Tips on breastfeeding a distracted baby

At four-months old, babies enter this crazy developmental stage where they become very interested in learning any and everything about the world around them. They become curious, able to wiggle, squirm, reach, and anxious to explore how things work and feel and taste and…you get the point.

As with most things that I have encountered by happenstance on my journey through motherhood, I had never heard about the challenges of breastfeeding a distracted baby, so Nya’s shorter and frequently interrupted feedings caught me off guard.

On the one hand, I assumed that she was just not as hungry any more, on the other hand, I figured that her changed feeding habits likely had something to do with the fact that she was maturing and becoming more a part of “our” world.

I write this post not to mark my defeat, but to say that while it is true that breastfeeding a distracted baby is challenging, it is not impossible. To help you with your distracted baby, try out some of these tips:

1). Make and sustain eye contact with your baby during each feeding. By doing this, you will provide your baby with something more interesting (your face) to focus on. You should make eye contact before and after your baby latches on for a feeding. Keep eye contact throughout the feeding and sing or speak softly to your baby as he/she eats.

2) Feed your baby in a quiet, dark place. This could be in a room with room darkening shades and a rocking chair or a shaded tree at a park with a bench.

3). Try to position yourself and your baby so that other potential distractions are not in your baby’s line of sight.

4). Use a favorite toy of his/hers or wear a necklace that is long enough to provide your baby with something of interest to pull or tug on while feeding.

5). Try feeding your baby when he/she is most hungry. This may sound intuitive, but if you feed your baby too soon before she realizes that he/she is hungry (or just kind of hungry), she will be less apt to complete a feeding. In other words, if your baby is only kind of hungry, they will nurse for about two minutes then attempt to find something more interesting to do. When she is really hungry (not to the point of crying, of course!), Nya will spend more time at the breast and will be less distracted.

6). Nurse while in motion. Walking or rocking seems to help Nya focus more on “the task at hand.”  I do not use a sling to nurse anymore, but if this works for your baby, give it a try!

During this, often, trying time, do not stress. Know that you are doing a great job and your baby is just doing what is normal of all babies.

Know also that just because your baby is becoming more distracted while breastfeeding, it does not mean that he/she is ready to end breastfeeding. It is unfortunate, but often, parents mistakenly presume that their distracted babies are going on “nursing strikes,” and are, thus, ready to wean. Know that before 18-24 months, however, and in general, babies do not self-wean.


What do you find works best for nursing a distracted baby? Please share your tips!

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17 Responses to “Tips on breastfeeding a distracted baby”

  1. Kelly says:

    This is an interesting post…I wish this information was available when I was nursing Cameron!

  2. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Kelly! Yeah, my mom and I were just talking the other day about how information likes this need to be better explained to moms!
    -Jessica

  3. thelittlehenhouse.com says:

    Both of my girls were/are the most distracted nursers. With my oldest, I finally had to resort to nursing her on a bed in a dark room. It makes sense to me now because she can hardly sit for more than ten seconds at a time and was never very cuddly. She is constantly moving. She did wean herself the week of her first birthday. I honestly think she just didn't want to be held down anymore. She was over it! I was sad, but she was ready.

    The baby is not as distracted as Emma was, but we still have a hard time nursing when we are out. I don't worry that she isn't eating enough though because she will if she gets hungry enough!

    I like your suggestion of wearing a necklace for them to play with. I do that now and it works really well.

  4. Mrs.Mayhem says:

    These are great ideas. I was unsuccessful at nursing, but I wonder if it would have been easier had I read some of your posts on the topic? At the very least, I might have realized that everyone struggles with nursing occasionally.

  5. Baby Boberg & Parents says:

    Yep. I learned the hard way to nurse Murphy Man when it is quiet or else one little noise and he will turn around to see what's going on… with my nipple still in his mouth where he pulls it all the way around. I never knew a nipple could stretch so far. NOT PLEASANT!

    I wear a special necklace, a present from my big sister, and he usually will play with that while he nurses. He loves the sparkle.

  6. Baby Boberg & Parents says:

    Yep. I learned the hard way to nurse Murphy Man when it is quiet or else one little noise and he will turn around to see what's going on… with my nipple still in his mouth where he pulls it all the way around. I never knew a nipple could stretch so far. NOT PLEASANT!

    I wear a special necklace, a present from my big sister, and he usually will play with that while he nurses. He loves the sparkle.

  7. Baby Boberg & Parents says:

    Yep. I learned the hard way to nurse Murphy Man when it is quiet or else one little noise and he will turn around to see what's going on… with my nipple still in his mouth where he pulls it all the way around. I never knew a nipple could stretch so far. NOT PLEASANT!

    I wear a special necklace, a present from my big sister, and he usually will play with that while he nurses. He loves the sparkle.

  8. Baby Boberg & Parents says:

    Yep. I learned the hard way to nurse Murphy Man when it is quiet or else one little noise and he will turn around to see what's going on… with my nipple still in his mouth where he pulls it all the way around. I never knew a nipple could stretch so far. NOT PLEASANT!

    I wear a special necklace, a present from my big sister, and he usually will play with that while he nurses. He loves the sparkle.

  9. Baby Boberg & Parents says:

    Yep. I learned the hard way to nurse Murphy Man when it is quiet or else one little noise and he will turn around to see what's going on… with my nipple still in his mouth where he pulls it all the way around. I never knew a nipple could stretch so far. NOT PLEASANT!

    I wear a special necklace, a present from my big sister, and he usually will play with that while he nurses. He loves the sparkle.

  10. Baby Boberg & Parents says:

    Yep. I learned the hard way to nurse Murphy Man when it is quiet or else one little noise and he will turn around to see what's going on… with my nipple still in his mouth where he pulls it all the way around. I never knew a nipple could stretch so far. NOT PLEASANT!

    I wear a special necklace, a present from my big sister, and he usually will play with that while he nurses. He loves the sparkle.

  11. Jessica says:

    @littlehenhouse: Yeah, nursing in a quiet, dark room while lying down always does the trick!

    @Mrs. Mayhem: Aww. Thanks! I had a REALLY tough time with breastfeeding in the beginning, too, and thought I would switch to formula. I, however, stayed with it, and it got easier over time.

    @Baby Boberg: LOL @ "I never knew a nipple could stretch so far." Necklaces are a great way to distract and distract-able baby.

    Oh, and I thought of you and Murphy Man when Nya got her second tooth last week. :)

  12. Erin says:

    I had preemie twins and nursing didn't work out for me, and I'm often so sad it didn't….I pumped for several months and then gave that up, as it was very difficult to pump with two screaming babies lying on either side of me!!!
    ;-)

    great tips here though!

  13. Mimi says:

    Thank you for sharing….my daughter just turned four months and I am finding that anything around my neck will keep her latched and eating. I have to make sure to use some of your other tips as I am finding it harder and harder to keep her engaged when she is eating.

  14. Maryline says:

    I had a very distracted baby! I nursed until he was about 1, but the last few months were mostly pumping because he had lost interest in nursing — and I had lost interest in him biting me!

    Great tips nonetheless! #2 was the most effective for me, getting away from the outside world distractions, preferably in the nursery with the shades down.

    I miss those times! OK, not to the point of catching baby fever yet!

  15. Life Without Pink says:

    These are really great tips. I breastfeed both of my boys. With my first it was easy to find that quiet time but when it came to the second one, not so easy. My little guy was always distracted by his big brother…made it hard but we got through it!

  16. Koko says:

    Hi, I had the same problem, how can I tell whether my baby is distracted or I have not enough milk? When she do that, I try giving her formula, and she happily finished the 3 oz without any distraction.
    I worry this might led to low milk supply. I don’t have to wear breast pads as my milk will not drip out like some breast feeding mum, does that mean I have not enough breast milk??

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment! I think supplementing with formula will gradually reduce your supply. I’m no breastfeeding expert, just a breastfeeding mom. But I can say that in my experience, when a baby gets old enough to be distracted, it’s best to just continue with breastfeeding at an increased frequency. With my second daughter, I would feed her often to make up for the shorter feedings and we were able to continue with breastfeeding until I got pregnant with my third child. If it’s your goal to breastfeed for a longer amount of time, just stick with it and be patient! She will eat when hungry.

      To your other question, not having to wear breast pads is not a reliable sign of whether you have an adequate milk supply. Look more at your baby’s weight gain and diaper outputs. That will tell you best whether your baby is getting enough. I hope this helps! Email me if you have any more questions! My email is jessicafhinton@gmail.com