How do babies suck at the breast?

Breastfeeding babies tend to move through 3 sucking stages:

• Stimulation: A quick, light suck often done at the beginning of a feeding to stimulate a let down. The tongue cups the breast and baby’s lower jaw moves up and down while the tongue moves quickly. Breastfeeding hormones are released when nerves close to the nipple are triggered, and milk will usually begin to flow within 1-2 minutes. This may be mimicked by the “massage” or “stimulation” mode on your pump.

• Active feeding. Once the milk lets down (milk ejection reflex), baby should swallow every 1-3 sucks. This is active feeding. The lower jaw moves up and down rhythmically and drops just a little lower when the swallow actually happens. You might hear the swallow sound like a “puh” or “kuh”. Baby may take occasional breaks during active feeding to catch their breath. This is the “expression” or slower mode on the pump

• Flutter sucking. Towards the end of the feed, sucking slows down, jaw movements get less pronounced, there are fewer swallows, and baby may fall asleep or unlatch. Some call the fluttery sucking movements at the end of the feed “flutter sucking”. It’s a form of comfort nursing to help baby transition to sleep. Minimal milk is being transferred at this time and it’s ok to unlatch your baby is you are no longer hearing baby swallow.

Babies may alternate between these sucking phases several times during a single feeding. By changing the settings in your pump several times during a feeding session, you can get the pump to mimic how a baby would feel at the breast, triggering your body to let down and make more milk for the pump. If newborn baby is always using a stimualtion or flutter suck and you’re not hearing many swallows, work with an IBCLC to help figure out why and get baby feeding efficiently at the breast.