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Is Your Baby Distracted While Eating?

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Cara Dumaplin

RN, BSN, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant

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baby distracted while eating a bottle and being held by Mom

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When my daughter was a baby, I remember so many times when I tried to feed her but she was simply not interested. Instead of eating, all she wanted to do was look at the world around her. Have you seen this? Let’s talk about ways to help your baby be less distracted while nursing, eating, or bottle feeding.

Why is my baby so distracted during feedings?anchor

In short, the world is just so exciting that it’s hard to focus on eating! As your baby gets older, he becomes more and more aware of his surroundings, making distracted eating so common.

At what age do babies get distracted while feeding?anchor

Distracted eating is common at any age, but you can see an increase at 3-4 months and 8-10 months.

At 3-4 months, your baby is becoming more aware of the world around them. They are also learning the beginnings of communication (smiling and cooing), recognizing familiar faces and objects, reaching for toys, and maybe experiencing the 4 month sleep regression. All of these are so much more exciting than eating.

At 8-10 months, your baby is understanding more about object permanence. Object permanence is the developmental understanding that a thing can still exist even when your baby doesn’t see it anymore (and is part of the brain development that brings on the 8-10 month sleep regression). Your baby may be distracted while eating as their little brain is busy making all these new connections. 

What can you do when your baby is distracted during a feeding?anchor

1. Consider the environment and where you are offering the feeding. anchor

If you’re home, find a quiet room with little or no distractions. Turn off the TV and any music. Close the door if you have other children at home playing and making noise. Make sure there are no bright or flashing lights, and consider putting your phone down during eating times.

If you’re in public, try to find a place free from people and noise. Your baby can be easily distracted by all the unfamiliar faces, noises, and actions happening around her. I know finding a quiet place to feed your baby while outside your home can be difficult, so just do the best you can. 

Wherever you decide to feed your baby, you want the space to be bright since feeding times are part of your baby’s awake time. For newborns, this is especially important if they are experiencing day-night confusion

2. Consider how often your baby is feeding.anchor

Most babies do best with feedings offered every 2.5-3.5 hours during the day for their entire first year (and even beyond). 

Check to see if you’re offering your baby feedings too close together. We are always responsive to a baby's hunger cues, but it’s possible that what seems like distracted feeding is that your baby is just not hungry, which is leading to “snacking.” 

3. Notice when the distraction is happening.anchor

Is your baby distracted while eating only at certain times of the day? You may need to check their wake windows to be sure your baby isn’t overtired, which can make feeding trickier.

Is distracted eating only happening towards the end of feedings? This could be a sign your baby simply isn’t hungry or is finished with that feeding. Sometimes it can be tempting to try to “tank up” with an extra feeding or extra ounces before bedtime, but overfilling your baby’s belly just before bedtime isn’t a “cure” for nighttime wakings. It’s the calories consumed throughout the entire day that help your baby sleep well at night. And babies often wake during the night for many other reasons besides hunger.

4. For bottle-feeding babies, it can be helpful to consider nipple size.anchor

As your baby gets older, they become much more efficient eaters, and eating doesn’t take as long as it did in the first few months of life. If you're using a slower flow nipple, your baby may get distracted while eating because he wants the milk to come out faster. Consider moving up a nipple size to see if it helps. Watch your baby, and check the bottle brand’s recommendations when making this change.

5. Offer your baby something to hold and focus their attention.anchor

Sometimes your baby may need something to hold their attention during a feeding. Consider giving them a toy or lovey to play with while nursing. Or try wearing a teething necklace to help keep your baby’s hands busy while drinking from her bottle.

What if my baby only wants to eat while sleeping?anchor

Sometimes I hear from parents who have babies who are so distracted during the day that they only eat while asleep. This can wreak havoc on both eating and sleeping.

If you find your baby is having short naps, frequent night wakings, or this distracted eating is causing you to struggle, my classes can help. Every family’s needs are different, and in my classes, I’ll show you how to meet your baby where they are developmentally, set them up for sleep success, and get those needed calories while they're awake.

Remember, you don’t have to walk this journey alone!

Are you ready to have a great little sleeper?

If you're overwhelmed, exhausted, or just not sure where to start. I was there too. Let me show you everything you need to confidently handle sleep so your whole family can thrive!

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