updated October 31st 2023
So your baby has been nursing well for the past 12-15 weeks when suddenly, you notice your baby becoming more distracted when they are nursing. Every sound seems to catch their attention, the dog walks by or someone new comes into the room. All of these events will cause your baby to stop nursing and have a look around. If you previously nursed in public, you may notice your baby is having a very difficult time now.
Latch on, pull off, latch on, pull off…
It can be very frustrating nursing a distracted baby. Around 3-4 months babies become much more aware of the world around them. Suddenly they are paying more attention to the room they are in, the sounds they are hearing in and outside the home. They may latch on and pull off only to latch on again, maybe feed for a minute and then pull and become frustrated because they are no longer drinking milk. This makes feedings difficult. You head to Google and Google says it’s weaning when really it’s not. Babies younger than 18 months typically do not self wean.
When distracted feedings happen, your baby will nurse for a shorter period and may nurse more frequently at night to make up for the calories. This is completely normal and the night nursing is beneficial for your milk supply. It’s also a quiet, calm, distraction free environment.
So what can you do about those distracted daytime feedings?
1. Offer the breast frequently
This may mean prior to your baby cueing especially if they are alert as they are staying awake for longer periods at this age. You want to provide many opportunities for them to latch and drink milk especially when the feedings are interrupted by their own curiosity. ⠀
It’s very normal at this age for their feedings to be shorter even if you’re able to have them nurse well. Generally by this age, babies are much more effective at removing milk and can remove what they need in a shorter period of time. Stressing trying to follow methods like “feed/awake/sleep” (and all other versions of this) don’t match infant biology. You may need to take advantage of nursing to sleep (it’s not a bad habit, all babies stop eventually) or nursing during their awake time.
2. Minimize distractions
A common piece of advice is to head into a room, preferably one where you can darken the environment by pulling a shade or drawing the blinds. This will shut out the distractions and help create an environment where your baby will effectively nurse.
While this might be effective, if you have an older child, this is not something you can do without another adult present. Chances are, it’s just you and your kids so this is why I like to suggest you take advantage of the nighttime feedings.
Nighttime nursing is still very much needed (and normal!) by this age group and often, they will do some of their best feeding because they are sleepy. Side lying position is wonderful for night time nursing, especially if you safely co sleep. A semi reclined breastfeeding position is also great for night time. Practise to see what feels most comfortable and works best for you.
3. Try motion
Using motion such as rocking or swaying your baby while nursing them might help to reduce the distractions. You can use a baby carrier/wrap or a sling and walk around and nurse them while they are in it. It takes a little while to get the hang of it.
Alternatively if you have a birthing ball/exercise ball around you can bounce on this to add the motion that they may find helpful to latch on and nurse.
4. Skin to Skin
Skin to skin acts like an amazing re-set button. It is so helpful when feeding a distracted baby. This will not only help calm your baby but help encourage your baby to latch. Skin to skin also releases oxytocin which helps your milk let down. Not all older babies will respond well to this so experiment and do what works best for your baby.
You can do this wherever you prefer to nurse them or you can get into the bath together and offer to nurse while you’re both in the warm water and skin to skin.
Here’s another option your baby may respond well to. Clipping a toy or a pacifier clip to your bra strap to keep them distracted but at the breast so they continue to feed. If they’re 4 months and can grasp items, give them a little toy to hold.
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Bonyata, K. (2018, Jan 1). The distractable baby. Kellymom.com. https://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/distractible-baby/
Campbell, S.H., Lauwers, J., Mannel, R., & Spencer, B. (2019). Core Curriculum for interdisciplinary lactation care. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
La Leche League Canada. (2015, Dec 17). Thursday’s tip: Breastfeeding the distracted baby (6-12 months). La Leche League Canada. https://www.lllc.ca/thursdays-tip-breastfeeding-distracted-baby-6-12-months
Newman, J. & Pitman, T. (2014). Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.