Why is there clicking when I breastfeed?

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Clicking noises usually means your baby’s lips are not suctioned to your breast (AKA a shallow latch)

Am I doing this right?

New mothers are often overwhelmed and anxious when it comes to breastfeeding. Despite being a “natural” process, it can still feel unnatural to some. Not every mother gets the hang of it immediately, and our little ones may struggle to latch correctly or feed properly.

This can be incredibly difficult and upsetting for mothers, which is why it is important to lean on healthcare providers, breastfeeding experts, friends, and family for support. Breastfeeding may be a “solo” task for the mother, but this does not mean she has to feel isolated in her fears or left with nowhere to turn when it comes to questions, including concerns about latching, breast milk supply, and breastfeeding positions.

No question about breastfeeding is a dumb question. Including questions about noises! A new mother will quickly tune in to the sounds coming from her little one as she tries to feed, and those sounds may offer important clues about whether or not the baby is feeding correctly and receiving enough nourishment or needs a deeper latch. You would not ignore a “clicking” noise coming from your car engine (at least we hope not!), and you should not ignore a clicking sound during breastfeeding, either. Read on to learn why.

Breastfeeding Sounds and What They Mean

There are a number of noises you may hear during breastfeeding, and certain noises can simply mean “it is working.”

It is also easy for new mothers to simply be in awe over the precious sounds coming from their little ones: those first little murmurs warm our hearts, and each tiny “coo” or sneeze (or even gas!) has us staring in wonder at our newborns.

adorable baby boy sleeping on a yellow sofa at home

When a baby is nursing, there are a variety of sounds you may hear, just as you might hear a variety of sounds when someone is drinking from a straw nearby. They could be quietly consuming a milkshake or slurping it loudly enough to disturb everyone in a small café. The placement of your baby’s nose, lip, and chin during feeding can all impact these noises as well.

The “normal” sounds you are likely to hear during breastfeeding will often be described as:

  • Inhaling
  • Exhaling
  • Swallowing
  • Grunting
  • Sucking

We should note that this last sound would be considered normal when it is a gentle sucking sound. This means your baby is receiving the nourishment she needs, and all that is required for her upon latching to your breast is a gentle sucking motion.

Clicking Sounds: What Do They Mean?

In addition to the sounds we described above, there is another common sound new parents will hear when a baby is feeding: a clicking sound. Listen closely for this noise, which you should be able to distinguish from the normal sucking noises. The clicking noise is usually produced by air, meaning your baby’s lips are not completely suctioned to your breast (also known as a “shallow latch”). This would signify that they are not feeding as efficiently or thoroughly as needed.

mother breastfeeding her little baby boy in her arms

The clicking sound can be a part of all of these scenarios:

  1. Engorged Breasts. It is common for many new mothers to become engorged with breast milk as their bodies are simply “figuring out” breastfeeding and a schedule with a newborn. When this overabundance of milk is stored in the breast without being let out, the breast will begin to harden, and an infant may not be able to latch properly. The airflow surrounding the poor latch results in a clicking noise.
  2. An Ample Milk Supply. Sometimes new mothers produce so much breast milk that little ones simply cannot swallow the milk flow fast enough, with a clicking sound happening as they try to keep up with the liquid coming their way.
  3. Infections. Sometimes an infection can stand in the way of successful breastfeeding. Thrush is a common infection with nursing mothers, causing a yeast infection to develop in the baby’s mouth. In turn, they may feel sore or itchy and have trouble latching on during a feeding. An ear infection is another possibility when the sucking sensation worsens pressure or ear pain. These scenarios can result in a clicking sound during breastfeeding.
  4. Tongue-Tied Babies. Infants with a high palate or “tongue tie” might have restricted movement of the tongue, which interferes with their ability to suck correctly. This means their tongue will produce a clicking sound as it moves. (Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth and then lower it forcefully: you undoubtedly heard a clicking sound!)

The long and the short of it is clicking noises usually mean an improper latch for some reason, and an improper latch usually means your baby will have trouble getting enough nourishment. This is why you should pay close attention to these noises.

Close attention does not mean a “panic,” however. Anxiety will only make it more difficult for you to feed, so try to stay calm and focused as best you can in your sleep-deprived state.

If you cannot resolve the issue on your own and continue to hear clicking noises, reach out to a lactation consultant who will help you pinpoint the cause of the noise and work to correct it.

Other Signs of a Breastfeeding Problem

“Clicking” is just one thing a new mother may notice during breastfeeding that could signify a problem. Be on the lookout for these possible signs as well, and discuss them with a lactation consultant:

  • Sore nipple: If breastfeeding is painful, this could indicate a problem with the way your infant is latching and feeding. Nipple pain should be discussed with your doctor.
  • Lack of weight gain in infants: Your pediatrician will be your best resource in terms of managing weight expectations, and she will let you know if there is cause for concern about your newborn’s weight.
  • Misshapen nipples: After a feeding, if you notice a nipple that looks creased or slanted, this could mean the infant is tongue-tied or has an issue with tongue mobility.

If you have any concerns about breastfeeding—whether it’s a clicking sound, pain in your nipples, finding the right breastfeeding position, or other problems—do not hesitate to discuss them with your healthcare providers and lactation consultant. The sooner you reach out for assistance, the sooner you can correct problems and help your little one receive the nourishment she needs.

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