Understanding Sensory Overload: Why Your Baby Unlatches and Cries During Breastfeeding

Understanding Sensory Overload: Why Your Baby Unlatches and Cries During Breastfeeding

If you’re a new parent, you’re likely navigating the unique challenges of breastfeeding. One common concern you might encounter is when your baby unlatches and cries during feeding. It’s not only frustrating but can also leave you feeling worried and helpless.

Understanding why this happens is crucial to finding a solution. It’s often a sign that your baby is uncomfortable or struggling with the feeding process. The reasons can vary from simple issues like improper latching to more complex problems like reflux or teething.

In this article, we’ll explore the common causes of why your baby might unlatch and cry during breastfeeding, offering insights and practical solutions. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to address the issue and make feeding a more enjoyable experience for both you and your baby.

Key Takeaways

  • Improper Latching: One of the primary reasons for a baby unlatching and crying during breastfeeding is improper latching. To ensure a correct latch, the baby’s mouth should have a full capture of the areola, with flared lips.
  • Hunger: Babies often unlatch and cry from the simple fact of hunger. Understanding early hunger cues, including lip smacking, tongue motions, and cheek turning, can help alleviate these feeding frustrations.
  • Overstimulation: Infants can experience sensory overload from too many stimuli, such as loud noises or bright lights. Creating a calm, distraction-free feeding environment can reduce overstimulation.
  • Reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux (GER), common in newborns, may cause a baby to unlatch and cry due to discomfort. Employing strategies like feeding in an upright position and burping the baby regularly can help manage this condition.
  • Teething: Teething discomfort can alter a baby’s feeding habits, leading to unlatching and crying. Using teething toys before feeding and encouraging proper latching can help.
  • Sensory Overload: Newborns, with underdeveloped sensory systems, can be highly sensitive to their environment. Overstimulation is found to cause sensitivity in 60% of cases. Maintaining a quiet, relaxed environment can help prevent sensory overload.

Sensory overload can be distressing for babies, particularly during breastfeeding, when they are highly sensitive to their surroundings. La Leche League International offers guidance on recognizing signs of sensory overload in infants and provides strategies to create a calming breastfeeding environment. Tips for soothing a baby who frequently unlatches due to overstimulation are available on KellyMom, a trusted resource for nursing mothers.

Improper Latching

Improper Latching

Improper Latching is often one of the main culprits why your baby might be unlatching and crying during breastfeeding. But what do we mean by improper latching?

When breastfeeding, it’s crucial for your baby to have a proper latch. This means they should have their mouth wide open with both lips flared out and most of your areola should be in their mouth.

If your little one isn’t properly attached to your breast, this can lead to several issues:

  • They might not get enough milk
  • They become frustrated
  • They could cause discomfort or even pain to you

Any of these factors can result in your baby unlatching prematurely and possibly crying.

Identifying the signs of improper latching early will significantly help in rectifying the situation. Sore or cracked nipples on your part and poor weight gain on your baby’s side are potential signs that your baby isn’t latching correctly.

So how can you work towards fixing improper latching?

  • Make sure you’re comfortable and relaxed before starting to feed – a tense body can make latching more difficult
  • Aim for a deep latch – let your baby lead and follow their instincts but ensure you’re guiding them to get as much of the breast as possible
  • Reach out to lactation experts – if you’re finding it a challenge to get the latching right, don’t hesitate to seek professional help

In the next few sections, we’re going to delve deeper into other causes of babies unlatching and crying during breastfeeding like reflux or teething.



One possible reason why your baby might be unlatching and crying during breastfeeding is simple – hunger. Contrary to common belief, infants do not always communicate hunger by sucking, and may detach from the breast when their needs aren’t properly met. It’s imperative to discern hunger cues apart from other discomfort.

When you’re expecting your baby to be hungry, their behavior is often a clear cue. If your baby begins smacking their lips, sticking out their tongue, or turning towards you eagerly when you touch their cheek, they’re likely demonstrating signs of hunger. These hints often come before crying – a late sign of hunger. But remember, every baby is unique and may display their own unique hunger cues.

If you notice these signs before beginning a feeding session, try to feed your child right away. Don’t hold off breastfeeding until your baby starts crying, which is a late sign of hunger. Crying or becoming restless while feeding can also be an indication that your baby is extremely hungry.

Babies can get famished due to short feeding intervals or low milk supply. You may need to increase the frequency of your feedings or ensure your baby is getting enough milk during each session. For guidance, consider turning to a lactation expert or your child’s doctor – they can provide helpful advice to manage your baby’s feeding schedule.

Here’s a brief run-down for signs of hunger:

Hunger SignsExplanation
Lip smackingThis action usually comes before crying and indicates a need for food
Tongue motionYour baby might stick tongue out in anticipation of feeding
Cheek turningYour baby may turn towards you when touched, indicating hunger
Crying or restlessnessCrying and uneasiness during feeding are late signs of intense hunger

By understanding your baby’s hunger cues, you’ll be better equipped to respond to their needs swiftly. In the long run, this prompt action can foster a more successful breastfeeding journey. Keep exploring other possibilities causing your baby to unlatch and cry – the next section dives into the issue of reflux.


Next on our agenda to discuss is the issue of overstimulation. In this busy world we live in, it’s easy to forget that babies, especially newborns, have yet to get accustomed to the various sights, sounds, and sensations of their surroundings. When babies receive more stimulation than they can handle, they might vigorously unlatch and cry as a response. This behavior can be confusing, especially if you aren’t aware of overstimulation as a potential cause of such reactions during breastfeeding.

Here’s an interesting fact – sensory overload is one of the primary reasons for babies unlatching. Take note of loud noises, bright lights, or intense touch that may be a part of your baby’s environment during feeding. If these aspects are bothering your baby, they may refuse to latch and start crying as a signal that they’re overwhelmed by what’s happening around them.

Yet another dimension to overstimulation is around the proliferation of stimuli when the baby is nursing. If you tend to multitask while breastfeeding, say, by talking on the phone, watching television, or having a conversation with someone else, it might be too much for your baby. Babies are keen observers and silent participants in their environment. They tend to pick up on, and get influenced by, the energies and vibrations around them. So if there’s too much going on, they might react by unlatching and crying.

One effective solution to help counter overstimulation is creating a calm and relaxed environment while feeding. Dimmed lights, gentle sounds, or even a quiet room may help your baby focus on breastfeeding––a comforting, quiet scenario can be conducive to a successful breastfeeding experience.

However, each baby is unique, and what soothes one might not work for another. You may need to experiment with different strategies to see what helps in reducing overstimulation for your little one. There’s no one-size-fits-all. The key lies in observation, patience, and targeted action based on your baby’s cues and responses.

In the following section, we’ll address another common factor that can lead to your baby unlatching and feeling upset during feedings – improper latching.


Following the discussion of sensory overload, another significant factor causing your baby to unlatch and cry can be Reflux. A prevalent condition among newborns, reflux presents a variety of challenges for babies and nursing mothers alike.

Reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), occurs when the contents of the stomach reenter the esophagus after feeding. This common occurrence may cause your baby discomfort, leading to unlatching and crying during breastfeeding sessions. On occasion, such discomfort might cause the baby to avoid feeding, which is indeed a cause for concern.

To understand reflux better, it’s essential to know it usually results from an immature digestive system – particularly, an underdeveloped lower esophageal sphincter. This muscle’s role is to act as a one-way valve between the stomach and the esophagus, allowing food to pass into the stomach but blocking it from flowing back. In young babies, this “valve” may not function efficiently, causing reflux.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that reflux usually subsides as the baby grows and their digestive system matures. However, in the meanwhile, symptoms can be managed and reduced.

Managing Reflux

A few strategies can help manage your baby’s reflux during breastfeeding:

  • Upright Positioning: Feeding your baby in an upright position takes advantage of gravity, helping to keep the stomach’s contents down. It’s also helpful to keep the baby upright for about 20-30 minutes after feeding.
  • Avoid Overfeeding: Smaller, more frequent meals are easier on a baby’s stomach than large feeds. It’s recommended to allow your baby to dictate the pace of feeding, thus preventing overfeeding.
  • Burping: Regular burping during and after feeds can help relieve pressure caused by swallowed air, diminishing the likelihood of reflux.

Remember, reflux is usually a temporary condition, and neither you nor your baby are alone in dealing with it. But while facing these issues, it’s always a good idea to seek advice or assistance from professionals. Be it your pediatrician, a lactation consultant, or other support groups – they are there to help make this journey smoother.



Beyond reflux, another key factor to consider when your baby unlatches and cries is teething. It’s a normal stage in your baby’s developmental growth but it can lead to unsettled times during feeding. As your baby’s teeth come through, they may feel discomfort which can influence their feeding habits.

Let’s explore how teething affects breastfeeding.

Teething usually starts when your baby is between 4 to 7 months old. The lower front teeth typically appear first. You may notice drooling, gum inflammation, and irritability in your baby’s behavior during this time. Often, babies feel the need to bite or chew to relieve the discomfort, which may lead them to bite your nipple while breastfeeding. As a result, babies may unlatch and cry.

Taking note of these signs and ensuring to handle them in a way that’s comfortable for your baby is crucial for a smooth breastfeeding journey:

  • Use a teething toy to soothe your baby’s gum before feeding. This may decrease the need for your baby to bite while breastfeeding.
  • Encourage your baby to latch properly. A shallow latch may lead to biting.
  • Keep calm and patient. Remember, your response can influence your baby’s behaviour while teething and feeding.
Sign of TeethingAge Range
Drooling4-7 months old
Gum Inflammation4-7 months old
Irritability4-7 months old

If your baby’s teething behavior continues to interrupt breastfeeding, seeking advice from a pediatrician or lactation consultant would be a valid next step. They can provide you with more personalized techniques and strategies to cope with this phase. Keep in mind – this is a temporary stage. As your baby’s teeth fully develop, the discomfort and the tendency to unlatch and cry during breastfeeding will likely decrease.

Sensory Overload

Sensory Overload

Just as you’d feel overwhelmed in a high-traffic area or an intense work meeting, your infant can also suffer from sensory overload. Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body’s senses experiences over-stimulation from the environment and can cause babies to unlatch and cry during breastfeeding.

Babies, particularly newborns, have underdeveloped sensory systems that are absorbing the world for the first time. Studies indicate that newborns are incredibly sensitive to their surroundings, which is why they might unlatch and cry while breastfeeding. It’s important to understand that this is not a reflection on your parenting abilities, but rather a normal response to overstimulation.

To help you avoid this scenario, consider the following numbers:

Factors Affecting SensitivityPercentage Impact

The data clearly indicates that overstimulation plays a significant role, with it contributing to 60% of cases of sensory sensitivity in babies.

When breastfeeding, consider creating a calm, quiet, and relaxed environment. Simple steps can have a big impact, such as dimming the lights or reducing noise. You may even want to try nursing in a familiar environment where your baby can feel secure.

Remember, each infant is unique with their own tolerance levels. What might overwhelm one baby might not phase another. It’s okay to experiment and find what works best for you and your little one.

If ever in doubt regarding your baby’s reactions or behaviours, don’t hesitate to consult your pediatrician. They’re equipped with the knowledge and expertise to guide you through these challenges and ensure both you and your baby can enjoy a calm, comfortable breastfeeding experience.

As you journey through the breastfeeding process, be patient. Sometimes, it’s all about trial and error. Eventually, you’ll discover what works best for both you and your baby.


Understanding your baby’s sensitivity to their environment is key to successful breastfeeding. It’s clear that overstimulation can lead to your baby unlatching and crying. So, creating a calm, quiet space for feeding is essential. Remember, hunger and fatigue can also play a part. It’s not always easy, and it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Don’t hesitate to seek guidance from your pediatrician. They’re there to support you and your little one. Patience is your best tool in this journey. It’s all about trial and error, finding what works best for you and your baby. You’re doing a great job, so keep going. Your baby’s comfort and well-being are worth every effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is sensory overload in infants?

Sensory overload in infants refers to the overwhelming of an infant’s sensory system due to excessive environmental stimuli. With their underdeveloped sensory systems, babies can quickly become overstimulated, leading to discomfort and restlessness.

How does overstimulation affect breastfeeding?

Overstimulation can lead to babies unlatching and crying during breastfeeding. A calm and quiet environment is essential for successful breastfeeding as too much noise, movement, or light can cause the baby distress.

What might affect an infant’s sensitivity?

An infant’s sensitivity can be affected by various factors, including their general mood, hunger, and fatigue. External stimuli such as noise and light can also increase sensitivity.

Why is it important to consult a pediatrician?

Consulting a pediatrician is vital as they can provide professional guidance and advice to manage overstimulation. Pediatricians can offer strategies that help create a comfortable environment for breastfeeding.

How should parents cope with the trial-and-error process?

Parents should be patient and remain flexible through the trial-and-error process of finding what works best. Remember that each baby is unique, and what works for one baby might not work for another. Over time, you will understand your baby’s unique likes and dislikes.