Things are constantly changing when you have a newborn or infant, and just when you think you're starting to get into a routine, things change again.
The same is true of your breastfeeding journey. The nutritional needs of your little one will change day to day (especially if they’re teething or going through a growth spurt), and some days it might feel like they’re attached to your breast all day, and all night, long.
You might even realize that they're not getting a lot of milk at times. Is your baby just using you as a "human pacifier" or are they truly hungry?
This can be extremely exhausting for you, Mama. But it's normal behaviour for a newborn to want to suckle around the clock. You could be dealing with cluster feeding (check out our blog for more info on this), or your baby could be comfort nursing.
If you're already feeling touched out, comfort nursing can make you feel even more frustrated, especially when you're on the third night of little to no sleep. Can they truly be THAT hungry?
If you’re in those first few weeks with your new baby, you might start to wonder if your supply is enough for them. Let us reassure you that if your baby produces enough wet and dirty diapers each day, there is no problem with your supply!
We know you’re tired, but comfort nursing, like so many other parts of newborn life, is just a phase your little one will be out of before you know it.
So, soak in those babies' snuggles, and let’s learn a little bit more about comfort nursing (and what you can do about it).
What Is Comfort Nursing?
If you have a baby who always wants to be attached to your breast, they might be doing it for much more than nourishment.
According to Healthline, comfort nursing is when a baby breastfeeds for another purpose besides feeding.
If your baby needs some breastmilk to help them fall asleep or screams when you try to put them down even after they’ve had a full nursing session, they might be nursing for comfort. Or you might go through fussy evenings where NOTHING makes your little one happy besides breastfeeding. (If you’re wondering about infant colic, check out our blog to see if your baby might have colic.)
While your baby gets all their nutrition from breastfeeding, nursing also offers them:
· Relief from pain
One example is when your infant (or toddler) is teething or going through a growth spurt. This can become uncomfortable and painful for them, so breastfeeding gives them the comfort and connection they need during this challenging time.
Think of it this way. Comfort nursing is like a little snack for your baby. As they grow older and begin eating solids, they will require meals and snacks to support their growth and development. While many babies comfort nurse for reasons other than extra calories, keep in mind that your baby may also want a little snack while seeking relief from outside stressors.
Why Do Babies Nurse for Comfort?
It’s because you, Mama, are their source of comfort. The bonding and soothing reassurance that breastfeeding offers help calm your sweet baby and alleviate any pain, discomfort, or uneasiness that they might be feeling.
After spending nine months in the womb, the world is a big scary place, and they're not yet able to regulate their feelings. Instead, they turn to you and the familiarity of breastfeeding to give them the comfort and support they need.
Breastfeeding has been shown to have a calming effect on your baby. That's why so many babies like to nurse to sleep because your breastmilk is made up of sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin.
And comfort nursing is a huge stress reliever. In fact, research shows that comfort nursing can help your baby handle stress better, even when they’re not breastfeeding!
So whenever your baby is going through a difficult time, it makes sense that they’d want to be where they feel most secure…while also taking in a little bit of that nutritious breastmilk.
How Can You Tell If Your Baby is Hungry or Looking for Comfort?
When your baby is turning to your breast throughout the evening or night, you might wonder how they could be so hungry.
They might lightly suckle for a bit and fall asleep, or they might lazily graze at your breast. You might start to feel like you're doing something wrong like your baby isn't getting all the valuable nutrition they need from your breastmilk.
If your baby is doing what’s known as flutter sucking, this is a telltale sign that they’re looking for comfort.
What is flutter sucking?
Breastfeeding Support describes flutter sucking as slow, sleepy sucking with fewer swallows and jaw movements. While a baby is flutter sucking, they're not actually getting much breastmilk, but they're just suckling gently at the breast and might even fall asleep.
This is very different from a normal feeding session, which includes strong sucks that stimulate your let-down reflexes, followed by a rhythmic pattern of sucking and swallowing. This is when a baby is nursing for hunger.
When you notice flutter sucking, your baby is likely nursing for comfort, as they are only getting minimal amounts of your breastmilk.
What Should You Do When Your Baby Wants to Nurse 24/7?
First, let’s talk about some things you might hear if you choose to comfort nurse.
People might say that you're a human pacifier, that you're spoiling your baby, or that they won’t be able to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
Healthline reports that there is no scientific evidence that comfort feeding has any long-term adverse effects on you or your baby. Comfort nursing is typical behaviour for breastfed babies who are developing appropriately.
Instead, it’s important to focus on all the positive things that comfort nursing offers your little one.
Like the bonding and security, you’re giving your baby. They aren’t developmentally able to work through the feelings and emotions they’re experiencing. You’re helping them to cope with the world around them in a natural way.
Breastfeeding is such an easy way to calm down an upset baby. However, if your baby is going through a tough phase of round-the-clock comfort nursing, it can become overwhelming and exhausting for you. Breastfeeding should be a positive experience for you and your baby and should enhance your relationship!
When it begins to be too much, you can try offering your baby a pacifier, which is the next best thing to nursing. Or you can give your child the sense of closeness they need by carrying them in a sling or a wrap. That way, they get the warmth and security they need without being attached to your breast.
If you notice that your little one isn't gaining weight despite all the nursing sessions, you might want to explore possible medical reasons why your baby is nursing so much. Your baby might not be getting enough milk, or they might be feeding inefficiently.
Comfort nursing is a beautiful bonding experience that helps your baby cope with the pain and stress they’re experiencing, and it is an entirely normal part of their development. If comfort nursing becomes burdensome for you or you’re feeling overwhelmed, NHS offers breastfeeding support services that can help.
Here at The Teatle, we want you to have a happy, fulfilling breastfeeding journey that benefits you and your baby. Check out our blog for more breastfeeding tips and what to expect as you continue to breastfeed your baby.