Help Your Distracted Baby Stay Focused at Feedings

4-12 Months

Just as breastfeeding and bottle-feeding are getting easier and everyone is getting into a groove, your little one starts getting fidgety and distracted during feedings. As frustrating as this can be for you, it’s a pretty normal stage for babies as they get older and become more aware of their surroundings. The good news is: For most babies, this is a passing stage, and there are some things Mom, Dad and anyone else caring for your child can do to help your baby focus during feeding time.

Find a less-stimulating space to feed

When your baby is ready to eat, find a space where he won’t be stimulated by what’s around him.

  • At home: Take baby to a quiet, dimly lit area where it’s just you and him. If there is a lot of noise in the house, shut the door and turn on a white noise machine or play music to help drown it out.
  • Out and about: Find a place with fewer people or moving things to look at; for example, a dressing room, your (parked) car or a quiet corner of a store with very few shoppers. Or try limiting his line of sight with a light blanket or by feeding/nursing in a sling or under a cover. It might also be helpful to let him look around the new space for a minute before feeding.

Help your baby focus on feeding

Apart from your environment, there are a few other things you can do to help your baby stay focused during feeding:

  • Let her hold onto something, such as a lovey or blankie, your finger, a baby-safe necklace (e.g., a silicone teething necklace or one that can’t be ripped off or choked on), or anything safe and less painful for you than a handful of your hair!
  • Save the games for after mealtime. Making faces and talking or singing songs to your little one is fun and great for her development; however, during nursing/feeding sessions, try to stay calm and quiet.
  • Try rocking her while feeding. Sometimes the rocking motion can help babies focus.

Signs your baby is full, not just distracted

Although babies can’t tell you in words that they’re done eating, they do know how to send you a message just with their body language. Look for these cues that your baby is full and not just distracted:

  • She turns her head away, but she isn’t particularly interested in looking at anything else in the room.
  • You offer the breast or bottle again, and she won’t even put the breast or bottle nipple in her mouth.
  • She has the breast or bottle in her mouth, but she isn’t sucking. She is just holding it there.

Other reasons for suddenly shorter feedings

Some babies nurse or feed more when they are teething, some less. If you suspect your nursing or bottle-feeding sessions are being cut short because of teething, try giving your baby something cold to chew on before feeding to numb his gums (such as a refrigerated teething ring).

Your feeding sessions could also start getting shorter simply because your baby is getting older. As babies get older, they naturally drop nursing and bottle-feeding sessions as they eat more solid foods. If your baby is simply a pro at nursing, he could also just be getting the milk out faster.

How a distracted baby can be painful for nursing moms

Distracted babies can sometimes pull off of the breast without unlatching first, and that can be really painful for Mom. The best thing you can do is keep a close eye on her. If you notice she’s about to pull away, use your finger to break the suction. Using the football, or clutch, position is also a good way for you to have better control over her head movements.