Why Your Baby Might be Fussy When Nursing and How You Can Help

by | Nov 1, 2022

Baby Fussy When Nursing

One of the most common questions we get as lactation consultants is why a baby who has been nursing well suddenly becomes fussy at the breast. There are a few reasons this can happen, and there are a few things you can do to try to help your baby back to a happy, good-latching baby.

Teething

If your baby is teething, they may be fussier than usual when nursing. This is because the process of cutting teeth can be painful. To help soothe your baby, you can try massaging their gums with a clean finger or offering them a cold, wet washcloth to chew on. You can also give them child-safe teething toys to gnaw on. Here are a few of our favorite teething toys and remedies:

If your baby still has trouble nursing, contact your pediatrician.

Growth Spurt

Growth spurts can be a normal and healthy part of your baby’s development. However, they can also be a time when your baby is fussy and seems to want to nurse more often. This is because your baby is going through a period of rapid growth and is trying to get all the nutrients they need to support this growth. While it can be challenging, there are ways you can help your baby during a growth spurt.

First, try to nurse your baby more often during a growth spurt. This will help them get the nutrients they need and also help to comfort them. You can also try to pump after nursing to increase your milk supply. This can be helpful if you are not able to nurse as often as your baby needs. You can store the milk and then offer it in a bottle.

It can also help to keep a record of how long you nurse each time. While it might seem like you spend much of your day nursing, when you look at the total amount of time, it may be less than you think  – especially if you are dividing your time into 15-minute increments. When you have a better idea of the amount of time you are spending nursing, you might be able to adjust and spend more time helping your baby satisfy their hunger.

Illness

Some illnesses, like a common cold, may not impact your baby’s feeding much. However, other illnesses can make feeding difficult. If your baby has an illness that’s causing discomfort – like an intestinal bug, for example – they may be fussy at the breast regardless of how much milk they are getting. If they are in pain or uncomfortable, they may be fussy off and on throughout the day.

When babies are ill, their body temperature may be slightly elevated or they may have a runny nose or congestion. These signs of illness may be more noticeable at the breast. Some babies slurp up milk like a champ even when they’re sick, but others may feed infrequently, tug at their face, pull off the breast midway through a feeding, or scream after latching on.

When your baby is ill, they will probably let you know. If you’re not sure, you can always ask your healthcare provider if it’s okay to continue to breastfeed. Generally speaking, unless the illness is severe, breast milk is always the best nutritional option for your baby when they’re sick. 

Cluster Feeding

Sometimes babies will “cluster feed,” which can make it seem like they are spending a lot of time at the breast when you look at the clock. This may happen at the beginning of feeding or toward the end. For example, your baby may eat gently for a few minutes, pull off, and get fussy. They may do this a couple of times before finishing the rest of the feeding in a more typical way.

While it’s a nice way to spend time with your baby, if they are not getting enough milk, they may become unsatisfied and cry to let you know. If they are eating well but just want to continue nursing, you should allow your baby as much time at the breast as they want. They may only want a couple of minutes at a time, but this can help them to get the milk they need. 

Baby Fussy When Nursing

Tiredness

If your baby is fussy when nursing, it could be due to tiredness. Help your baby by burping them after each feeding, and use soothing techniques to help your baby drift off to sleep. You can also try massaging their back or gently rocking them. If your baby is still fussing, try nursing them in a quiet, dimly lit room. Soft music or a white noise machine might help them to relax and eat more comfortably.

If your baby has been sleeping well and suddenly starts acting fussy at the breast, it could be a sign of a sleep regression. Even if your baby is getting enough total sleep, fragmented sleep and wakeful periods can still make your baby fussy and grouchy.  

You may also want to consider setting a schedule for baby, which can help them stay on track with sleep and feedings. If you’d like help developing a schedule for your baby, contact us for a sleep consultation.

How You Can Help

If your baby is fussy when nursing, there are a few things you can do to help. First, make sure that you are positioned correctly and that your baby is latched on properly. If your baby is not latched on correctly, he or she may be uncomfortable and may start to cry. Second, try to relax and let your baby feed at his or her own pace. Don’t try to hurry the process along – let your baby take his or her time. Finally, if your baby is still fussy, try gently massaging his or her back or head while he or she is nursing. This may help to soothe your baby and can help to get the feeding process back on track.

When to Seek Medical Help if Your Baby is Fussy When Nursing

If your baby is fussy when nursing, it could be because they are hungry or thirsty.  If they are still fussy after nursing and you’ve exhausted all options and there is no apparent cause, you may want to seek medical help. There could be a medical reason why your baby is fussy, and a doctor can help you figure out what it is and how to treat it. Additionally, you should seek help if your baby has a sudden drop in overall weight gain.

Your baby lights up with joy the moment you set eyes on each other. You both feel blissful as you nurse. Then, suddenly, your baby starts screaming. What happened?

Fussiness while feeding is common. Your baby may be teething, growing, sick, cluster feeding, tired, or a combination of things. By isolating and addressing what is causing the fussiness, you and your baby can be on your way to better nursing and less screaming.

For more sleep or lactation support, book a consult or find a course. We offer courses that cover breastfeeding, sleep (per age), pregnancy, and more. Try my Free Mini Course: Prepare for Birth with These Three Truths. More freebies and resources can be found here!

Meet Hillary

Hi! I’m Hillary, the Mama behind Baby Settler. These days you can find me with my four children and husband… probably outside, and helping Mama’s and families. I also have a lot of letters behind my name which translate, I’m also a Labor & Delivery nurse and Lactation Consultant.

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