If a baby turns blue while breastfeeding, it can be a very scary situation. Learning why this may occur can help the mom understand and know what to do in case it happens to her baby. Breastfeeding, in general, can be overwhelming and worrisome, but it is still one of life's most rewarding experiences for a new mom.
Why a Baby Turns Blue While Breastfeeding
Talking about what might happen while breastfeeding before your baby is born does not prepare you if the baby actually turns blue while nursing. Rest assured, it does not typically happen. The key is to remain calm when and if it does happen. A baby may turn blue around the mouth while breastfeeding when they confuse the suck-swallow-breath pattern necessary to successfully nurse. The baby has a venous plexus, (a network of interconnecting veins) around the mouth. When the baby sucks the veins becomes engorged with blood and will be visible through the skin. This is what causes the blue color around the baby's mouth. Remember not to panic, and follow some simple logic if you find this happening to your baby while you are trying to breastfeed him.
Avoid Extreme Hunger
A newborn may suck hard initially due to an urgency caused by hunger. The baby sucks, sucks, and sucks again and forgets to take a breath in the process of trying to get milk from the mother's breast. The baby can suck so hard that they become dusky or bluish in color. This can also happen when the infant has cried for several minutes while waiting to be fed. The baby is so anxious to get started they confuse the suck-swallow-breath pattern and either cough and choke or turn the dusky bluish color for a few seconds. Or the baby may choke and start to turn blue when they swallow too quickly. If the baby can't cry or make noises and is having trouble breathing, start choking first aid immediately. The airway needs to be clear so the baby can breathe.
Disengage the Baby From the Breast
The first thing you should do if you see the baby's mouth turning blue is to disengage the infant from the breast. Breaking the suction for the infant allows him to open his mouth, take a breath and start a regular breathing pattern again. Check the baby's gums and tongue and if they are pink, you can be reassured that the baby is fine. Watch the baby and wait until the baby's color returns to normal before you try breastfeeding again. Most often this process is enough to remind the baby of the suck-swallow-breath pattern and he is able to continue breastfeeding without incident.
Normal healthy babies shouldn't turn blue or stay blue for more than a few seconds. If the baby's color does not improve and the infant appears to have stopped breathing, immediately call 911 for medical assistance.
Other things to keep in mind while breastfeeding:
- Position the infant so the nose is free from obstruction. This sounds like common sense, but when mom is tired, it is the middle of the night, the infant is wrapped in a blanket and mom is in a warm cozy robe, it is easy to see how the infant's nose could be obstructed.
- Remain awake and observant while breastfeeding. Observe the baby for color changes and signs of respiratory distress while sucking. Disengage the infant if the baby needs to take a breath.
- The newborn may get an easier start at latching on if mom expresses a drop or two of breast milk onto the infant's lips to get the process started. This tells the baby to start the suck-swallow-breath pattern immediately and avoids the urgency. It is especially helpful for moms who have trouble initiating the flow of breast milk.
Keep Calm While Accessing the Situation
If your baby turns blue while breastfeeding, it doesn't have to turn into a scary situation. Do not panic. Assist and watch your baby to make sure he or she is breathing properly. Discuss the incident with your pediatrician if you feel the blue color around the mouth happens frequently or the baby doesn't recover quickly.