Help Your Distracted Baby Stay Focused at Feedings

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.

mom nursing with lightweight nursing cover

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

  • Feeding at home: Take your baby to a quiet, dimly lit area where it’s just you and them. 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.
  • Feeding 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 your baby's 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 your baby look around the new space for a minute before feeding.

infant holding on to baby safe necklace while nursing

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 their development; however, during nursing/feeding sessions, try to stay calm and quiet.
  • Try rocking while feeding. Sometimes the rocking motion can help babies focus.

holding bottle nipple in baby's mouth

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

  • Your baby turns their head away, but they aren't particularly interested in looking at anything else in the room.
  • You offer the breast or bottle again, and your baby won’t even put the breast or bottle nipple in their mouth.
  • Your baby has the breast or bottle in their mouth, but they aren't sucking. They are just holding it there.

infant chewing on refridgerated teething ring

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 their 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, they could also just be getting the milk out faster.

mom nursing using football hold

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 your baby and pay attention to whether or not they are actively eating. If you notice your baby is about to pull away, or is no longer eating, 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 their head movements.