Blocking the baby's nose during breastfeeding

How can my baby breathe while breastfeeding?

Many mothers worry that their babies can’t breathe while breastfeeding. This is very unlikely. Babies need to breathe through the nose when they feed, so they will let you know if the nose is blocked. You may hear a sudden puff of blocked breath or see your baby quickly let go of the breast. They may become upset or calmly re-latch. A blocked nose usually happens because the head is bent forward. To straighten it, you can pull the baby slightly toward the baby’s feet. Babies are at higher risk of suffocation if they are bed-sharing, weak, or have mothers who have large breasts or are using certain medication or alcohol.

A) Worries about blocking the baby’s nose while breastfeeding

Babies' noses are designed to breastfeed. They are squat with large firm openings that are hard to block.

Mothers in our clinic frequently worry that the breast is blocking their baby’s nose and that the babies can’t breathe while breastfeeding. Some mothers are especially worried when they are breastfeeding with a nipple shield. They may deliberately keep the baby’s mouth and nose too far away from the breast in order to prevent blocking of the nose. This can cause poor positioning and even prevent latching.

Healthy babies do not tolerate their nose being blocked while breastfeeding or indeed at any time. Using the nose is the only way to move air in and out of their lungs when the mouth is busy feeding and blocking the nose results in a very dramatic response. This allows you to address the problem.

If the baby is breastfeeding normally, it is unlikely that the nose is blocked.

B) Signs that the baby’s nose is blocked while breastfeeding

The nose should lightly touch the breast or be slightly buried in it. If their nose is deeper into the breast and blocked, babies will give you a loud and dramatic response. You may see the following sequence:

  1. Hear:
    1. A sudden sound like a puff of blocked breath.
    2. The baby suddenly stop breathing.
  2. See the baby:
    1. Immediately let go of the breast.
    2. Become very upset for a minute.
    3. Settle down and give hunger signs.
    4. Calmly re-latch and resume breastfeeding.

C) To un-block the baby’s nose

If the nose is blocked, it is usually because the head and neck are bent toward the baby’s chest and into the breast. To solve this, pull the baby slightly toward the baby’s feet to straighten the neck.

If this is not sufficient, you can also consider changing your breastfeeding hold and supporting the baby’s neck to keep the head in a sniffing position.