While many women find breastfeeding to be relaxing, the process can cause anxiety for new mothers who aren't sure if they're feeding their babies properly. Babies often pause in the middle of breastfeeding, causing mothers to question if their infants are getting enough to eat. Frequent, rhythmic pausing is a natural part of breastfeeding, though some less rhythmic pauses may indicate that your baby is distracted or uncomfortable.
Worrying About Pauses
Since you can't see the milk going into the baby's mouth while breastfeeding, it's hard to measure how much he is eating. Pausing is not an indication that a baby is not taking in enough milk. The La Leche League advises that the best way to ensure that your baby is eating enough is to monitor his weight and growth. Frequent wet diapers and regular bowel movements also indicate that a baby is drinking enough milk. If your baby's diapers are constantly dry or you're concerned about his stool or lack of weight gain, ask your doctor to assess the situation.
Natural Feeding Rhythm
Pauses during breastfeeding act as an indicator that your baby is eating efficiently. A properly nursing baby develops a characteristic sucking pattern, usually marked by a wide opening of the mouth followed by a pause and a slight closing of the mouth. The pause indicates that the baby is swallowing milk. As long as the pauses are following this rhythm, slightly longer pauses of two to three seconds indicate that the baby is swallowing more milk. Pay close attention to the pauses in your baby's feeding, and you may hear him swallowing or see a slight movement in his throat. If your baby suckles quickly without pausing, he may not be nursing efficiently.
Pausing Due to Gas
If your baby's pauses are not uniform and rhythmic, or if he breaks his latch, it may be a sign that he's experiencing discomfort. Breastfed babies tend to be less gassy than bottle-fed babies, but they can still experience gas or reflux when eating. Sometimes mothers mistake a pause of more than several seconds as a sign that the baby has finished eating, but often the baby needs to be burped. If your baby takes a prolonged pause from rhythmic feeding or breaks the latch, sit him upright on your lap or against your chest and gently pat his back. After burping him, put the baby back on your breast to see if he wants to continue eating.
Older babies often pause or take a break from the rhythm of breastfeeding when they are distracted. If your baby repeatedly stops or breaks the latch to take in his surroundings, try feeding him alone in a quiet room. Dim bright lights and try to create a relaxing atmosphere by stroking your baby's head or humming a gentle tune. Particularly distracted babies may need to be covered with a receiving blanket or put in a sling to focus on feeding. Take care to keep your baby alert enough that he doesn't drift off to sleep while eating.