It’s 3am and your baby is crying at your breast, pulling off repeatedly in frustration. But you can tell by their hungry cues that your little one needs more milk.
However, something is making it difficult for them to stay latched.
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Sounds familiar? You are not alone.
It’s pretty common for babies to unlatch from the breast before feeling full.
In this post, I’ll explain why they do this and what you can do if your baby keeps unlatching but still hungry.
Why Babies Keeps Unlatching But Still Hungry
There are a number of reasons why your baby would do this. Some of these are:
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#1 Poor Latch
If your baby is not properly latched onto the breast, the milk flow can be too slow or inconsistent for them.
This causes frustration and unnecessary effort that leads to repeatedly pulling off the breast.
The most common causes for a poor latch is the nipple isn’t far enough back in their mouth, or there’s an uneven seal because of a tongue-tie.
But don’t worry, getting a good latch just needs some practice.
#2 Stuffy Nose
Breastfeeding requires coordinated breathing, sucking and swallowing.
But when a baby cannot breathe properly through their nose due to congestion, they have to unlatch to breathe.
Any degree of stuffiness requiring open-mouth breathing, stridor sound, frequent pausing to catch breath are common signs you need to look out for.
When babies can’t breathe freely, it interrupts eating
Clearing their nose with saline drops and aspirator, using a cool mist humidifier, and feeding semi-upright usually helps them take more milk.
#3 Silent Reflux And Gas
Another reason is silent reflux and gas.
Reflux happens when some stomach contents come back up into the throat and esophagus, often without any visible spit-up escaping the mouth.
This is a common and temporary infant digestion issue.
But it can cause significant chest and throat discomfort.
If your baby is suddenly pulling off the breast with signs of pain, it’s important to consider the possibility of acid-related issues.
Babies can easily get distracted while nursing by the sights, sounds, and other sensations around them.
Whether it’s noisy older siblings playing, background noise from the TV, or bright lights overhead, these distractions can quickly break your baby’s focus and concentration on feeding.
It is completely natural for babies to start falling asleep while feeding peacefully on the breast.
But things can get tricky when your baby hasn’t had enough sleep during the day.
When they’re overly tired, it becomes harder for them to coordinate the whole sucking, swallowing, and breathing routine.
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You might see your sleepy baby start sucking lazily, blinking slowly, or even taking breaks in the middle of swallowing.
And then, out of nowhere, they might pull away from the breast, refusing to finish their meal.
Signs Your Baby is Still Hungry
If your baby keeps pulling off the breast suddenly but displays hunger cues, they likely need more feeding or calming to settle in.
Some signs are:
- Rooting motions – bobbing head or opening mouth, wanting to relatch
- Hands to mouth gestures
- Fussing or crying when off breast
- Waking up quickly after unlatching or short naps
These behaviors signal your baby hasn’t filled their tiny tummy yet.
Tips To Help Baby Stay Latched When Hungry
Here are some thing you can do if your baby keeps unlatching but still hungry:
You can make your baby drink more by creating a calm environment with 0 distractions.
A quiet environment will help keep the baby focused solely on eating, facilitating rhythmic sucking and swallowing.
Plus, staying calm yourself can help create a relaxed atmosphere and prevent transmitting tension onto the baby, making it more likely for your baby to stay latched.
So turn off any TVs or music and gently ask siblings to play quietly in another room. Or just move to a quiet place.
Experiment With Positions
Finding comfortable nursing positions for both you and baby makes breastfeeding smoother.
Positions like laid-back, side-lying, and upright cradle holds with good head and body support often work well.
But make sure to bring baby tummy-to-tummy close with a straight head-neck alignment. And don’t hesitate to try different pillow angles until you find what’s comfortable for both of you.
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A local lactation consultant can provide personalized tips too.
Break Suction Gently
When your baby needs to unlatch, do it gently.
Instead of pulling them off the breast suddenly, break the strong mouth suction gently by placing a clean finger inside and down in the corner of their mouth.
Abrupt motions can startle babies, but this method maintains gentle control, making them more willing to relatch.
Offer Short Breaks
If your baby seems to need a very brief pause during breastfeeding, consider offering a pacifier between breasts for about 30 seconds to reset.
Sometimes, this short break is enough before returning the baby to latch again for more
But pay attention to your baby’s body language to determine whether they seem satisfied or they are still hungry.
When to Seek Help?
If your baby keeps pulling off the breast before being satisfied – especially if weight gain seems low – or you’ve tried all the home tips without lasting improvement, check in with a lactation consultant.
They can assess oral structure, describe proper positioning personalized for you and baby, and detect potential bigger issues interfering, like tongue-tie or neurological disorder.