Fussing during feeds
Reasons why your baby might suddenly start to fuss over their breastfeeds
Why baby might be fussing

When babies suddenly start fussing it can be stressful for mums as they try everything to try find the reason - and often end up blaming themselves and their own milk. Sometimes it will be clear (hint, an evasive smell), but there may also be occasions when the cause is a mystery. Here are a few of the more common reasons for different types of challenging behaviour.

Attachment issues

If your baby keeps slipping off the breast or has trouble attaching, she may not like the position you are using. Other reasons for coming off the breast could be an overtired baby, an impatient baby that has become too hungry, or a baby experiencing pain or discomfort. If your breasts are engorged this may also make attachment hard for your baby.

Read more on how to correctly attach your baby for breastfeeding.

Refusing the breast

This can be confusing when it comes after a period of successful breastfeeding. There are many reasons why a baby might not want to breastfed. See Breast Refusal for reasons and management strategies, but it could help to try:

  • Providing lots of skin to skin contact with your baby during and between breastfeeds.
  • Maintaining your milk supply even while your baby isn't feeding.
  • See a qualified lactation consultant if things don't improve after a couple of days.

Fussing or squirming

If you baby is generally restless while feeding, but is showing signs of wanting to feed, this could be down to poor attachment, too much milk flowing through, or impatience* waiting for the let-down. It's also possible that your baby has drained one of your breasts, or that she needs to burp. Baby wants to breastfeed but appears to be uncomfortable or restless while feeding.

*A baby could become impatient at feed times for various reasons; for example, he has become ravenous, he’s overtired, he has learned to expect the fast flow of milk which a bottle provides, or due to his temperament type (some babies are by their nature less patient than others).

Pulling off the breast

Your baby has attached correctly but releases your nipple and pulls back. Look at your baby's behaviour after he pulls off as this may help you determine the cause. Is he looking around at other things? Does he appear uncomfortable?

Reasons for pulling off the breast may include:
  • He’s not hungry
  • He has finished feeding
  • He has drained your breast
  • He’s having trouble coping with the force of milk flow
  • He’s impatient waiting for a let-down
  • He wants to burp
  • He wants to pass gas or have a bowel motion
  • He’s overtired
  • He’s distracted

Screaming and back arching

This is usually a sign of frustration and often happens when the baby has actually finished feeding but the mum doesn't think he has had enough and keeps trying to force the feed. 

Other reasons may include:
  • He’s upset because she’s unable to cope with the force of milk flow
  • He’s impatient waiting for a letdown
  • He’s experiencing pain or discomfort
  • He’s received a fright

Falling asleep

This could happen after your baby has fed for a while, or soon after attachment. It could be caused by a hormone called cholecystokinin, which is released into the blood stream when a baby’s hunger is satisfied and causes drowsiness. However, if your baby is sleep-deprived he could be falling asleep before his nutritional needs are met, so check for signs that he is well-nourished.

Read more on the pros and cons of breastfeeding your baby to sleep.


Management shouldn't solely focus on feeding, you should also make sure that your baby is getting lots of sleep - this will improve his patience and contentment. If you’re having trouble pinpointing the cause, consult with a qualified lactation consultant. 

Were any of your babies fussy feeders? What was the cause and do you have any tips to share?

This article was written by Rowena Bennet and adapted for Kidspot, New Zealand's favourite parenting resource for Early Life Nutrition.
Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breast milk. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health care professional for advice about feeding your baby. This post is part of the Early Life Nutrition story.
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