It’s a common phenomenon that many breastfeeding mothers experience – their babies will suddenly start slapping or hitting their breast while feeding. This behavior can be confusing, frustrating, and even painful for moms. But there are actually several possible reasons why babies hit breasts, most of which are completely normal and not cause for concern.
Exploring Normal Reasons for Breast Slapping
Here are some of the most common, harmless explanations for why a breastfed baby may hit or slap their mother’s breast:
Playing and exploring
For young infants, the breast is one of the first “toys” they discover. Babies are born with a natural instinct to use their hands to touch and explore. They are learning about their world through sight, sound, taste, and touch. The breast just happens to be right there in front of them as an interesting object to interact with. Gentle slaps or pats are one way babies examine the breast during feeding. This is perfectly normal at this stage of development.
Communication and bonding
As babies get a little older, hitting or slapping may be their way of communicating with mom. They are realizing that their actions can elicit a response. When mom says “ouch!” or moves the baby’s hand away, it shows the cause-and-effect concept. Hitting also gets the mother’s attention, which helps strengthen the maternal bond through this interaction.
Frustration or impatience
Babies may slap at the breast out of frustration if the milk is not letting down fast enough to suit them. This impatience is common right before a growth spurt when babies are extra hungry. The slapping behavior sends the signal that they want more milk, and they want it now!
Distraction or stimulation
Some older babies may hit the breast as a way to stimulate themselves and stay awake if they are starting to doze off during a feeding. Others may do it when distracted by noises or other stimuli in their environment. They are physically saying “Hey, focus. I’m still eating here.”
Finally, some babies may slap at the breast due to teething pain. The pressure and motion against the breast may temporarily relieve sore gums. This tends to happen more as babies get close to one year and molars are coming in.
When to Be Concerned About Breast Slapping
While most cases of breast slapping are perfectly harmless, there are a few situations where it warrants concern:
It seems aggressive
If the hitting seems angry, forceful, or aggressive, that is cause for concern. True aggression is rare in babies, but can be a sign of frustration, overstimulation, or even abuse. Talk to the pediatrician if it seems like more than just harmless swatting.
It happens repeatedly
Frequent and repeated slapping, pinching, or punching may indicate a breastfeeding problem like forceful letdown or oversupply. It can suggest the milk is coming too fast and the baby is trying to slow the flow.
It causes injury
Some babies have sharp little fingernails that can scratch or injure. If the slapping is actually harming the breast, it’s important to trim nails and protect the skin during feedings.
It happens suddenly in an older baby
An older baby who has been breastfeeding without hitting for many months and suddenly starts slapping often may be signaling frustration with weaning or biting behavior.
There are other symptoms
Severe or forceful hitting accompanied by symptoms like crying, refusing to nurse, or head banging warrant medical evaluation. These behaviors can occasionally signal an underlying issue like food intolerance, allergy, or neurological disorder in rare cases.
Strategies for Managing Breast Slapping
If baby’s breast slapping doesn’t raise any red flags, here are some tips for handling it:
Distract or redirect
For an unfocused baby, move their hand gently and use toys or songs to maintain their attention on feeding. Redirect the slapping to something soft like a teething toy or your own fingers.
Altering holds can make it harder for baby to reach the breast to hit it. The football and cross-cradle positions provide more control.
Express some milk first
If slapping is from a forceful letdown, try expressing a little milk first before putting baby on breast. This can slow the initial flow.
Offer the less preferred breast first
Start on the side baby is less eager to feed from. By the time you switch sides, they will be calmer and less likely to slap from frustration.
Nurse when calm and focused
Try not to let baby get too hungry or upset before feeding. Fussiness can lead to frustration and slapping. Optimal feeding happens when baby is calm and focused.
Use a breast shield
A thin silicone shield placed over the area slapped can give a gentle barrier. But take care not to impair the feeding or make the nipple less accessible.
Say “no” firmly
If slapping continues, teach baby this behavior is unacceptable by saying “no” or “don’t hit” firmly when it happens. Gently move their hand to reinforce this.
Stop feeding briefly
If other measures don’t work, briefly take baby off breast when they slap. Calm them, then try again. This shows hitting results in less feeding time.
When to Talk to the Doctor About Breast Slapping
Bring up the topic of breast slapping at baby’s regular pediatric visits. Mention how often it happens and whether it seems to be tied to certain situations like letdown or distraction.
It’s a good idea to call the pediatrician if:
- The slapping starts suddenly and seems aggressive
- It happens repeatedly at most feedings
- It appears very forceful and painful
- It draws blood or injures the breast
- Other concerning symptoms accompany it
Most cases of breast slapping are harmless, but violent hitting could suggest an underlying issue to address. Ongoing injury or bleeding may warrant wound care.
Using Devices to Prevent Breast Slapping
Some moms use clever devices to prevent a baby from striking the breast during feedings. These include:
A small cloth tube sling wraps around baby’s wrist like a bracelet. It restricts arm movement to limit reaching the breast. This is the least intrusive option.
Mitts that go over baby’s hands prevent slapping. But they also discourage healthy exploration. Use minimally.
A loose swaddle blanket can wrap around baby’s torso to pin their arms at the sides during feeding. Don’t restrict movement or overheat.
Baby straight jacket
These extreme devices strap baby’s arms vertical to their torso. While very effective, they also seem cruel and unnecessary in most cases.
|Tube sling||Least restrictive, allows some arm motion||Can be kicked off, limited control|
|No-hit mitts||Prevents all hand contact with breast||Discourages touching/exploring|
|Swaddling blanket||Gentle way to pin arms at sides||Can overheat baby if too tight|
|Baby straight jacket||Fully restricts arm motion||Seems unnecessary and cruel|
In summary, breast slapping is very common and normal in the first year as babies explore their world. It only raises concern if it seems aggressive, damages the breast repeatedly, or accompanies other symptoms warranting evaluation. Simple measures like distraction, changing positions, and teaching “no hit” often resolve harmless slapping. Restraining devices should be a last resort and used minimally.
With patience and repetition, the phase of hitting and slapping during breastfeeding usually passes quickly. Maintain close contact with baby’s pediatrician if the behavior is excessive or worrisome.