Thrashing Baby During Sleep & Breastfeeding (Causes & Solutions)

A thrashing baby could mean they’re shaking their head, throwing their hands and legs around, being fussy, or crankier in general. For a baby thrashing during breastfeeding, the reasons could be latching issues, fast let-down reflex, burping issue, overstimulation, nipple thrush, teething, acid reflex, and so on. If your baby thrashes during sleep, it might include reasons like pain or air infection, epilepsy, autism, neurological disorders, change in a sleep cycle, or colic. Treatment depends on the issue causing thrashing in your baby. 

When you see your baby tossing and turning and just flinging their arms and legs about, there’s only so much you can do to calm them down. There’s confusion, and you don’t know what’s causing this or how to stop it. 

This restlessness can be witnessed while your baby is breastfeeding or when they reach a stage when their sleeping schedule changes as they grow from a newborn to a toddler.

But often, it’s more than just a developmental milestone, and you want to understand and do everything to stop your baby from moving restlessly about. 

Let’s see what the reasons might be behind such behavior of your baby and what’s causing them all this trouble with steps you can take to help them. 

Baby thrashing during breastfeeding

When you notice your baby is pulling away, fussing about, throwing their head back or arms during breastfeeding, this is one such definition of thrashing. Your baby might seem helpless under such circumstances, and you don’t know what’s causing them to do it.

Below are some reasons why your baby seems uncontrollable right now and how you can help them:

Latching issues

A baby is trying to latch to his mom's breast for his feeding

It’s pretty standard for babies to latch to your breast, and in the beginning, it usually takes some time for them to get used to it. There’re multiple reasons behind this, and one of them is the slow let-down reflex. 

Your body is still getting used to producing milk within seconds, and so your baby might react to it in the way of pulling their head away or might start wailing or crying when unable to latch on properly. 

While the solution would be to keep trying until things work out, if even after a while, you cannot help your baby latch, there’re a few things you can do. 

This includes stimulating your breast by massaging it, taking a warm shower, drinking a warm beverage, maintaining a calm environment, or just hugging your baby close to you to let the body naturally produce milk faster. 

Fast let-down reflex

Another breastfeeding issue could be a fast let-down where the milk flow is more than what your baby can handle right now. Even too much of a milk flow is an issue, and your baby might throw their arms at you or pull back because they’re unable to swallow milk fast. 

In such cases, you can change positions, get a nursing pillow, stop breastfeeding for a while or pump out some milk to maintain a steady flow.

Burping issue

For your baby, it’s challenging to communicate their issues to you. So if they need to burp while breastfeeding, they won’t be able to share this verbally but will do so by throwing around their arms, wailing, and basically thrashing about.

It’s important to understand that your baby needs to burp in between because this is something known as false fullness, where your baby swallows a lot of air while feeding and thinks they’re full, but in reality, they just need to burp.

It’s very uncomfortable for them, which might make them react this way, and once you burp them, they might want to go for a second feeding. 

Overstimulation

Breastfeeding is a great bonding time between you and your baby, and when you try to do it somewhere where there’s a lot of noise and bright light, your baby is only right to be fussy or thrash around.

Imagine you having a meal and having to deal with noise around you. Nobody likes that, so keeping a peaceful environment around you is vital not to overstimulate your baby. You both need somewhere quiet and a bit shady so your little munchkin can feed in peace.

Nipple thrush

It’s as real as it can get when the issue you’re suffering from is nipple thrush, and it can be easily transmitted to your baby, which then turns into an oral thrush for your baby and vice-versa.

When experiencing thrush, you might have some symptoms like:

  • Shiny or flaky skin on nipple or areola
  • Itchy nipples
  • Burning pain in the nipples
  • Sore breasts
  • Stabbing pain behind the areola
  • Thrush in other areas of the body

Your baby is affected a lot when you’re experiencing nipple thrush. The list of reasons behind contacting a thrush goes is long, and so the important thing is to pinpoint the cause and eliminate it.

Of course, your baby wouldn’t want to breastfeed during this time and might revolt by not accepting to feed. So, visit your doctor and get yourself treated to get out of this vicious cycle of thrush. 

Teething

Your baby could be in the stage when their teeth start to come out, and it can be painful and irritating to go through this stage. It’s unbearable if you don’t do something about it. They might bite at your nipple along with becoming fussy and flinging their arms about.

The best thing is to provide relief to their gums by giving them a chew toy, giving them calcium medications, and maybe following up on a few home remedies. 

Breastmilk intolerance

Your baby could also have an intolerance towards breastmilk, and it’s not a surprise that they do so. They might not digest the lactose present in your milk and are uncomfortable due to this digestive issue. 

Although mother’s milk is recommended for the first six months, it’s better to start the formula after consulting with your pediatrician if breast milk is an issue.

Acid reflux

Spitting up milk is one such symptom of acid reflux, and yes, it’s common in babies too.

Acid reflux might cause your baby not to want to drink your milk since it’s their sole source of nutrition, and this is definitely where they’re getting all their nutrition from. 

Something you’re eating might be influencing your milk. So, making your diet healthy and changing your breastfeeding habits a bit can help solve this issue. 

Baby thrashing while sleeping

Your baby can move their body, shake their head a lot, fling their arms and legs a lot in their deep sleep too.

Apart from thrashing during breastfeeding, they could do the same when asleep. While it’s easier to guess what could be troubling the baby during breastfeeding, it becomes harder to know what’s bothering them in their hours of sleep.

Let’s take a look at some of the possible issues:

Pain or ear infection

A newborn is crying because of pain from his ear infection

If your baby is shaking their head a lot in their sleep, they must be doing more so when they’re awake. Mostly this activity goes unnoticed when they’re awake, mistaken for them being active but comes under notice only when they’re asleep.

They might be shaking their head or trying to scratch their ears because of the infection, which might be causing them pain, and want to relieve themselves. 

If they have a fever too then, it’s better to take them to your doctor and get them treated as soon as possible. 

Epilepsy

Epilepsy in babies isn’t as scary as it sounds, and it can be described as short seizures that cause sudden contractions in the muscles. Taking them to the doctor is the best to find a treatment for this medical issue. 

Known as myoclonic jerks, they can affect any part of the body and cause some babies to turn their heads or neck. The jerks are pretty short, so you might not even notice them at first. So, these are pretty short and sudden but are forceful, and you’ll notice something’s not right if you pay attention. 

Autism 

Shaking their body restlessly in a particular manner could also hint at autism. Some people with autism move their bodies to self-soothe or stimulate themselves. It could be a similar possibility for your baby, and it’s mostly in rhythmic motions.

There’re other signs of autism such as:

  • Not meeting developmental milestones
  • Gaining and losing skills
  • Not making eye contact or responding to parents or caregivers

Neurological disorders

Being restless could also be a part of neurological problems. Often, these are uncontrollable actions on your baby’s behalf, so if you witness something like this, this issue could be a potential cause. 

If you’re noticing your baby isn’t meeting developmental milestones and has trouble with speech, movement, and other age-typical behaviors, then it’s only fitting to be worried. 

Change in the sleep cycle

At the age of 4 months, baby’s experience something known as sleep regression, where their sleeping patterns change. From here on, they will experience quite a few changes in their sleep schedule as they grow older

In such cases, your baby might have an irregular sleep schedule, difficulty falling asleep, shifting nap routines, waking up more often during the night, and generally having a disturbed sleep cycle.

This can make your baby fussy, grumpy, and restless. They might twitch when they’re sleeping because of difficulty adjusting to this new sleep cycle.

Although there’s no right way to help them, a few changes in sleep habits might help.

Many significant changes are happening at this age like they would stop needing overnight feedings, outgrow their bassinet, learn to roll over, and so they might thrash about in their sleep due to all these changes. 

Colic and thrashing baby

A mom is massaging her infant son after a recent feeding to help with gas and colic

Colic can be described as something when you see your baby having episodes of prolonged and intense crying or fussiness. It happens for no apparent reason, but it’s something your baby might be going through right now if they’re thrashing in their sleep or mostly around evening.

During this time, the baby cries uncontrollably for hours, might be really fussy, have facial discoloring, and have bodily tension such as pulled up or stiffened arms and legs, clenched fists, arched back, or tense abdomen. 

There might be some possible causes resulting in colic, but as parents, you need to be calm with your child and not become angry with them, or you’ll make their condition worse. Taking them to the doctor is the best way to get a proper diagnosis.

Other things to change around and work on include:

  • Try a few soothing strategies like using a pacifier, swaddling your baby, giving them a warm bath, and so on.
  • Changing your feeding practices may also provide some relief.
  • Your doctor might suggest a short-term trial of dietary changes.

The parents’ mental health is also affected during this difficult time, so even you will be given some advice about handling a situation and things to do to relieve your stress. Getting as much help from trusted family members will be good for your mental health. 

FAQs

Why does my child thrash around at night?

Your baby could be suffering from multiple reasons resulting in thrashing at night, and one of these is having night terrors. A night terror is a sleep disruption similar to having a nightmare but much more dramatic.

They are noted in kids who are overtired, ill, stressed, taking a new medicine, sleeping in a new environment, not getting enough sleep, or having too much caffeine. Your baby will thrash around, but you have to wait patiently for them. It’s not right to wake up your baby too.

A few things to help prevent night terrors is to reduce the causes in the first place. It might take some time, but it’s better to start taking action today. 

What does a nursing strike look like?

Babies going through a nursing strike refuse to take the breast and seem unhappy, fussy, and displeased by not nursing. There are several physical and emotional reasons behind why your baby might be on a nursing strike. 

These might include congestion, sore throat, illness, teething, frustration with milk supply, change in taste of milk, and so on. During this time, the vital thing to do is maintain your supply and ensure your baby is fed. 

Once these things are ensured, you can get back your baby to leave their strike by encouraging them through several ways.

How do I stop my baby from fidgeting in his sleep?

Some ways to do that include developing a rhythm, making the baby sleep in your room, and encouraging good sleeping habits.

It’s normal for babies to start moving around in their sleep, but fidgeting is not right. Making some necessary changes in their daily routine can help improve them significantly.

Why does my baby kick his legs when sleeping?

There’s a disorder known as Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD), which involves leg movements during sleep and can wake a child. It’s most common in legs where a limb moves or jerks over and over then stays still for a time. This can cause daytime problems with behavior, learning, and sleepiness. 

To resolve this issue, a pediatric sleep specialist needs to look at your baby to ensure if they have PLMS or not. 

To summarize

Seeing your child suffer even for a bit can make any parent want to immediately treat the issue causing this problem. But when your baby does something like shaking their head, throwing their hands or legs, or just, in general, seem fussy, there could be many reasons behind them behaving in this way.

Your baby could be thrashing during breastfeeding or sleep with different causes responsible for it. The best thing is to be observant of your baby’s behavior and try to understand what seems to be making them behave this way. 

If you still can’t handle the situation, it’s best to see your doctor to get medical advice. You can get through this well with your partner or with support from close friends and family!

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