Why is my baby squirming when breastfeeding?
You expected breastfeeding to be a blissful experience with your newborn, but what is up with them squirming and grunting at the breast? Oftentimes, parents worry this is a sign that the baby is uncomfortable or that the baby doesn’t like breastfeeding. Let’s dig in to find out why babies do this and what you can do to help!
Many times when babies get going and then squirm and pop off the breast a burp might be lurking. Lift them off the breast and try some burping positions to help move that air bubble along. You can also try some bicycle kicks with their legs and a gentle belly massage to get the bubbles movin’. Visits with a chiropractor can also help with bowel movements for your baby to be more comfortable.
Do I need to burp a breastfed baby?
First, you may have heard that you don’t need a burp a breastfed baby and this is NOT true. Especially if you have a strong letdown and your baby is gulping at the breast - they are likely swallowing some air. This can increase pressure in their tummy and squirming may be their way of telling you, “I need help to get this air bubble out.”
How to burp a breastfed baby
What I have found works well for most babies is making sure we help them stretch/extend their esophagus, which is the tube that connects their mouths and stomachs. Making this tube long and lifted will help the air bubble and burp travel up and escape.
- Sit your baby up
- Lean your baby forward cradling their chin/neck in the hand between your thumb and pointer finger.
- Hook your pinky under their armpit to give you some leverage and stretch their neck up.
- Pat their back with your opposite hand, (probably more firmly than you have been), as a nurse I have coached thousands of parents to burp their babies, and most of the time they are patty way too gently. Don’t hurt your baby, but don’t be afraid to give a slightly firm pat. You can also rub the back or lean your baby back and up to help the air bubble rise to the surface and release.
Here is a quick demo of my favorite burping technique.
How latching position impacts baby
Check out my free guide to latching, here.
Unlatching repeatedly, squirming at the breast, and grunting at the breast can be a sign that it is time to change position. All humans need to feel stable in their body position when eating and babies are no different. Focusing on offering baby, “positional stability,” when breastfeeding can reduce squirming and grunting at the breast.
Here are some common latching problems
- Problem: Your baby feels unstable in their position. Their arms and legs are flailing around and arching their back OR they are tightly swaddled and unable to use their arms and hands at all.
- Fix: Stabilize their feet into your body or a pillow. Allow them to use their hands at the breast, while it may look uncoordinated in the beginning, this is one-way babies find their way to the breast.
- Problem: Baby is not fully connected to your body
- Fix: Pull the baby tightly against your body with no gaps.
- Problem: Gravity is working against you both…you are hunched over your baby and they are in a cradle position.
- Fix: Lean back….way back, think Netflix, and chill. If you removed your hands from your baby, they would still stay on your body. This helps them feel secure. Check out my blog with more latch tips, here.
- Problem: They are showing a head-turning preference from in-utero positioning that may make latching in this position more difficult OR it has them preferring one breast over the other
- Fix: shift baby over to the other breast in the same position that they are on the breast they are consistently latching to. Consider seeing a craniosacral therapist or chiropractor to address tension and help them use their full range of motion.
In Boob School, you get access to my Latched AF workshop which will give you all the tools to latch comfortably with reclined breastfeeding. You also can get more tips and tricks for latching with our latching freebie, click here.
Is safe to feed a newborn in a reclining position?
YES, BIG YES! Reclined breastfeeding is like breastfeeding with training wheels. Giving your baby lots of positional stability will make latching SO MUCH EASIER. Here is a video of a sweet 10-day-old baby latching in a reclined position. This mama was having a ton of challenges, sore nipples, latching pain, mastitis, and engorgement. After joining Boob School, and learning about reclined breastfeeding, they were able to get things back on track and latch comfortably.
Overactive let down aka fast let down
Overactive let-down, also known as a fast let-down, is a condition where the milk flows from the breast too quickly for the baby to effectively nurse. You may see the following signs if you have an overactive letdown….
- Choking or gagging at the breast: Your baby may have trouble swallowing the fast-flowing milk, leading to choking or gagging.
- Squirming or grunting: Your baby may squirm or wiggle at the breast as they try to cope with the fast flow of milk.
Tips for navigating an overactive letdown
- Position: Try to nurse in a deeply laidback position…this allows gravity to help your baby manage your fast flow. Rule of thumb, the more laidback the better, think nearly flat on a bed or couch. Check out a blog with more tips, here.
- Nurse on one breast at a time: Nursing on one breast for a full feeding can help regulate the flow of milk and prevent the baby from becoming overstimulated. If your baby pulls off after a few minutes burp and offer the same side if it still feels like there is milk in the breast. The first letdown tends to yield the most milk and be the most forceful. If you keep feeding from the same breast the letdowns should reduce in intensity as the feed progresses.
- Pause and burp your baby: Pausing to burp your baby during feeding can help release excess air and prevent choking.
- Empty one breast before switching sides: Allowing your baby to fully empty one breast before switching sides can help regulate the flow of milk.
Here is a video of a mama I worked with who has a very strong letdown. We worked together to improve the baby's suck and ability to manage the letdown and also to recline deeply to help slow the flow of milk.
When is it time to reach out for more help?
If your baby cannot maintain a latch for more than 5-6 good sucks before squirming, grunting, or getting frustrated it’s time to ask for help! Reach out to an IBCLC for support and contact your pediatric provider with any concerns. If you want to book an appointment with an IBCLC on our team, click here.
Even for the seasoned mama who has breastfed in the past, each new baby is a new breastfeeding relationship and it will take time for you both to get the best latch you can with each feeding session.
There are many techniques that can be used to help you and your baby rock that latch, but the most important thing that I tell mamas over and over is to try your best to be patient and not feel overwhelmed at the moment. At times, hello 2 a.m. feeding from hell, this is easier said than done. It is okay to step away for a moment and leave your baby with another caregiver or safely in their crib if you need a reset.
Remember your feeding journey may look less like a straight line and more like a winding road. Keep on keeping on, mama. You’ve got this!
Want more info on latching?
Check out Boob School, to get more knowledge, support, and empowerment for your breastfeeding journey! Boob School was designed to support you from the first latch to last with expert education coupled with live support in your Facebook community and weekly calls. Breastfeeding can be hard and we are not meant to do hard things alone! If you are looking for more support we are here to help in Boob School or with our one-on-one consults.
Cheering you on, always!!
Boob School Founder and CEO
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