Why Does My Baby Pop On & Off During Breastfeeding?

Written by: Sabrina Granniss, IBCLC

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Time to read 6 min

Is your baby latching and unlatching while they are breastfeeding? A baby may pop on and off the breast for many reasons during feeding, and sometimes it is completely normal. How your baby behaves during latching and nursing gives you important clues as to what might be going on and points you in the direction of how to make changes to fix it. It's 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, every time 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. They normally bob their head forward and back to find the nipple and side to side while rooting. 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 can have their chin forward and make contact with 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 drinking big sips feel so refreshing 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 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 a low milk supply, taking galactagogues 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 your needs.

Too much milk

Oversupply and overactive milk ejection reflex are two reasons your baby may pop on and off your breast while breastfeeding when too much milk is coming at them too fast or faster than they can 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 by adjusting how you hold your baby and position them at your breast. By 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 be a result of how breastfeeding is managed or from inflammation. Oversupply can cause plugged ducts or mastitis for the 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 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, breastfeeding is less comfortable, and they may pop on and off the breast while feeding. If your baby can 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 for 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 with a history of migraines have a higher risk of their babies having colic. (3)


Reflux is when the stomach contents 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 experience the same burning feeling in their esophagus during an episode. Sensitivity to dairy or gluten contributes to some 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 the tongue or other areas of the mouth to move freely, it will affect a baby’s feeding ability.


Ties can not be diagnosed by just looking at the latch or by gazing into the baby’s mouth. It requires meeting with an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) with continuing education and the skill sets necessary for evaluating 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 ties-related symptoms 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.


If your baby pops on and off while breastfeeding, it can be frustrating. Digging in deeper and investigating why it is happening can assist you in helping your baby stay latched and feed more effectively, efficiently, and comfortably. Remember, there are stages during your breastfeeding journey when it is normal for them to pop on and off because they are distracted and do not want to miss out on anything going on around them. At other times, well-managed breastfeeding and addressing the underlying issues of breastfeeding challenges will help resolve popping on and off during breastfeeding.

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