Struggling when your baby wants to nurse constantly but falls asleep or is still hungry? Learn why this is normal and what to do to make your nights easier.
“Maybe he’s hungry.”
The dreaded three words. I seriously think I shot dagger eyes whenever anyone suggested feeding my baby during those first few weeks of bringing him home.
Anyone caring for a newborn has it hard, but unlike other adults, newborn moms struggle even more. For one thing, we’re often healing from the physical pains of childbirth. We’re also extra emotional from the hormone changes that happen overnight.
But for breastfeeding moms, one reason we’re especially exhausted is because we’re the only ones who can nurse the baby.
Anyone can change his diaper, rock him when he’s fussy, or even run errands. But as the sole source of his food intake, breastfeeding newborn moms have an added responsibility no one else can do.
This is all fine if he can sleep and play between nursing sessions, but not exactly comforting when the baby wants to nurse constantly, every hour at that.
Maybe your baby cries to nurse in what seems like just minutes since you last fed him. He doesn’t just feed for a few minutes, either—he often refuses to let go and prefers to continue sucking. And he cries when you detach him from you… and won’t stop crying until he’s nursing again.
Swaddling, singing, rocking, changing his diapers, baths—none of these alternatives come close to getting him to stop crying as nursing does. You’d rather not use a pacifier because you’re scared of nipple confusion or that you’d have to wean him off of that down the line.
You’re adamant about not letting him cry, considering how young he is. Even if your baby wants to nurse constantly, he still falls asleep during nursing sessions. And when you’re already suffering from post-partum emotions, it’s no surprise you sometimes find yourself crying along with the baby.
What to do when your baby wants to nurse constantly
I know all too well how isolating it can feel when your baby wants to nurse constantly.
Those first few weeks can be some of the most challenging, not only from the physical discomfort of breastfeeding, but how “glued” you feel to your baby. When the baby cries for you all the time, and no one else can comfort him, it’s enough to make you feel like life is never going to be the same again.
Rest assured, you’re not alone, friend. And better yet, how you feel now isn’t going to be this way forever. I’m not talking when your baby is already a toddler—I’m talking even just days or weeks from now.
Because when you’re in that moment, it’s easy to feel like there’s no end in sight to the constant nursing. But take a look at the tips below on how to make this stage go much smoother for you and your baby:
1. Feed on demand (don’t worry, it won’t be forever)
I made the mistake with my eldest to try and implement a schedule for his feeding. I was so sick and tired of constantly nursing, especially when it seemed like I had just fed him so recently. There’s no way he’s still hungry again, I justified.
Later when I had my twins, their pediatrician recommended I feed on demand. “Babies usually cry because they’re hungry,” she said. So, while babies sometimes do cry because of a dirty diaper or uncomfortable clothing, more often than not, they cry because they want to eat.
Since I was then already a “second-time” mom, I was more open to feeding on demand, likely because I knew that this newborn stage, however challenging, was temporary. And that included feeding constantly and multiple times throughout the day.
Rest assured, feeding on demand won’t lead to bad habits you later have to undo. Your baby will eventually settle into a pattern, just as my twins did, despite me feeding them constantly in the earlier weeks. When you find yourself struggling through those constant feedings, remind yourself that this is temporary.
2. Remember that it’s normal for breastfed babies to nurse often
Did you know that the day your baby is born, his stomach is likely the size of a cherry? That’s about the size of a teaspoon. By day three, his stomach grows to the size of a walnut, able to take in one ounce of milk. And by one week, it grows to the size of an apricot, ready to take in two ounces of milk.
At such small sizes, you can see why babies eat frequently.
Plus, unlike formula, breast milk digests easily, which means it passes through their already tiny stomachs just as quickly. No wonder babies need to feed frequently.
Whenever you’ve just about had it with having to nurse your hungry baby yet again, remember that it’s normal for him to feed that often.
3. Check if your baby is drinking or sucking
While you want to feed on demand, you may not want to be your baby’s “pacifier” the entire day. You see, there’s a difference between your baby actually drinking milk or simply sucking. And unlike milk or formula in bottles, there’s no visual way to tell if he’s doing one and not the other.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to check:
- Look at his throat to see if he’s actually swallowing milk. Swallowing would mean his throat will move as he passes the milk from his mouth and down to his stomach. Sucking, on the other hand, only needs his mouth to move.
- Listen for a swallowing sound. You’ll likely hear a small swallowing sound as he takes in the milk, as opposed to simply sucking with his mouth.
- Is your baby falling asleep? Even though it’s possible for your baby to fall asleep while eating, baby tired signs mean he likely would rather sleep than eat.
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4. See frequent nursing as a good thing
One of the most powerful parenting principles I’ve learned is the simple act of choosing where to put your attention.
Yes, your baby wants to nurse constantly — you may not be able to control that. But what you can control is how you respond. One option might be to feel resentful or see this as yet another nuisance. Another one is to see frequent nursing as a good thing.
You see, this is likely your baby’s way of making sure your body is producing enough milk. He may be going through a growth spurt, one that requires more milk than what you may have been used to providing.
So much so that his frequent nursing isn’t so much a hassle as it is a pretty efficient way of increasing your milk supply. Or that he perhaps is about to reach a new milestone you’re more than ready to welcome.
Frequent nursing—however time-consuming it can be in the moment—can often be a sign of a good thing… if you’re willing to see it that way.
5. Use a pacifier
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I was adamant about not using a pacifier. I had heard of nipple confusion and didn’t want yet another obstacle to make breastfeeding harder. And I had also heard of parents struggling with weaning their toddlers off of pacifiers, or of babies who wake up screaming multiple times at night looking for a pacifier.
Except I later learned that my fears were bigger than they needed to be.
For one thing, if your baby wants to nurse constantly, he’s probably at a point where he won’t be confused between pacifier, breast, or bottle. If you want to make certain though, I’ve heard that three weeks is a good time to introduce either a pacifier or a bottle.
And second, even if you do have to wean him off of pacifiers down the line, at least you’d have saved yourself hours of lost sleep before then. Because you can always sleep train him out of these habits—no need to suffer all these months in the meantime.
Take a look at these favorite pacifiers to start:
6. Find entertainment (aka Netflix)
I was late to the game when it came to smartphones, so much so that it wasn’t until my twins were born that I made full use of having one. When the frequent nursing got to be too much, I kept my sanity by binge-watching shows on my little smartphone.
I’d hook up the earphones and watch all sorts of episodes, from dramas to comedies. They made nursing sessions more bearable, and kept me from feeling like I was just “sitting there” idling away.
Of course, there were many moments when I used the time to bond and spend time with my babies, but for those times when I was ready to tear my hair out, watching shows saved the day.
7. It’s okay to supplement
There, I said it.
So, I’m a big proponent of breastfeeding… but only if mom is happy. With my eldest, I was so bent on exclusively breastfeeding that I’d sometimes feel like a failure or even resent my baby for the frequent feedings.
And sure, I was able to get to the place where breastfeeding became easy, and I’m grateful and proud I was able to breastfeed him for a whole year.
But then I had my twins a few years later.
And at the hospital, one of my twins was born small… so small that he almost couldn’t go home with us and instead would have to stay at the NICU if he didn’t gain enough weight.
Between supplementing with formula and bringing him home, I didn’t even bat an eyelash.
Feeding him formula allowed him to gain the weight he needed to and come home with his twin brother. Formula also saved my sanity—and allowed my husband to help more directly—during a few middle-of-the-night feedings.
In other words, yes, breastfeed as much as you can, even past the discomfort stage, knowing that frequent feedings mean a steady milk supply.
But… if you find yourself downright miserable, or, like me, in the middle of a not-so-hard decision, it’s nice to know you have other options, too.
It’s exhausting when your baby wants to nurse constantly, but as you can see, not impossible. Having the right mindset allows you to feed on demand and see frequent nursing as a good thing. Check if the baby is actually swallowing—because if he’s simply sucking, offering a pacifier can free you up.
Then, remember that it’s normal for breastfed babies to nurse often, and that you can always rely on entertainment to make the time pass quickly. And finally, don’t beat yourself up if you need to supplement, especially if you’re downright miserable about the frequent feedings.
If I could go back, I’d likely tell my earlier self to go easy on myself. That it’s okay to feed frequently, that it’s temporary, and that I’m doing a good job despite how I might feel.
And that the next time someone suggests that my baby might be hungry, I won’t shoot dagger eyes their way for saying so.
Get more tips:
- Burping a Newborn After Breastfeeding: Necessary or Not?
- Essential Breastfeeding Supplies You Need to Have
- When Does Breastfeeding Get Easier? Top Tips to Ease the Pain
- Scared to Breastfeed? 7 Reasons That Will Tame Your Fear
- Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty for Not Breastfeeding
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