The Distracted Eater

Stella has recently reached the age of extreme distractibility while nursing.

Instead of latching on and chowing down, she's on and off and smiling and cooing and looking to see who just walked in the room and what not. Pretty much anything, even a shadow, is distracting to her (and other little babies her age too).  It's darn cute, yes, but it can also be pretty annoying.

Instead of taking 10-15 minutes to eat, it may take 45 minutes (and voila, dinner is burned!). Instead of pulling off nice and calmly, she may pull off distractedly with her mouth still very much latched on (um, ouch!). And instead of getting
a full feed that will keep her happy and full during a long nap, she may wake hungry again after a short nap. See why I said it can sometimes be a bit annoying?

When does this distractibility start and how long will it last?
The distractibility while nursing or bottle feeding usually starts around 2 months and increases over the next couple months. When it starts, how extreme it gets and when it dwindles down again will depend a lot upon the baby. By the time your baby is around 6 months old, she'll probably be less distracted, but most likely you'll continue to have distraction issues for, well, forever. My kids certainly remained distracted feeders for the duration of breastfeeding (not to mention for everything else they do too!).

Why Is My Baby So Distracted?
As your baby gets older she not only gets less drowsy while she's awake, but she also starts to notice things everything a lot more. It can be a little overwhelming for her at first (as the wonder weeks mention) and also really exciting. A shadow on a wall or a fan may not seem like much to us, but for a baby, they are about as exciting as meeting a disney princess for the first time.

At first, everything around her is so new and exciting that it's hard to focus on it and nursing at the same time. It's also difficult for such a little person to do more than one thing at once. With time, she will better learn to eat and enjoy her surroundings at the same time.

Distraction, Milk Supply and Weaning
If your distracted eater has given you some doubts about whether your milk supply is adequate, you're not the only one. Breasts that suddenly seem less full, shorter nursing sessions, fussiness at the breast, among other things, can lead many moms to worry about supply around this time. Most of the time milk supply is not an issue. It's always a good idea to check that your baby is growing as expected though.

Around 9 months of age, some babies will be so distracted at the breast and/or uninterested in nursing that it appears that they are ready to self wean. This is rarely the case at such a young age. It's often due to a developmental milestone or teething pain etc. If you have reached this point and want to continue breastfeeding, things will usually improve with time.

Tips on breastfeeding or bottle feeding a distracted baby
While you probably won't be able to get your baby to eat as transfixed as she did when she was a  newborn, there are several things you can do to reduce the the eating-distracted-eating shuffle.

  • Make sure she's actually hungry. Babies cry for many reasons outside of hunger. If you are trying to feed a 'hungry' baby and she's very distracted, consider that she isn't actually hungry but is maybe tired or overstimulated etc. If you're trying to feed every X number of hours, you may need to extend out the feeds (unless baby is hungry earlier, obviously). This can make the EWS routine difficult to do. Just adjust it as needed. The routine is suppose to help make things easier, not harder. One of the main goals of it is to help baby not feed to sleep--so at least try to keep working on that part of it.
  • Make sure there's enough food. If you are bottle feeding, you may need to increase the size of the nipple whole, if you are breastfeeding, baby may be ready for the next side (they eat a lot quicker at this age) or you may have milk supply issues (not very likely, as said above).
  • Feed in a quite, calm and possibly dark environment. In the least, try to have baby face away from distractions. You may even find that a sound machine, rocking or swaddling helps baby feed better, especially if she's more fussy than distracted. 
  • Try a different feeding position. Lying down to nurse (especially in the dark) can be really helpful for some babies.
  • Feed right upon waking, possibly even while still swaddled (if still swaddling).
  • Feed as baby is falling asleep (not my top suggestion for good sleep habits but I'll mention it anyway :)
  • Feed with a cover to help block outside stimulation.
  • Try a nursing necklace or wear colorful clothes with interesting patterns.
  • Try singing/humming or keeping eye contact with your baby. This may totally backfire (baby may get more excited and smiley instead) but it's worth a shot if nothing else is working.
  • Offer a toy for your baby to play with.
  • With one of my boys, when he'd unlatch, I'd let him look around for a few seconds then gently guide his head back on to latch. This worked pretty well with him. We had a few breaks, but it wasn't too bad. With my other babies, they popped on and off so often that this method wasn't very helpful.
  • While feeding in public try to find a quiet corner to feed baby in. See if a cover helps. I often fed my babies in a car, bathroom or dressing room--things were much quicker and hassle free  this way. If you are breastfeeding, you might also want to consider giving a bottle of formula or expressed milk in public.
  • Some people will start feeding baby more at night when she gets distracted during the day. This definitely isn't for me but I thought I'd mention it. I personally try to avoid feeding more at night so baby will continue to have an appetite during the day.

Good luck with feeding your little curious explorer! For those of you going through this right now I SO feel for you!


  1. Hi Racheal. It's so comforting to know I'm not the only one going through this journey. Will definitely try this .

  2. If you sleep train baby to eat less at night (1-2 feedings max at night), will they understand they need to eat more during the day? Currently going through that with my 5 month old and wanting to sleep train her soon.

    1. unknown,
      As baby eats less a night at this age they will begin to eat more during the day and end up with the same calories in per 24 hours.