There is nothing wrong with baby coming to the breast for comfort – it is a brilliant way to calm and soothe your baby. In fact, breasts really are your primary “mothering tool” and can be used to settle your baby in most situations. However, there will be times when you will want to know whether your little one is actually feeding.
Look for baby’s jaw movements. When baby first comes to the breast they will be rapid and fluttery, this is your baby asking for the milk to let down. After a few seconds your baby may settle into more rhythmic sucks, but with some pauses. When baby is swallowing their jaw will move down lower and there will be a tiny pause, you might also hear a gulp or a little “huff” from baby’s nose.
This diagram from UNICEF shows how a baby’s jaw movement are likely to change through a nursing session.
In the early days your baby might take several sucks before a swallow, as colostrum is low in volume. This is also true later in feeds, when the milk volume is lower but fat content higher. Sometimes your baby might do fluttery rapid sucks later in a feed, to stimulate further let downs. If your baby has stopped swallowing, try compressing the breast slowly with your fingers. This can send more milk down and get baby interested in sucking again.
How long should a feed last? How do I know when baby is finished?
In the early days you don’t know, you will have to feel your way. Baby may stop sucking and fall asleep for a number of reasons, including being full of milk. However, baby might also have just got tired, or not been receiving much milk at all because supply is low, or maybe they have a sore head from an instrumental delivery or a tongue tie, or perhaps they were sleepy with jaundice or from being premature…
So if your baby is almost asleep at the breast, ask yourself how long was your baby feeding for? Did you see active sucks and swallows? Is there another risk factor that might make baby reluctant to feed well? You could try stimulating your baby by squeezing the breast tissue to encourage a let down of milk, talking to baby, tickling their feet, taking off their clothes, changing their nappy or winding, then try again. If your baby is still not willing to feed on that side, try swapping sides at this point to offer a fuller breast. Still no luck, then see how long baby stays asleep for. If your baby is awake and hungry after 10 mins then perhaps that indicates that you need to try to feed for longer next time. If baby sleeps for 1.5-3 hours then everything has gone really well.
Please see my other articles and videos for more information on achieving a comfortable latch, and how you know that your baby is thriving. If you are worried that your baby is not taking sufficient milk, please consult your healthcare professionals or give me a call to chat it through.