There are many families I work with whose babies seem to be in some sort of Baby Fight Club. You know the type, babies who instead of latching beautifully and snuggle into the breast like the beautiful angels they are, act like they are already training for the elusive boxing match they must have on their invisible planner. They hit, pinch and scratch at the breast. When they aren’t doing that they seem to arch back trying to put as much distance between the breast and their bodies.
If you are experiencing this you definitely need a hug.
Then look at the floofy cat. (his name is Cryptid)
Next, you need to know Your Baby Does Not Hate You!!!
Trust me, they don’t.
You are their world, and they definitely know their very survival depends on you and getting your milk into their belly.
So, then why does this happen? In short, it all (mostly) comes down to reflex.
Babies are born with reflexes that are used for their survival and some that can get in the way. The Suck reflex helps them to coordinate the suck, swallow, breathe process. The Rooting reflex helps babies turn to the breast in order to latch. The Stepping reflex causes babies to step when their feet touch a surface, allowing pediatric interns to use newborns as party tricks. You can read more about reflexes here.
The Moro, or Startle reflex is the one I see creating a lot of issues for breastfeeding parents. In simple terms, the Startle reflex is the one that causes babies to jerk their arms and legs like they are bracing for a fall. Typically you’ll see this when they are lying on their back during a diaper change or in their crib. They even will startle in their sleep. It happens mostly when a baby is not feeling solid pressure on their front torso.
When the Startle reflex gets initiated at the breast it results in the flailing of arms and legs, and sometimes arching of the back. This is all happening without your baby’s permission and it is intensely frustrating for them since they cannot control their bodies much when this happens.
What can you do to prevent Baby Fight Club at the breast? Consider these few steps.
- Make sure your baby is fully facing you while attempting to latch and hold them firmly. In cross cradle this will mean your arm opposite the breast you are nursing from will have the hand and fingers supporting the neck and shoulders, with baby’s butt around your elbow.
- Position baby’s nose at the nipple for an asymmetrical latch (preferred), and to their lips for a symmetrical latch.
- Hold baby at chest height and support firmly
- RECLINE! No one wants to be hanging over their baby causing neck and back strain. Lay back (you can often latch sitting up and lay back once latched), and not only will you feel better, your baby will have the pressure of their whole body on their chest and it will help suppress the Startle reflex more.
- Babies may need to have their hands by their face. This is fine as long as their hands aren’t blocking the breast. If that happens try holding them against your body (one hand can go across their chest) or start from a reclined position to keep the hands from getting all slappy. Let go of the arms once latched if you can.
- DO NOT FIGHT YOUR BABY!!! I say this all the time to parents. Fighting with your baby will just upset you both. Understanding if a baby needs to poop, burp, eat, sleep, see that darn dog’s tail, etc, is difficult in the beginning. Yes, you do need to try latching, but if it isn’t working after a minute try something else. Babies are complex thinkers who keep all their thoughts to themselves. Figuring them out isn’t easy for anyone in the early weeks.
- Consider sensory input. Some babies are just sensory overloaded. They may need a private room away from visitors to relax. If you have an annoying aunt who keeps getting in baby’s face and won’t let them look away, send aunt out for groceries to the “good” grocery store 20 miles away.
Now if your baby is losing weight, you are in pain, or you just aren’t sure please call/text and/or schedule a consult (and supplement if needed to maintain their weight). You don’t have to go it alone. There are free and low cost support options available in a lot of areas and payment plans are always an option for my services.
Your baby’s boxing training can wait until after they’re weaned. Retire the boxing gloves.