Is My Baby Eating or Using Me as a Pacifier?

As a new breastfeeding mom, you may have wondered at times, “Is my baby eating or using me as a pacifier?” You may have questions about how to know when to feed your baby, when they are hungry, and when they are full. Typically, babies are good about letting us know. Here’s what you as a parent can look for.

Look Out for Cues from Your Baby’s

If your baby is crying to tell you they’re hungry, chances are you’ve missed their attempts to tell you otherwise. Likewise, if your baby is falling asleep at the breast, they may have displayed signs that they’re full. Here are a few cues you can watch for.

Hunger Cues

  • Opening and closing mouth
  • Bringing hands to mouth
  • Head turning to look for the breast
  • Becoming more alert, maybe starting to fuss just a bit
  • Crying – crying is a sign of distress and a late hunger cue. Ideally, we want to catch baby before they get so hungry they start to cry.

Signs that your baby is full

  • Baby comes off the breast
  • Baby’s hands relax and are open
  • Baby is no longer swallowing consistently, and may be just suckling

All nursing sessions at breast are not created equal.


How to Know if Your Baby is Actively Feeding

When your baby is actively eating, they will swallow every few sucks. The baby’s suck will feel firm and strong as they pull milk from the breast. It is typical that they will take small breaks during this phase of eating, but then will resume eating. 

As their stomach starts to get full, you might feel a shift in the strength of their suck, the amount of times they swallow will begin to decrease, and you might feel that the baby’s tongue is tickling the tip of the nipple. This is changing from active eating to non-nutritive sucking.

Again, Is My Baby Eating or Using Me as a Pacifier?

Your little one may continue to suck for a variety of reasons beyond hunger including sucking to calm themselves, or because they like the closeness and warmth of being near mom. However, as they shift to this non-nutritive sucking, they can also slip to the tip of the nipple where their latch becomes shallow. This can not only cause discomfort for mom, but also damage to the nipple. 

It is fine to continue allowing the baby to suckle if you are not in pain and are enjoying time with baby. It is also fine to take baby off of that breast and either offer the other breast or end the feeding. 

The baby may protest initially, but should calm quickly if they are full and satisfied. This may allow you just a bit more mom-time — time to grab a nap or a bite to eat or even a shower.

Have Any Other Questions?

As always, if you have any questions regarding breastfeeding your baby, feel free to schedule an appointment with one of our lactation team members, or come to Baby Bistro breastfeeding support group on Tuesday mornings. We are here to support you in your breastfeeding journey!

About the Author

Martha Gooldy Garcia, RD, IBCLC

Martha Gooldy Garcia, Registered Dietitian and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, has been with the Youth Clinic since 2007. She brings over 30 years experience in the field of pediatric nutrition and breastfeeding support.

Martha Gooldy Garcia, RD, IBCLCPrior to joining the Youth Clinic, Martha worked with the Women, Infants and Children Program for 23 years. During that time, she also consulted with various agencies to provide in-home nutrition support to children 0 – 21 with special medical needs and developmental challenges.

Outside of work, Martha enjoys cooking and eating, reading, snowboarding, and spending time with her family. Her favorite part about working with her patients is seeing the joy in parents’ faces as they look at their newborns, and helping kids and families get excited about trying new foods and healthy eating. She loves building relationships with the kids and families through the years.

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