When your baby changes their feeding patterns, it’s natural to worry. In this article, we examine why feeding might change and what you could do.
There is usually a reason for changes to feeding patterns, such as feeding more or less or refusing the breast. While you can’t always get to the bottom of why your baby changes their feeding patterns, you can try out some of the many strategies.
Here’s why your baby might have changed their feeding patterns and what you can try…
My baby started feeding more often
Feeding more is almost always linked with a baby’s normal increase in appetite. Traditionally, this can be explained as your baby having a ‘growth spurt’. This is when a baby grows quicker for a while or hits a developmental milestone (Kelly Mom, 2018).
We also know that babies don’t all grow predictably and at the same rate as each other, like you might imagine from looking at growth charts (Wright et al, 2010). Your baby might feed more because they need more milk – and the way they get more is to feed more often.
In the early days, there are many reasons why babies spend more time than their parents might have imagined at the breast. Primarily, it’s because babies are used to being close to their mums during pregnancy and recognise many of her rhythms when held close, breastfed or in skin-to-skin contact. This behaviour is innate and due to many newborn reflexes and behaviours. In the early months of a baby’s life, this is often known as the fourth trimester (Raff, 2017).
Signs your baby might be having a growth spurt
- A leap in weight gain.
- Tighter clothing or a feeling that they’re heavier when picked up.
- Sleeping more, which helps them to grow.
- Deeper, more intense feeds.
- Being Clingier and more demanding than usual.
- They might also feed more at times when they need reassurance and comfort.
The security and emotional connection they have at the breast can be important for babies of all ages (Psychology Today, 2011). So too can the need for the brain to develop and significant neurological pathways to open up emotionally and intellectually (WHO, 2016). All of this stimulus can be perceived as baby spending increased amounts of time at the breast.
My baby isn’t feeding as well as before
If you find that your baby is not feeding well, it’s important to realise that feeding less can be normal too. Older babies can often get what they need with shorter, and/or less frequent feeds.
Babies might reject the breast, by turning their heads away when it’s offered, and/or show clear signs they’re finished sooner than you’ve been used to. They may be satisfied with one breast only, perhaps, or breaking off after just a few minutes and refusing to go back on.
If your baby is healthy, growing well, producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies and thriving in other respects, there’s normally no need for concern about this. Baby feeding routines usually vary frequently in the early days.
Why isn’t my baby feeding as well as before?
At other times, feeding less could be due to several reasons.
- A sore mouth or mouth anomalies like tongue tie.
- Discomfort of some other sort, such as teething.
- A lack of energy due to mild illness.
- Pain or tension associated with the birth.
- Forceful ejection reflex, fast flow or over supply of milk in the mother that causes the baby to cough, splutter or choke.
- Acid reflux – often a developmental and relatively uncommon condition.
- Thrush inside a baby’s mouth, which can be painful for babies.
- A change in taste – it’s believed mastitis can cause breastmilk to taste salty until the condition improves. Exercising a lot is also thought to alter the taste due to the presence of lactic acid. Occasionally, if you’re taking a particular medication, such as an antibiotic or combined pill, that can affect the taste too.
- Colic or fidgety type symptoms, due to something you’ve eaten or drunk, such as a caffeinated drink.
(Mohrbacher et al, 2013)
It’s best to check with your GP or your health visitor if you think your baby might be unwell.
This can sometimes be referred to as a ‘nursing strike’ and it’s usually temporary (La Leche League, 2017). Your baby might refuse the breast entirely and be distressed and cross when you keep offering. Some babies refuse the breast based on the reasons above as well as the reasons below.
What causes breast refusal?
Some reasons link with the reasons babies might feed less as suggested above. Babies sometimes refuse the breast when something upsetting or strange has happened to them (BellyBelly, 2016). Sometimes, it’s not possible to say what might have caused the ‘strike’. For more details, see our article Why is my baby refusing the breast?
Signs of breast refusal
Your baby might:
- fight your breast physically with their fists
- cry frantically
- not prefer to be held
- appear happy at the breast and even lick, attempt to suck and even hold the nipple in their mouths
- be happier to feed before or after the let-down reflex.
(Mohrbacher et al, 2003).
Call a breastfeeding counsellor if this happens to you, as there are many things you can do to address the problem.
What could I try if my baby is feeding less or refusing the breast?
If your baby is not breastfeeding, it’s important to try different things to see what works. Patience, being calm, close contact, being responsive to feeding cues and feeding your baby when they’re in a sleepy state can often help, alongside tips the breastfeeding counsellor can share with you.
See our article about breast refusal for more tips to help your baby who’s refusing the breast to breastfeed and for tips to help lower your stress levels.
This page was last reviewed in December 2019.
NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.
National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 021.
NHS information on mastitis
Best Beginnings - Bump to Breastfeeding DVD Chapter 7 'Overcoming Challenges'
Healthtalkonline.org: Managing Breastfeeding – dealing with difficult times
BellyBelly. (2016) Breast refusal – 13 tips for a baby that refuses the breast. Available at: https://www.bellybelly.com.au/breastfeeding/breast-refusal/ (Accessed on 22nd February 2019)
Kelly Mom. (2018) Growth spurts. Available at: https://kellymom.com/hot-topics/growth-spurts/ (Accessed 22nd February 2019)
Mohrbacher N, Stock J; La Leche International. (2003) The Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd edition. Schamburg, Illinois
La Leche League. (2017) Nursing strikes. Available at: https://www.laleche.org.uk/nursing-strikes/ (Accessed 13th February 2019)
Raff A. (2017) Promoting positive parent-infant relationships. Perspective. 29. Available at: https://www.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/related_documents/Raff%20A%20Promoting%20positive%20parent-infant%20relationships.pdf (Accessed 12th February 2019)
Psychology Today. (2011) The tremendous benefits of doing what is normal: breastfeeding. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/moral-landscapes/201108/the-tremendous-benefits-doing-what-is-normal-breastfeeding (Accessed 22nd February 2019)
WHO (World Health Organization). (2016) Early childhood development begins with a mother’s breast. Available at: https://www.who.int/mediacentre/commentaries/2016/childhood-development-breastfeeding/en/ (Accessed 11th February 2019)
Wright CM, Williams AF, Elliman D, Bedford H, Birks E, Butler G, Sachs M, Moy RJ, Cole TJ. (2010) Using the new UK-WHO growth charts. BMJ. 340:c1140. Available at: https://www.bmj.com/content/340/bmj.c1140.full (Accessed 13th February 2019)