Breastfeeding a Distracted Baby

By Amy Maddalena, DO, FAAP, IBCLC

Things are going along smoothly. Maybe there were some bumps in the road early on, but now you’ve got your rhythm and nursing is going really well! Then suddenly, your baby who once nuzzled in to nurse for long stretches is popping off at every noise and movement in the room. What’s this? The distracted baby. Another developmental stage that can be maneuvered with a little more ease if you have a few tools in your arsenal.

When Does Distraction Start?

Your baby may become distracted as early as 2 months when they can see more clearly across the room. This usually gets much worse between 4-5 months, and can happen at any point after that. Babies at this age are becoming aware of the world around them, and love to take every opportunity to explore that! They are not trying to self-wean at this point. It’s very unusual for a baby to self-wean under 12 months, so it’s best not to assume your baby is not interested in nursing anymore.

What Can I Do About It?

So, how can you push through and continue breastfeeding when your little one keeps popping off at every wag of the dog’s tail or sound from the TV? Make eye contact with your little one during latching and breastfeeding. Nursing in a quiet, darkened room can help. If you have older children to keep track of, you could try a light blanket draped over the baby while you nurse. You can take advantage of night feedings at this time, to encourage more good feedings during this stage. Try nursing right when your baby wakes up, or right before sleep, when they might be more relaxed and less alert. Some moms find that nursing with the baby in a sling can be helpful, and other moms wear a “nursing necklace” (or “Mommy necklace”) that their baby can finger while nursing. Nursing in motion- a rocking chair, or even walking, can help. If all else fails, you can stop the nursing session and try again later, when your baby might be hungrier and more interested in feeding.

Hopefully it’s encouraging to know that being distracted is part of your baby’s normal, healthy development, as frustrating as it can be while breastfeeding! As long as your baby is making wet diapers and gaining weight, rest assured you continue to do a great job breastfeeding your baby. If you have concerns or need other tips or ideas, feel free to call the Breastfeeding Center.

Dr. Amy Maddalena is the Medical Director of the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh.