Understanding typical behavior of breastfeeding babies

Understanding typical behavior of breastfeeding babies

When you have your first baby, everything they do may seem very strange to you, or it may cause you a lot of worries when you don’t understand what is happening with them. Also, the typical behavior of breastfeeding babies tends to change as they get older, which is even more confusing.

In this article, we will describe the different behaviors of babies during the first year, although some can happen beyond this age. Knowing how to identify these behaviors is important so you can deal with them easier. Let’s not forget that breastfeeding is instinctive for babies but mothers have to learn how to do it.

Baby’s crying

Babies cry, and they do so more than we think. Crying is how they communicate with us and ensure we are close to them. For them, losing physical contact with their adult is frightening. They are not yet aware that they are a separate person from their mother.

Babies’ crying affects us on a physiological level. It raises our blood pressure and speeds up our heart rate. This is why you get nervous when your baby cries and you feel the need for them to stop.

As we said, crying is a way of communicating their needs, and only if the crying is uncontrollable and does not calm down with anything else should you see your pediatrician to assess the situation, especially if your baby is less than 3 months old. Remember that the one place where your baby feels safe is always your body.

The witching hour: late afternoon and evening

Also related to crying is the so-called witching hour. We call “witching hour” the late afternoon and early evening hours, when babies cry for no apparent reason, don’t calm down at the breast, are fuzzy when breastfeeding, and you just can’t soothe them.

When babies are small, the witching hour is very scary because you don’t understand what is happening to them. Whenever a baby cries (or almost always), everyone thinks that they are hungry or that you might run out of breast milk. When they grow up, we realize that it’s just a few hours of tiredness and that the witching hour is a legend, and you don’t run out of milk.

They don’t want to stay in their crib

And so we discover that babies actually don’t want to stay in their crib because they don’t want to be left alone at all, not even for 5 minutes. And we come back to point 1: crying.

Demand increases that are not related to growth spurts

What can happen is that babies, sometimes from one day to the next, suddenly want to breastfeed more. They just want to nurse and keep insisting and they don’t want us to put them down at any time at all.

This is surprising when we start the adventure of motherhood because we were wrongly told that babies eat and sleep in cycles of 3 hours, which is not true at all.

Babies don’t wait for anything; they breastfeed on demand, and sometimes, without even being aware of it, we might make babies ask for more breastfeeding. In fact, this often happens, for example, when we burp a baby: we tap the baby’s back for a while, and the only thing that these taps tend to do is to make them wake up and ask for more breastfeeding.

Also, keep in mind that many situations will cause babies to breastfeed a lot and not let go of your breast:

  • when your baby is not feeling well
  • when your baby is battling a virus, such as a cold or flu
  • when your baby is scared or tired
  • if your baby is a so-called high-demand baby

Noises babies make

On the other hand, several circumstances and baby behaviors can be surprising and perhaps even frightening.

When we imagine breastfeeding, we think of a quiet and still baby, but, in reality, when babies nurse it is more than likely that they are not still. They can make noises while suckling, whether clicking with their tongues or other type of noises (caused by a disorder known as laryngomalacia).

Choking and gagging

A very scary situation that will need to be reviewed by a healthcare professional is the sensation that the baby is choking while nursing. When a baby suckles and then pulls away from the breast to cough, this tells us that some milk has entered the airways, and coughing is helping the baby to bring this small amount of milk up.

When this happens frequently, you should check what is happening because some gagging at some point is normal, but if it happens frequently, it indicates the need to assess the sucking and swallowing.

Remember that, in this case, your milk supply also needs to be checked out because an overactive milk ejection reflex (milk squirting out when the baby is suckling) can also cause these choking situations.

The baby doesn’t poop

At around one month of age, babies can start to space out the time between bowel movements. When this starts to happen, they are also a bit uncomfortable, as they are losing the automatic reflex that makes them poop every time they breastfeed, and they have to learn how to do it by themselves. This is called infant dyschezia (and is not a medical condition, but normal, despite the name). 

However, if your baby has not yet regained their birth weight or is not gaining weight sufficiently, it is important that they are evaluated by their pediatrician to see if the reason for not pooping is that they are not getting enough milk.

Things babies do while breastfeeding

Babies will also change their behavior as they get older, and many times, these behavioral changes are reflected in how they breastfeed. Because we rarely see older babies breastfeeding in public, you may think that what your baby is doing is unique, when in fact, these are common breastfeeding behaviors:

Falling asleep while breastfeeding

When babies are small, it is very common that they seem to fall asleep a few minutes after being at the breast, but in reality, if they continue to be latched on while suckling, they are still feeding.

Breastfeeding from one side to the other and back

Going from side to side at the breast is a behavior that babies often do from 9 to 12 months of age when they are tired and want to sleep.

Nipple twiddling

Nipple twiddling is perhaps one of the most annoying things babies do when they are breastfeeding; it consists of rubbing the nipple between their fingers. This behavior comes with improving their fine motor skills and has a clear function: to get more milk out of your breasts.

They “use” you as a pacifier

What does a baby really do when, as some say, “they use you as a pacifier“? This “using you” sounds like a bad thing, and we tend to pull back our breast when the baby is not sucking.

But at LactApp, we like to think that babies don’t use you as a pacifier; they use you as a mother!

Push and strain while breastfeeding

It is normal for babies to push and strain to poop while they are nursing, and it is part of the learning process, even if it is scary to hear their tummy rumbling.

Breast refusal

It is also important to pay attention to situations when a baby refuses to breastfeed, which also tends to create a lot of confusion. Babies under one year old don’t usually give up breastfeeding on their own.

This is because, on a biological level, babies need to breastfeed for the first months to survive. This is a biological imperative because their bodies are unaware of the existence of artificial milk.

When a baby under one year stops breastfeeding, it usually happens because of some outside circumstances. It may not occur to you, or you may not be aware of them, that they are the reason for the baby’s breast refusal. So, what are these circumstances?

Baby fights the breast

When a baby does not want to breastfeed or seems to fight the breast, many different circumstances can cause this behavior. Usually, it is because the baby is uncomfortable or even in pain.

Confusion with another suction (nipple confusion)

When there is confusion with another suction (nipple confusion), whether this is the suction on a bottle nipple/teat or pacifier, they may not want to feed at the breast anymore but only accept a baby bottle from this point. You can also learn more about nipple confusion on the La Leche League International website.

It seems they prefer a bottle because they are calmer

All the above breast refusal situations might make you doubt because sometimes babies may behave more uneasy at the breast, but then they are calmer after having a baby bottle.

What is often not considered is that the flow of baby bottles and commercial formula milk can make digestion slower and heavier, giving you the feeling that your baby prefers a bottle over your breast.

Babies bite

That a baby bites their mother happens frequently and is often part of breastfeeding, but the solution is to learn how to stop this process and redirect the situation so you can enjoy breastfeeding again.

Latching difficulties

It may also appear that the baby is refusing the breast or is not comfortable feeding at the breast when there are latching difficulties. More on this topic here.

They are affected by clock changes

Some mothers have asked us if the time change, when clocks move forward or backward, affects breastfeeding and their babies. We are all affected by these clock changes, especially the little ones. Following strict routines can also have a major impact on them. But everyone ends up getting used to it sooner or later.

Information is power

Many things can happen during your breastfeeding journey, and babies can behave in many different ways. The important thing is to try to understand what is happening and, if necessary, always ask for help from a healthcare professional or IBCLC lactation consultant.

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