“Popping on and off” is not to be confused with the newborn who is still learning to latch during the first few weeks of life, nor should it be confused with the non-latching baby who isn’t really latching at all.
There is no quick and easy answer to this phenomenon. The reason for popping on and off may be different at different feedings. There may even be more than one reason for popping on and off at the same nursing session. To make this even more complicated, babies even as old as four months will pop off and take the same nipple back again repeatedly.
This leaves a nursing parent confused: “Do you want the boob or not!?”
Well, your baby doesn’t really know that it is the same nipple he is re-attaching to.
They may be just as confused as you are, so let’s try to figure this out:
Too much milk, too quickly.
When a baby is getting too much milk too quickly, he may back off the breast and pop off. If your baby is doing this, consider yourself lucky. Another way babies cope with too much milk is to clamp! A baby popping on and off for this reason often seems to always be backing away from the milk as if trying to escape. It may seem the baby starts with a deep latch, then slipping back to a shallower latch. Let your milk spray into a towel for a couple minutes and then re-latch baby once the flow has slowed down.
Not enough milk at the moment.
Baby isn’t getting as much milk as they would like at that moment. A baby popping on and off for this reason tends to bury his head into the breast, then yank back with the nipple still in his mouth before popping off and crying. It reminds me of how kittens or puppies nurse. Sometimes they find they can make the milk come out faster if they pull and suck at the same time (ouch!). Try a breast compression to encourage baby to sense there is milk. The baby may settle in and nurse a little more since more milk is coming out. Or, it may help to switch sides.
This is a baby who is taking out his personal issues on the nipple. If baby is popping on and off the breast and it is hurting or annoying you, make it stop. Even if your baby has the best latch, a few mean pop-ons and pop-offs can wreak havoc on nipples. So, don’t let your baby use your nipple as a tug toy. Figure out what his problem is, then let him latch back on if he’d like. A good place to start is working out gas– try burping.