One evening a group of veteran breastfeeding couples were sharing stories about their babies/ nursing nuisances. Amused by the survivors’ accounts, one father quipped, “Let’s give names to these little suckers.” And here they are.
How many times have we heard mothers complain, “All he wants to do is eat”? In the early months expect your baby to have frequency days, when he wants to feed continuously and you feel that you are getting nothing else done. Your baby is going through a growth spurt, which occurs typically around three weeks, six weeks, three months, and six months, with smaller spurts in between. Your baby is obeying the law of supply and demand: The more he sucks, the more milk you produce, and the better he grows. Also, your baby may be going through a high-need period in which he needs a day or two of frequent feeding and holding as he becomes adjusted to life outside the womb. Here are some survival tips:
* During high-need days, temporarily shelve all outside commitments that may drain your energy. Your baby is a baby only a very short time, and no one’s life is going to be affected if the housework doesn’t get done on time. Mothers become burned out, not so much because of the demands of their baby, but because of too many other family expectations and commitments and because they are not being nurtured themselves.
* Be sure your baby is getting mostly milk at each feeding and not a lot of air, otherwise as soon as she burps up the air she will be hungry again. Burp her well as you pass from one breast to the other and after feeding. (see burping suggestions, in a forthcoming article.)
* Attempt to get more of your hindmilk into your baby to satisfy her longer. Allow baby to finish the first breast before switching her to the other side. Try double feeding and other techniques for improving your milk supply.
* Wear your baby in a baby sling. Baby wearing not only makes breastfeeding easier and more accessible, but it may be that your high-need baby wants the comfort of your closeness and not always the breastfeeding.
* Periodically offer your baby your finger as a pacifier. This satisfies her need to suck when she is not hungry. Call in the reserves, letting your husband or a trusted caregiver comfort your baby.
* Avoid the filler-food fallacy. You may be advised to give your baby a supplemental bottle or cereal with the implication that you don’t have enough milk. This is rarely necessary; but if your baby is truly hungry, it may be necessary in order to satisfy baby, if all other measures are not working. Most of the time your baby is simply signaling that she needs to suck more in order for you to increase your level of milk to meet her level of need. If your doctor is advising a supplement, you need to be aware that this could lead to a gradual cessation of breastfeeding as you and baby come to depend more and more on the bottles. Supplementation can be done in such a way that it does not have to jeopardize your breastfeeding relationship. This would be an important time to obtain the services of a lactation consultant. She can help you get your baby’s weight gain back on track and maximize your mil supply.
* Sleep when your baby sleeps and don’t be tempted to “finally get something done.” You need to recharge your own system to cope with these high-need periods. Nap nursing and night nursing a very effective for a persistently hungry baby and tired mother.
Mr. Suck-a-Little, Look-a-Little
Sometime between tow and six months of age, expect your baby to suck a minute, pull away, suck another minute, and pull away again. The development of your baby’s visual acuity accounts for this common breastfeeding nuisance. By this age baby is able to see things clearly across the room, notice passersby, and is so distracted by all the goings-on in his interesting environment that he stops eating to look. Sometimes baby will be so into his meal, yet interested in someone who walks by, then he may suddenly turn his head and seem to take a bid of your breast with him. You’ll laugh only once a this antic. Your nipple can stretch just so far.
Experienced mothers have handled this with the strategy of sheltered feedings. Several times a day take your baby into a dark, quiet, uninteresting room (such as the bedroom with drapes drawn) and he him down to the business of eating. Lie down in a quiet dark room and nap nurse, drawing baby’s attention to you as his close nap partner. Covering baby with a shawl or placing him in a sling during feeding also shelters Mr. Suck-a-Little, Look-a-Little. This is a passing nuisance that creative feeding techniques and a bid of humor will solve. Your baby will soon discover that he can eat and look at the same time.
While many babies feed at least twenty minutes every three hours, the nipper-napper likes to eat and sleep continually. He sucks a few minutes, sleeps awhile, sucks again for a few minutes, and then drifts back into sleep. This temporary nuisance occurs in the early weeks when some babies prefer sleeping to eating — and prefer small packages of each. If your baby is gaining enough weight and you have the time to luxuriate, put your feet up, turn on soothing music, and enjoy these prolonged feedings. This stage soon passes. If you sleepy baby is not gaining enough weight, try switch feeding to keep her alert long enough to fill her tummy at the breast.
This baby prolongs the meals as if savoring every drop and touch of breastfeeding. He relishes not only the taste of the milk, but the whole ambience of a gourmet meal at a fine restaurant. Enjoying every minutes of this fine cuisine, baby licks, sucks, fondles, nestles, and goes to great lengths to draw out the feeding time. As another ploy to stall the end of the meal, he will turn away as if finally finished, only to smack his lips, stretch a bit, and reposition himself for another course. If you have the time and baby as the desire, cherish every lingering meal, as breastfeeding is a phase of life with your baby that passes all too quickly.
This close relative of Mr. Suck-a-Little, Look-a-Little frequently pulls his head away while feeding, but occasionally forgets to let go. Ouch! To save your nipples, use the clutch hold to secure the back of baby’s neck in your hand. Feed baby in the cradle hold in the sling to steady his head. Finally, be ready to insert your index finger into baby’s mouth to break the suction just as baby begins to pull away.
A baby with this nursing nuisance is often dubbed “Jaws.” You are comfortably into a feeding, beginning to nod off into the sea of tranquility, when suddenly Chomps clamps down, and your tender nipples become a human teething ring. This uncomfortable nuisance occurs when baby is around five to six months old as he begins to experience pre-teething gum pain. If baby gets an attack of sore gums while feeding, he may regard your breast as a source of teething comfort as well as milk. Letting your baby gum your finger or a frozen teething ring before and after feeding will usually pacify Chomps. Also, as you feel the gums ripping, put your finger between gums and nipple or use your index finger to depress baby’s lower jaw — a reminder to respect the breast that feeds him.
You have been feeding your infant all day long, chasing a busy toddler around the house, and carpooling children. By the end of the evening you have had it with kids, and you and your husband are comfortably nestled together in bed. The lights are out, lovemaking begins. Suddenly from outer space comes the familiar cry for milk. Your pulse goes up, your milk lets down. Your husband feels foiled again. A breastfeeding mother’s radar system is so finely tuned, that baby’s “need noises” traverse thick walls and closed doors. These intrusions will soon pass. There is sex after birth, and certainly after baby has been resettled. All good things are worth waiting for.
Between six and nine months babies love to use their top hand to pinch your breast, which can be annoying, or play with your face, which can be amusing. One antic you want to discourage immediately is the twiddling of your other nipple. It often starts with just touching or holding, as though baby wants to be sure it will be there when needed. It may seem very sweet, but the escalated version we call twiddling can be very irritating.
Just as you and your baby are quietly nestled into a comfortable position, baby starts kicking his upper leg, as though keeping time with his sucking rhythm. Babies try all sorts of contortions while feeding, even flipping around nearly 180 degrees without letting go. Here’s how to corral the gymnast: Contain both the young and the older baby in a baby sling to prevent him from flinging his head back to explore his environment and taking your breast with him. Try the “toddler tuck,” wedging your baby’s legs between your arm and body while baby is in the cradle hold. Also, babies don’t like the feeling of dangling or falling while feeding; hooking his top leg over your arm gives him a feeling of security. Containing your baby during breastfeeding is baby’s first lesson in mealtime manners. As motor skills mushroom, babies like to try out their body during situations in which they seem most relaxed, like during feeding. They may even try a somersault without missing a suck.
The snacker likes to eat on the run. When your toddler becomes too busy to enjoy prolonged gourmet meals, expect two-minute feedings several times a day. Toddlers often go through periods during which they want to suck as often as they did as a tiny baby. Your toddler gets into these fast-food habits due to the need for frequent pick-me-ups, a sort of pit stop for emotional refueling as the busy baby races around the house exploring new adventures, but routinely needs to return to a familiar home base.
A cousin to the snacker, the pouncer is a frequent nuisance to mothers of breastfeeding toddlers. You are sitting on the couch treating yourself to a well-deserved rest, and you open your favorite book. Suddenly your toddler descends and pounces; he’s maneuvering across your lap and under your blouse like it’s old home week. Picture this scene from his point of view. You are sitting in his favorite place to feed, which triggers in baby’s mind a replay of his favorite memories nestled comfortably in mother’s arms at this very same place — sort of dèéjè vu. Here’s how one mother wishing to wean, tamed her pouncer. “as soon as he made advances I became a moving target, remembering not to sit in places that reminded him of feeling.”
Other Breastfeeding Behaviors
Over time, your baby is likely to exhibit several of the “personality traits” described previously. Similarly, don’t be surprised if you encounter one or more of the following behavior patterns at one time or another during the course of breastfeeding.
Some babies abruptly refuse to breastfeed for several days, then with coaxing resume their previous breastfeeding routine. Humorously called a breastfeeding strike, this behavior is usually caused by physical upsets, such as teething, illness, or hospitalization, and emotional upsets, such as a recent move, illness in the mother, family discord, or the busy-nest syndrome (too many visitors, too many outside responsibilities, holiday stress, and so on).
Here’s how to negotiate with a striker. First, spot this as a temporary loss of interest and not a sign that your baby is ready to wean. Rarely do babies under nine months of age want to wean from the breast. Try to pinpoint the possible physical or emotional upset that triggered the strike. Then woo your striking baby back to your breast. Pretend you are just beginning to breastfeed your baby as a newborn. Get reacquainted. Temporarily shelve all obligations that take you away from baby. Explain the breastfeeding strike to your husband and other family members, telling them why you need to focus intently on your baby over the next few days. Take the phone off the hook, relax at a comfortable feeding station, soak in a tube together, and turn on soothing music and just hold your baby skin to skin most of the day. Wear your infant in a carrier as much as possible to keep baby close to your breast. Nap nursing and night nursing are proven ways to woo baby back to the breast; babies who resist the breast when awake often such when falling asleep, or even in their sleep. Snuggle up with your baby at night. Sometimes recreating the ambience of breastfeeding reminds baby of what he is missing. If baby continues to withdraw from the breast, don’t force-feed. Let your baby fall asleep, skin to skin, with his head nesting on your breast. Remember, “nursing” means comforting, not just feeding. Sometimes babies need to go through a few days of holding or comfort feeding before they resume breastfeeding.
A breastfeeding strike may be a message that baby wants to renegotiate the mother-infant contract. Try to relive the feeding environment that you and baby enjoyed before the strike; your baby’s favorite feeding position, rocking chair, location in the house, or cuddle position in bed. With creative mother-infant attachment, most strikes are over within a few days. But we have known babies who refused to breastfeed for nearly a week and then gradually resumed. These mothers persevered, made themselves super-available, pumped to maintain milk supply, offered this milk to baby in a cup, and followed their intuition that baby was not ready to wean. In this case, support from a mother who has one through this helps — call La Leche League. If after all these negotiations baby does not resume breastfeeding be reassured that this truly is baby’s idea, and your infant is, in fact, ready to move on to the next level — weaning. There is no room for regrets; appreciate that your baby is ripe ahead of schedule.
To a baby, breastfeeding is a source of nourishment and comfort. Expect your toddler, even after you thought he had weaned, to run to you and climb into your arms to be nursed following a fall, a scrape, or a cut. So vivid in your baby’s mind is the memory of breastfeeding that he automatically clicks in to the mind-set of breastfeeding as a quick fix to repair the leaks in his “fragile” body.
The One-Sided Baby
If baby prefers one breast over the other, or will feed only on her favorite, don’t worry. Some babies quickly learn which breast works better and stay with the easier side. And babies usually grow well from the nourishment of only one breast. Twins do. You may feel a bit lopsided for a few months, but your body is never going to be the same after birth anyway.
Rather Fight Than Switch
Finally, to make life even more challenging for the breastfeeding family, there is the baby who refuses to take a bottle. You worry if you return to work, you worry when you go out. Yet the little food critic waits for his favorite meal and waitress to return, and rejects schemes to sell second-class service. Some babies also refuse to take a bottle (even with breast milk in it) from the breastfeeding mother. It’s like walking into your favorite restaurant, sitting at your favorite table, hearing familiar music, being served by the waitress of your choice, and being presented the wrong menu. For babies who are hooked on breastfeeding, any alternative cuisine may not be in their program. You can feel flattered that your baby is so discerning!
Here is one father’s advice on substitute bottle feeding. I enjoy our baby while my wife’s at work. I take off my shirt off and let her nuzzle against my fuzzy chest. “Then I hold the bottle under my arm like I am used to holding my flashlight while I walk the beat. I hold the baby very much like my wife does at the breast while baby drinks from the bottle between my upper arm and chest. We both seem to get a kick out of this innovation.” Chalk up one for father’s intuition.
If you’ve already tried the suggestions for bottle feeding the breastfed baby given in my previous article “Getting it Together: Working and Breastfeeding” and baby still refuses to accept a bottle, relax; there are other strategies in your feeding repertoire. Try cup feeding your baby using a small, flexible plastic cup (further instructions on introducing a cup will be provided in a future article.) If baby likes sipping milk, try a trainer cup with a drinking rim on the top instead of a nipple. Avoid cups with spouts.
Fortunately, all of these nursing nuisances have one thing in common — they soon pass. Then comes more growth and development, and you are blessed with a new set of challenges. But babies are like that.