Breastfeeding: Understanding Your Baby’s Changing Feeding Patterns

Becoming a parent is a wonderful experience filled with joy and love. However, it’s natural to worry when your baby’s feeding patterns suddenly change. Whether they start feeding more frequently or show signs of feeding less, it’s important to understand the reasons behind these changes. While it may not always be possible to pinpoint the exact cause, there are strategies you can consider to navigate through this phase. Let’s explore some insights below.

My Baby Started Feeding More Often

If you notice that your baby is feeding more frequently, there’s usually a simple explanation: their appetite is growing. For breastfeeding mothers, the more your baby feeds, the more milk you will produce. It’s your baby’s way of ensuring they have enough nourishment (Daly and Hartmann, 1995).

My Baby Is Feeding Constantly

In the early days, babies spend more time at the breast than you might expect. This behavior is rooted in their innate need for physical closeness and security. They recognize the familiar rhythms and sensations of being held close or breastfed, as they did while in the womb. This closeness fulfills their need for contact, bonding, and nourishment (Narvaez, 2011). This period is often referred to as the “fourth trimester,” where close contact with the mother helps the baby develop a secure attachment (Raff, 2017).

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Baby Feeding and Growth Spurts

Frequent feeding can also indicate a growth spurt. These spurts occur when babies experience a sudden increase in eating and growth, often associated with reaching developmental milestones (Kelly Mom, 2018). Signs of a growth spurt may include a need to feed more often, increased weight gain, and deeper, more intense feeds. Babies may also appear fussier or seek more comfort during these periods (Kelly Mom, 2018). It’s important to remember that every baby grows at their own pace (Wright et al, 2010).

My Baby Is Feeding Less Than Before

If your baby seems to be feeding less than before, there is usually no cause for concern. Older babies can often meet their needs with shorter or less frequent feeds. They may show signs of being satisfied after feeding from one breast or may refuse to continue feeding after a few minutes.

Breast Refusal

Temporary breast refusal, also known as a nursing strike, can happen suddenly and be distressing for both you and your baby. Signs of breast refusal include crying at the breast, pulling away, or physically fighting against the breast (Mohrbacher et al, 2003). It’s important to note that if your baby is healthy, growing well, and producing enough wet and dirty diapers, there’s usually no need to worry about this. Baby feeding patterns can vary over time.

Why Is My Baby Feeding Less or Refusing the Breast?

There are numerous reasons why a baby may not feed as well as before or refuse the breast:

  • Sore or uncomfortable mouth
  • Illness or discomfort, such as teething or earache
  • Lack of energy due to mild illness
  • Pain or tension associated with the birth
  • Overactive milk ejection reflex or oversupply, causing coughing or choking
  • Engorged breasts, making it difficult for the baby to latch
  • Distractions during feeds
  • Feeding from a bottle, which may interfere with breastfeeding
  • Thrush in the baby’s mouth, causing pain
  • Changes in breastmilk taste due to certain foods or medications
  • Acid reflux or colic, leading to frequent but small feeds
  • Upsetting or unsettling experiences
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It’s important to remember that every baby is unique, and what works for one may not work for another (Mohrbacher et al, 2003; La Leche League, 2017; Kam, 2021).

What Can I Try If My Baby Is Feeding Less or Refusing the Breast?

If you find that your baby is feeding less or refusing the breast, there are several strategies you can try to encourage them to feed better or return to breastfeeding:

  • Pay attention to your baby’s feeding cues and respond promptly.
  • Offer the breast when your baby is drowsy.
  • Express a little milk if your breasts are full or engorged.
  • Engage in skin-to-skin contact, even when your baby doesn’t appear hungry.
  • Create a calm and quiet environment for feeding.
  • Experiment with different positions for breastfeeding.
  • If you are using a combination of breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, consider paced bottle feeding.
  • Seek support from a breastfeeding counselor who can provide additional guidance and suggestions.

Remember, patience, calmness, cuddles, and close contact can go a long way in helping your baby during this phase (Mohrbacher et al, 2003; La Leche League, 2017).

For more tips and guidance on helping your baby who’s refusing the breast, you can visit the Karen’s Kollars website. They provide valuable resources and support for breastfeeding mothers.

In conclusion, changes in your baby’s feeding patterns are a normal part of their growth and development. By understanding the reasons behind these changes and implementing strategies that work for you and your baby, you can navigate through this phase with confidence. Trust your instincts as a parent, and don’t hesitate to reach out for support when needed.

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This page was last reviewed in January 2022.

Further information:

  • NCT helpline: 0300 330 0700
  • National Breastfeeding Line: 0300 100 021
  • NHS information on mastitis
  • Best Beginnings – Bump to Breastfeeding DVD Chapter 7 ‘Overcoming Challenges’
  • Healthtalkonline.org: Managing Breastfeeding – dealing with difficult times