"My Baby's Not Satisfied!"


The young mother is frantic because she thinks her baby never seems quite satisfied. This mother has been committed to breastfeeding, but things just haven’t gone as she’d expected. Ten-day-old, Becky, has regained her birthweight and has lots of those mustard-seed poops and wet diapers. But, Mom still worries that her baby doesn't seem content.

About two hours after breastfeeding, the baby starts to wiggle and squirm. Though Mom remembers that this behavior can be an early feeding cue, she worries about how Becky's hands tremble, and her legs jerk, when she moves. The baby makes one odd face after another, and then she grunts and squeaks. The most worrisome of all the newborn’s behaviors is how Becky responds when her mother talks to her. The baby sometimes glances off to the side and even closes her eyes when Mom repeatedly calls her name. The mother figures that all this must mean Becky is unhappy, and not satisfied with her breast milk.

Sitting in her pantry are a few of those "gift" formula packages from the hospital. The lady next door had told this young mother that “bottle feeding worked great for me—and it’s so much easier!” Yesterday, after a particularly “squirmy day,” Mom prepared just a couple of bottles to “top off her breastfeeding.” Today, little Becky seems to be spitting up more often and having more gas bubbles. Confused and upset, the mother finally goes off to meet with the nurse at the health department.

Fortunately, the nurse has just completed the HUG course on helping parents understand their baby's body language. It is common, the nurse learns, for moms to be confused by, and to misinterpret, a baby’s normal body language.

Healthy newborns often exhibit some tremors and jerking of arms or legs, especially when over-stimulated. Some babies can be overwhelmed by a mom’s attention and demonstrate a “Spacing Out” SOS by looking away from their mothers. As new babies develop their sleep-wake cycles, many will wiggle and squirm in active sleep, for a moment, before returning back to deep sleep.

When such behaviors are misunderstood, a young mother can feel unsuccessful—and might “give a little formula” in response. Because one bottle can easily lead to more formula, a well-meaning mother’s confidence to breastfeed can be undermined if she does not receive wiser advice.

The nurse is ready to help this young mother “read her baby’s body language.” When Becky is lifted from the car seat, the nurse comments on the slight tremor of the baby’s hands, and reflects how this behavior occurs with stimulation such as being picked up and moved. [See video clips of reading a baby's SOS (Sign of Over-stimulation)]

As the nurse prepares to help Mom bring Becky to the breast, the baby gets a bit red in the face and looks away from her mother’s soft voice. Again, the nurse uses Becky’s behavior to help this mother recognize a normal “Spacing Out” SOS. After placing the baby skin-to-skin, the mother is surprised to see Becky relax, her color return to normal, and her gaze rest momentarily on her mother’s face.

When Becky later starts to cry, the nurse helps Mom gently hold her baby’s hands against her chest. The baby is comforted and then latches on easily.

The young mother is so grateful that she came to see the health department nurse today. She and the nurse discuss how to maintain Mom’s milk supply and to monitor Becky’s weight, pees and poops. Mom leaves the clinic with a bounce in her step. “Now I can tell what my baby is saying to me: “Mom, you are the best—and so is your milk!’”

© HUG Your Baby 2011