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How do I know if my baby is pacifying or nursing?

As a new parent, understanding your baby’s feeding behaviors is essential for their overall well-being. One common question that parents often have is how to differentiate between pacifying and nursing. While both activities involve sucking, they serve different purposes. Pacifying refers to sucking for comfort, while nursing involves feeding for nourishment. By recognizing the signs of each behavior, you can better respond to your baby’s needs. In this blog post, we will explore the signs of pacifying and nursing, discuss how to observe your baby’s behavior, and provide tips for responding to their needs.

Signs of Pacifying

Pacifying, also known as non-nutritive sucking, occurs when your baby continues to suck even after receiving an adequate amount of milk. Here are some signs that your baby may be pacifying:

Extended sucking duration:

If your baby seems to be sucking for an hour or more, it is a potential indication that they are nursing for comfort rather than nourishment.

Sucking without swallowing:

During pacifying, your baby may suck without swallowing as frequently or as vigorously as during a feeding session.

Calm and relaxed baby:

Pacifying is often accompanied by a sense of calmness and relaxation. Your baby may be less fussy and more content during this time.

Lack of hunger cues:

When your baby is pacifying, they may not display the typical hunger cues such as rooting, smacking lips, or hand-to-mouth movements.

Breast is softer after feeding:

After a feeding session, your breasts may feel softer and less full, indicating that your baby was primarily pacifying rather than nursing for food.

Signs of Nursing

Nursing, on the other hand, involves feeding your baby for nourishment. Here are some signs that your baby is nursing:

Frequent swallowing:

During a nursing session, your baby will swallow more frequently and may have bursts of strong swallowing.

Active suckling with bursts of swallowing:

When your baby is nursing, their suckling will be more active, and you may hear audible swallowing noises.

Audible sucking noises:

While nursing, your baby may make sucking noises due to the active and vigorous nature of their sucking.

Hunger cues:

Before and during a nursing session, your baby may exhibit hunger cues such as rooting, smacking lips, or bringing their hand to their mouth.

Breast feels emptier after feeding:

After a nursing session, your breasts may feel emptier, indicating that your baby has consumed a significant amount of milk.

Observing Baby’s Behavior

To determine whether your baby is pacifying or nursing, it’s important to closely observe their feeding patterns and behaviors. Here are a few ways to better understand your baby’s needs:

Paying attention to feeding patterns:

Take note of how long your baby feeds and whether they continue to suck after obtaining milk. If they consistently suck for an extended period without actively swallowing, it may be a sign of pacifying.

Monitoring weight gain:

Regular weight checks can provide valuable insight into whether your baby is receiving enough nourishment. If your baby is steadily gaining weight and meeting developmental milestones, it is likely that they are nursing effectively.

Seeking guidance from lactation consultants or pediatricians:

If you have concerns or questions about your baby’s feeding behaviors, don’t hesitate to reach out to professionals such as lactation consultants or pediatricians. They can provide personalized guidance and support based on your baby’s unique needs.

Responding to Baby’s Needs

As a parent, it’s important to respond to your baby’s needs, whether they are pacifying or nursing. Here are some tips for addressing your baby’s needs:

Offering comfort measures during pacifying sessions:

If your baby is pacifying, you can provide comfort by offering a pacifier, gently rocking them, or providing skin-to-skin contact.

Ensuring proper latch and positioning during nursing:

For nursing sessions, ensure that your baby has a proper latch and is positioned comfortably. This will help them effectively extract milk and avoid discomfort.

Following baby’s cues for feeding and soothing:

Pay attention to your baby’s cues for hunger or need for comfort. By responding to their cues promptly, you can establish a strong bond and meet their needs more effectively.

Potential Challenges

While understanding the difference between pacifying and nursing is important, there can be challenges in balancing your baby’s nutrition and comfort. Here are a few potential challenges to be aware of:

Overfeeding concerns during pacifying:

Pacifying sessions can sometimes lead to overfeeding if your baby continues to suck even after they have consumed enough milk. This can result in discomfort or excessive weight gain. It’s important to monitor your baby’s feeding pattern and seek guidance if you have concerns.

Identifying and addressing potential breastfeeding issues:

If you suspect that your baby is struggling with breastfeeding, such as poor latch or low milk supply, it’s crucial to seek support from a lactation consultant. They can assess the situation and provide recommendations for improving the breastfeeding experience.

Balancing nutrition and comfort for the baby:

Finding a balance between providing adequate nutrition and meeting your baby’s need for comfort can sometimes be challenging. By paying attention to your baby’s cues and seeking guidance when needed, you can ensure that they receive both nourishment and emotional support.


Differentiating between pacifying and nursing is an important aspect of understanding your baby’s feeding behaviors. By recognizing the signs of each behavior, you can better respond to your baby’s needs and provide the appropriate support. Remember to observe your baby’s feeding patterns, seek guidance from professionals if needed, and respond to their cues with care and attention. By doing so, you can foster a healthy and nurturing feeding relationship with your little one.


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