Babies are constantly learning and growing in every aspect of their lives – including in basic skills such as eating. While most babies can drink milk or formula immediately after birth, some little ones seem to always lose their milk out the side of their mouth as they’re eating.
Although your baby’s leaking milk can be caused by conditions such as tongue-tie or problems with the nipple size or assembly that you’re using, some babies who dribble milk are simply messy eaters. If your little one seems to be getting enough food (he’s growing well and peeing on schedule), then his milk dribbles shouldn’t be a concern.
If your baby seems constantly hungry and still dribbles most of his meal while eating, there may be a problem. Keep reading to learn about the most common reasons for babies to dribble milk, and for tips on how to help.
Baby always dribbles milk when feeding
It can be a real pain if your baby leaks their meals all over the place. Not only are you worried that your precious little one might not be getting enough to eat, but you’re having to manage the piles of milk-soaked laundry. And if your child has been dribbling milk for weeks, you may even begin to worry that there might be something wrong.
While some babies are just messy eaters, there can also be underlying issues at play causing milk dribbling. Tongue-tie is one such problem and results in restricted tongue mobility that can make it hard for a baby to form a proper latch on the breast or bottle. Another common problem is the speed at which babies are given milk.
In breastfed babies, mothers with an oversupply of milk may be producing more than their baby can swallow at any given time. In bottle-fed babies, a large nipple size might be flooding the baby’s mouth with too much milk.
If your baby constantly dribbles large amounts of milk when feeding (whether they’re breast- or bottle-fed), you may want to consult with their pediatrician or a lactation consultant to see if your child might have a tongue-tie. If their mouth anatomy seems normal, then it might be worth switching up feeding methods by trying new nursing positions or switching nipples if bottle feeding.
Is baby getting enough milk
One of the biggest worries with milk-dribbling babies is that they might not be swallowing enough food. It can be particularly difficult to tell how much milk your little one is drinking if you’re breastfeeding.
Generally, if your baby seems content after eating and is gaining weight as predicted, they’re eating enough. In contrast, if your baby seems extra sleepy and isn’t gaining weight as expected, they might not be getting enough milk.
Signs that baby is getting enough milk
If your baby appears to be growing and developing fine, then it’s likely not a problem if she’s also dribbling milk.
If your baby is getting enough milk, she may:
- Nurse or eat frequently and on a consistent schedule
- Seem content and happy after eating
- Gain approximately 5.5-8.5 ounces of weight per week until 4 months of age
- Clearly swallow while breastfeeding, or empty a bottle
- Fill diapers with light-colored urine on a consistent schedule
- Appear alert and active, and meet developmental milestones
While it can be frustrating to lose so much breastmilk or formula (not to mention deal with the additional laundry), it should be comforting to know that your little one is still happy and healthy.
Signs that baby isn’t getting enough milk
If your baby isn’t swallowing enough milk, she may:
- Seem extra sleepy or even lethargic
- Sleep more than 4 hours at a time
- Take a very brief or very long time nursing or working at a bottle
- Consistently fall asleep while feeding
- Have a shallow or painful latch while nursing
- Gain less weight than expected (5.5-8.5 ounces per week is normal)
- Have dark urine or dry diapers
If your child doesn’t seem to be getting enough milk, it’s important to consult with a pediatrician or lactation consultant right away. If you’re ever concerned about your baby, trust your instincts and seek medical care.
Breastfed baby dribbles milk when nursing
When breastfed babies dribble milk while nursing, there are two main culprits: tongue-tie and oversupply.
Tongue-tie affects your baby, essentially restricting the mobility of their tongue so that it’s hard for them to get a good latch on the breast (hence, the leaking milk).
Oversupply occurs in the mother when she produces more milk than her baby needs, leading to her baby spluttering, gasping, and dribbling milk.
Tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia, occurs when the lingual frenulum (the part of the mouth that anchors the tongue to the mouth floor) is extra tight or short.
Though it may not seem like a big deal, a tongue-tie can restrict tongue mobility and be of particular concern in babies. Breastfeeding requires careful coordination of a baby’s mouth muscles in order to latch, suck, and swallow effectively, and tongue-tie can hamper that motion, leading to difficulty latching and/or swallowing quick-flowing breast milk.
A baby with a tongue-tie will likely dribble milk while attempting to feed, an occurrence that can be uncomfortable for both baby and mother. While it is possible for babies with tongue-tie to breastfeed, they may experience more difficulty with the process than they might otherwise.
‘Oversupply’ refers to an overabundance of breast milk produced by a mother – much more milk than her baby needs.
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, and having extra breast milk doesn’t actually mean a better-fed baby. Instead, the flow of breast milk can be hard for the little one to process. It can be a bit like drinking from a firehose for the baby, and can lead to difficulties with nursing.
Some signs of oversupply include:
- Baby may cough, choke, or splutter while nursing
- Baby may be restless during feeding
- Feedings may be short and frequent
- Mother might have a strong, forceful milk release
- Mother’s breasts might always feel full, or refill quickly after a feeding
- Frequent plugged ducts or mastitis
- Baby may ‘dribble’ milk while eating
Baby always dribbles milk from a bottle
Babies can dribble milk from bottles just as they do while nursing, and the culprits are often similar: tongue-tie and extra milk flow.
Tongue-tie, or ankyloglossia, occurs when the lingual frenulum (the membrane that secures the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) is too tight or short.
Tongue-tie can restrict tongue mobility, which can make it difficult for a baby to master the complex action of drinking from a bottle. A baby with tongue-tie may dribble milk while feeding.
Milk flow is too fast/strong
While bottles can be a convenient way for babies to eat, they can sometimes be too convenient. Babies can only swallow so much milk or formula at a time, and if the flow out of their bottle is too fast or strong, it can cause problems.
Each bottle brand has a different speed of milk flow, which can make it tricky to tell exactly how much milk is entering your baby’s mouth per second. And each baby has a different limit for what constitutes a ‘comfortable’ speed.
Nipple too big
One way to control the milk flow in a bottle is through the nipple size.
Different brands have different variations in size, but most begin with a ‘preemie’ or ‘newborn’ level and go on up from there. There are often guidelines for when to use which size nipple, but the ranges can vary, and each child is different. A too-big nipple on a bottle can lead to a strong flow of milk that might be too hard for your baby to keep up with.
When your baby can’t swallow all the milk that enters their mouth, the excess will dribble out the side.
Anti-colic nipple incorrectly assembled
Anti-colic nipples can work wonders by minimizing the amount of air a baby swallows while drinking, helping to reduce gassy bellies. The catch?
In order to keep the bottles and nipples clean, they come apart. And if they aren’t reassembled correctly, then milk or formula can leak all over the place.
Some of the most popular anti-colic nipples are manufactured by:
- Phillips Avent
- Dr. Brown
How to keep baby from dribbling milk
While some babies are just messy eaters, you don’t have to resign yourself to endless cycles of laundry just yet.
If your baby has a tongue- or lip-tie, look into correcting it. If you’re bottle-feeding, try a different nipple size or shape, check the bottle assembly, or switch up the position you use to feed your baby.
Tongue and lip tie correction
If your baby has been diagnosed with tongue- or lip-tie (thickened mouth membranes that restrict movement) you can look into a surgical correction.
While surgery isn’t often necessary, it can help improve breastfeeding, especially in cases where the baby isn’t gaining weight properly. Surgical correction can also prevent dental or speech problems later in life.
Try a different nipple size
Smaller bottle nipples can help reduce dribbled milk by limiting the amount of milk flowing into a baby’s mouth at one time.
A too-large bottle nipple is one of the most common causes of dribbled milk, so this is one of the best solutions to test out first.
Try a different nipple shape
Some brands have differently shaped nipples that might work better for your messy eater.
Babies need to latch onto bottle nipples just like they do while breastfeeding, and mixing up the shape of the nipple can lead to a better latch (and fewer spills!)
Ensure anti-colic nipple correctly assembled
Yes, putting back anti-colic nipples can be complicated, but it’s important to double-check that they’re assembled properly.
The seals in the nipple should be air (and liquid) tight, otherwise, you’ll have unwanted spills.
Bottle feed baby sitting up
Drinking while lying down is just plain hard, even for babies.
If your baby is dribbling milk, try feeding them a bottle while they’re sitting up. Keeping a baby upright during feedings can also reduce gas and colic in addition to minimizing milk dribbles.