milk soap to bathe your baby.
- If you have a fast let-down, there’s a possibility that your baby has swallowed a lot of air too. So, stop for a minute and burp your baby and continue to feed again.
- Another technique to avoid fast let-down is lie on your back and let the child be on top of you and feed and let gravity do its magic. This position was loved by my little one and would doze off immediately.
- Feed through alternate breasts each time so that after the let-down your baby starts feeding and remain calm, instead of placing her on the other breast and experience a fast let-down again.
- Take a break after a few minutes of feeding and let your baby catch her breath. Then see if she wants to breastfeed again.
Solution for slow let-down reflex –
- You can try massaging your breasts a few minutes before feeding for a faster let-down.
- Try warm compressions and let loose any possible milk clots so that milk flows efficiently.
- You can stimulate your milk flow by pumping or hand expressing prior to feeding your baby.
- If you have a slow let-down, chances are your baby will get tired and sleep at the breasts. So, tickle her foot or hand and encourage her to suck. This will increase your milk flow.
Your baby has a growth spurt
Babies have growth spurts at different times in the first year of their life. During this time, their weight, height and head circumference suddenly increases, and they might tend to get hungrier during this time.
I remember when I became a first-time mum to my newborn and at around 6 weeks, he would constantly cry, and would want to breastfeed frequently. The first thought I had in mind was my milk supply has gone low, and my baby is now starving. Little did I know anything about a growth spurt. So, it’s important to be well-informed about such situations to take the right steps.
During the period of a growth spurt, babies tend to be fussier and will probably want to be breastfed and carried all day. She might even get up frequently at night. Babies have growth spurt-
- Between 1 and 3 weeks
- Between 6 and 8 weeks
- At 3 months
- At 6 months
- At 9 months
The good news is that growth spurt only lasts for a few days, and she will get back to her normal routine.
Solution: During this time, follow your baby’s cues. Cuddle and love her more. If she tends to be clingy and refuses to be put down, then you can wear her in a carrier. Your baby might seem hungrier even after feeding, so don’t be afraid to feed again. The more your baby feeds, the more milk you’ll produce. So, be patient and feed as much as your baby wants.
Your baby isn’t latching
If your baby has a tongue-tie, where the lower part of the tongue is not fully detached, then your baby might have problem latching. Other reasons might be that your little one is too tired, or overstimulated or too hungry to have the patience to latch.
Solution – If she has a tongue tie, visit your baby’s pediatrician soon. If you think the reason she’s not latching is that she’s too hungry, then look out for hunger cues way before your baby starts crying. Crying is the last sign of hunger.
Take her to a different room or dim the lights and make the environment a little quiet for your baby not to get distracted. You can also swaddle her and then try to feed her.
Another method to latch her on (I’ve done this multiple times and it works!) is to squeeze a few drops of milk on to your breast to let your baby taste it first. This will make her latch to want more.
Other reasons your baby is crying while feeding
Your baby isn’t hungry
There are times when your baby isn’t hungry but is extremely tired and sleepy, and because they don’t know how to sleep on their own, their only way of communicating to you is through crying. So, if your baby cries at the breast, then try to swaddle and make her sleep.
Your baby is teething
Teething can make your child fussy and cranky more than usual and they might even refuse to eat. Offer her teething toys to help soothe her gums.
Your baby needs to burp
After a few minutes of feeding, your little one might want to burp to relieve her of any air trapped in to continue feeding again. So, stop for a while, burp her, and then try again.
Your baby has a preference
Sometimes, babies like one breast over the other, and it’s a very common occurrence. Feed her from the breast she likes more and then nurses her from the other when she’s sleepy.
Your baby isn’t hungry but wants to be pacified
Babies are born with a sucking reflex and sucking on something pacifies them. So, it is possible that your baby isn’t hungry but wants to be pacified. You can take her off of your breast and give her a pacifier or a clean finger for her to suck on.
Your baby has a stuffy nose
If your baby has a cold with a stuffed up nose, she may not want to feed. Trying to feed and breathe at the same time with a stuffy nose might not be easy for her. Try to clear her nose but talk to your pediatrician before you do this.
Your baby doesn’t like your smell
Babies have a very sensitive nose, and if you have sprayed strong perfume or cologne, your baby might not be able to breathe properly and will try to unlatch frequently. This can also happen if you might have eaten a particular food like garlic, and your baby might not like the smell.
Your baby has acid reflux
If your baby has acid reflux where the food travels back in the esophagus from the stomach, it can make her very uncomfortable to be able to latch and feed. Talk to your pediatrician if you think your baby has acid reflux.
All in all, there are many reasons why babies cry while feeding. Crying is the only form of communication they know, so try to understand the cues and act accordingly.
Go back to your basics if your baby keeps crying, do skin-to-skin contact, cuddle more, and wear your baby in a carrier. Try to go for a walk with your baby, a change of scenery might help your baby calm down. Settle them down and then try feeding them again. Remember that each day and every feed is going to be a different experience for you. So, don’t lose hope and keep trying.
If you think your baby is crying inconsolably, then it’s better if you talk to your baby’s doctor to get professional advice.
Comment down below to share us your stories of what worked for you and how you tried to pacify your fussy and crying baby.
Located in India and a mother to a joyfully mischievous son, Kelin is the wife of the world’s most patient man and a busy homemaker. When she’s not busy cooking and running after her kid, you can find her in a corner reading, or penning down words on her laptop. She believes the world will always try to instil ‘mom guilt’ in new mothers, but she goes by the maxim ‘a mother knows best’.