At one point or another, fidgeting, pulling, getting distracted, and even flailing are all fairly normal behaviors for breastfeeding babies. If you notice your baby hitting you while nursing, it’s not at all uncommon, and it could be for any number of reasons. The good thing is you don’t have to take it personally.
For the most part, this type of gentle hitting is simply part of being a baby. “Babies often ‘hit’ for various reasons. Sometimes it's to get your attention or a reaction from you,” as Jay Lovenheim, D.O., F.A.A.P. of Lovenheim Pediatrics tells Romper. It can be a form of communication. “Other times it may be something that is done for no real reason at all,” he explains. If this type of hitting is repetitive, such as every time you’re breastfeeding, then this may be more about developments in your child’s brain than anything else. “If a reaction is elicited, they learn very quickly that they will receive a response. This is a huge developmental leap cognitively and socially,” board certified pediatrician Ann L. Contrucci, MD, FAAP, tells Romper. Thus they may continue this behavior not “out of anger as an older child might,” Dr. Contrucci explains, but because they are realizing the basics of cause and effect.
Another reason Baby might hit you while nursing is because they are simply starting to enjoy using their hands. This generally occurs between 6-9 months, per Dr. Sears. In my experience, my baby hitting me was more of a soft, subtle, and habitual action that was done for just a minute or two during each breastfeeding session. It occurred most often when my children would start to nod off to sleep. This wasn’t a cause for concern, and it was actually pretty cute.
So do you need to do anything about a hitting baby at this point? This is up to you. If you find this behavior to be an annoyance or over the top, there are several ways to distract, redirect, and discourage unwanted behavior during breastfeeding. Giving your baby a toy to keep their hands occupied, suggesting they play with their own body or clothes, and even wearing a scarf or baby-proof necklace to grab their attention are all ways to redirect your baby’s attention. “To redirect this type of behavior, once your child hits, you should immediately say ‘no’ or ‘ouch’ and then move on. If the behavior persists, then at each subsequent instance of hitting, you should say "no," then gently put your child down and walk out of the room for 30 seconds,” says Dr. Lovenheim. You can also do things to prevent or stop the behavior. For example, utilizing a breastfeeding position that minimizes fidgeting, swaddling, or giving a firm command like "be still" are all worth trying.
Ann L. Contrucci, MD, FAAP, board certified pediatrician
Jay Lovenheim, OD, FAAP, pediatrician with Lovenheim Pediatrics
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