Struggling when your baby wants to breastfeed constantly but falls asleep or is still hungry? See why this is normal and what you can do.
“Maybe he’s hungry.”
The dreaded three words. I’d shoot 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 hormonal 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 between nursing sessions, but not exactly comforting when he wants to breastfeed 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 until he’s nursing again.
Swaddling, singing, rocking, changing diapers, baths—none of these come close to getting him to stop crying the way 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 breastfeed constantly, he still falls asleep during nursing sessions. And when you’re already suffering from post-partum emotions, it’s no surprise you sometimes cry along with him.
What to do when your baby wants to breastfeed constantly
I know all too well how isolating it can feel when your baby wants to breastfeed constantly, on top of not sleeping well. When he nurses for a long time, only to spit up and make you wonder the whole point of it.
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 him. When he cries for you all the time for comfort nursing, 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 won’t go on 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 and tried to implement a feeding schedule. 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 already a “second-time” mom by that point, I was more open to feeding on demand. I knew that cluster feeding, however challenging, was temporary.
Rest assured, feeding on demand won’t lead to bad habits you later have to undo. Your baby will eventually settle into a pattern, even if you feed him often in the earlier weeks. When you’re struggling through those constant feedings, remind yourself that this is temporary.
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2. It’s normal for breastfed babies to nurse often
Did you know that the day your baby is born, his stomach was likely the size of a cherry? By day three, it grows to the size of a walnut, able to take in one additional 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 often.
Unlike formula, breast milk also digests easily, which means it passes through their already tiny stomachs 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 him actually drinking milk or simply sucking for comfort. 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 makes his throat move as he passes the milk from mouth to 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.
- Keep your baby awake. Prevent him from falling asleep while nursing to ensure that he’s eating during this time.
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 breastfeed 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 another nuisance. Another one is to see frequent nursing as a good thing.
You see, this is likely his 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’s about to reach a new milestone you’re more than ready to welcome. Perhaps this is his way of stretching his nighttime sleep.
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, what with nipple confusion adding yet another obstacle that would make breastfeeding harder. I also knew parents with toddlers too attached to pacifiers, or of newborns waking up screaming after their pacifier had fallen out.
Except I later learned that my fears were bigger than they needed to be.
For one thing, if your baby wants to breastfeed 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—there’s no need to suffer all these months in the meantime.
6. Find entertainment
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. Not keen on television or movies? Use the time to read a book, listen to a podcast, or flip through magazines.
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 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 exclusively 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 so small that he wouldn’t have been able to go home with us 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 on top of breastmilk 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 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 breastfeed 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. Reassure yourself that he’ll eventually learn how to stop cluster feeding when the need decreases.
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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