Why Does My Baby Pop On & Off During Breastfeeding?

Written by: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC


Time to read 5 min

Is your baby latching and unlatching while they are breastfeeding? There are lots of reasons a baby may pop on and off the breast during feeding and even times where it is completely normal. How your baby behaves during latching and nursing gives you important clues as to what might be going on and point you in a direction of how to make changes to fix it. Time to do some detective work to figure out why.

Position & latch needs an adjustment

If your baby is in a position that makes latching more difficult, they may pop on and off trying to adjust their latch for more comfortable and effective milk removal. You can help them out by how you position them on your body. Your baby should have lots of contact with your body and their ear, shoulder and hip should be in one straight line.

In the early weeks, your baby follows their reflexes to latch at the breast and feed. Repeating this over and over again, everytime they nurse begins to build a memory of muscle patterns. They become faster at latching and it may seem smoother or easier. You might feel more capable of learning to nurse in many different positions.

Give your baby time to latch. It is normal for them to bob their head forward and back to find the nipple as well as side to side. Avoid holding the back of their head giving their neck freedom to move. When your baby has their head tilted back, in a similar position to when you drink from a glass, they are able to have their chin forward and make contact on your breast first. Chin touch and stability lead to your baby opening their mouth nice and wide to take in a lot of breast tissue for a deep latch.

Slow milk flow

When you are thirsty and grab a glass of water, doesn’t it feel so refreshing to drink big sips of water to quench that thirst? As you continue to drink, your pace slows down. The same goes for your baby. Babies love a robust flow of milk when they begin nursing. As they begin to get full, they will slow things down until they are full.

When milk is not flowing quickly, they may get frustrated and push away or begin to pop on and off. Breast compressions can help move more milk down your ducts to keep your baby getting a sip of milk with each suck.(1) If you are experiencing low milk supply, taking galactogogues can help boost your supply. Different herbs help in different ways. Choose herbs that target the reasons your supply may be affected. Legendairy Milk’s product chart can help you choose the best lactation supplement option for you.

Too much milk

Oversupply and overactive milk ejection reflex are two reasons your baby may pop on and off your breast while breastfeeding when there is too much milk coming at them too fast or faster than they are able to handle. Your baby may come off your breast choking, gagging and sputtering or need to burp more often. Because they are not full yet, they will want to latch and feed more. If milk is still faster than they are comfortable with, off they pop again.

Start with adjusting how you are holding your baby and positioning them at your breast. Giving your baby the opportunity to get a deeper latch, they may be more capable of handling your fast flow. If that doesn’t do the trick, look at the bigger picture to make sure you address any other contributing factors.

Oversupply can happen because of the way breastfeeding is being managed or from inflammation. It can cause plugged ducts or mastitis for mom and cause discomfort for your baby. They may have more gas, liquidy or frothy dirty diapers and seem to always be hungry.(2) Adding in more pumping sessions than you need signals the body to make more milk and can create more than you need for your baby leading to oversupply. Cut out foods that you have a sensitivity or intolerance to and work on healing your gut to reduce inflammation in your body.

Gas, colic or reflux

When a baby's belly is upset, it makes breastfeeding less comfortable and they may pop on and off the breast while feeding. If your baby is able to pass gas easily, it is not an issue. If they seem bothered and are straining or struggling to pass gas it may be due to food sensitivities.

Colic is diagnosed when there doesn’t seem to be another reason for your baby’s crying. The criteria of diagnosing colic is a baby who cries for at least 3 hours a day, 3 or more times per week and it has been happening for 3 weeks or longer even though the baby is otherwise well fed and healthy. Moms who have a history of migraines have a higher risk of their baby having colic.(3)

Reflux is when the contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus. It is often accompanied by excessive spit up except in the case of silent reflux where your baby may not spit up at all, but they experience the same burning feeling in their esophagus during an episode. Sensitivity to dairy or gluten contributes to some of the cases of babies experiencing reflux. Cutting out cow’s milk may improve symptoms of reflux.(4)

Oral restrictions

We all have a frenulum that connects our tongue to the floor of the mouth. There is also a frenum where the lower lip and upper lip meet the gums and in 4 near our cheeks, making 7 frenum total in the mouth. If the frenulum is tight and doesn’t allow for the tongue or other areas of the mouth to move freely, it will affect a baby’s ability to feed.

Ties can not be diagnosed by just looking at the latch from the outside or by gazing into the baby’s mouth. It requires meeting with an IBCLC who has continuing education and the skill sets necessary for an evaluation of oral function.

The tension caused by ties can affect other areas of the body. How your baby moves can tell you a lot of information about where they are experiencing tightness and tension. Bodywork can help correct misalignments and reduce muscle strain patterns before and after releasing your baby’s ties. It often helps improve feeding and other symptoms related to ties immediately after the first visit.

Distracted baby

It is normal for babies around 3-4 months of age to start getting even more interested in the world around them. Your baby may start to pop on and off the breast or seem to be playing games while they are nursing. This is totally normal and there is no need to worry. Their nursing sessions during the day may start to include many shorter feeds and they make up for missed time during the middle of the night feeds. Cutting back or cutting out middle of the night feeding during this time can result in dramatic drops in milk supply and poor weight gain when you go to your baby’s next weigh in.

Enjoy their new stage! Sing songs and engage with them while they are nursing. Smile and tell them how much you adore them. Learning how to nurse in a ring sling can be a game changer. You will be able to walk around and give your baby the movement and stimulation they like while they can focus on feeding.


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