Rooting

Why is my baby always searching for a nipple?

When you touch or stroke a baby’s cheek, the baby turns its head toward the stroking while shaking it slightly and opening its mouth. This is the rooting reflex. It helps a hungry baby find the nipple and latch. However, babies also root a little when they are not hungry. If a baby roots but shows no hunger signs, the baby is probably not hungry. You can look for hunger signs by watching the baby’s face for a few minutes. If there are no hunger signs and the baby is happy, the baby is not hungry and trying to breastfeed babies who are not hungry makes them angry.

A) Describing the rooting reflex

If a baby’s cheek is touched or stroked, the baby will turn its head toward the stroking while shaking it a little and opening its mouth, looking for a nipple. This is called the rooting reflex.

It is useful for hungry babies because it helps them find the nipple and latch.

If the rooting reflex is combined with hunger signs, the baby needs to be fed.

B) Confusion caused by the rooting reflex

Babies also root when they are not hungry. This behaviour is one of several that can be mistaken for hunger.

If the baby turns toward the stroked cheek and then ignores you, is happy, and is not showing hunger signs, the baby is probably not hungry.

Babies also root when held upright with their tummy against a parent’s chest and their face against the parent’s shoulder. Babies in this position may become upset when the rooting reflex makes them repeatedly bump their face against your shoulder.

C) Deciding between hunger and the rooting reflex

To understand what the baby is feeling, hold the baby in front of you with one of your hands under the baby’s bum and the other hand supporting the back, shoulders, and neck. Watch the baby’s face for a few minutes and see if there are hunger signs. If the baby has hunger signs, offer the breast. If there are none and the baby is now happy, the baby is not hungry.

This is an important distinction. Trying to breastfeed babies when they are not hungry makes them angry. Bottling babies when they are not hungry results in overfeeding.