Seven solutions when your baby won’t latch

While many babies latch on well at the breast straight after the birth and feed without an issue, it’s not uncommon for some babies to take quite a bit of time to be able to do this.

Also, many babies don’t latch at all initially. If this is happening to you, you are likely to be feeling quite distressed and anxious, but be assured that with a little time and lots of practice, the majority of babies will learn and be able to do what they are hard-wired to do.

There could be several reasons why your baby won’t latch at the moment.

It may be that you have had a difficult labor, or your baby has swallowed a bit of mucous during birth. Maybe your baby is sleepy because of the medications given during labor, or simply that your little one isn’t yet able to control sucking and swallowing effectively. 

However, it is likely to improve over the next few days and weeks. 

For some babies, difficulty attaching at the breast is related to a tongue tie, but whatever the reason, two things are critical:

  • Your body must begin to make milk, and to make extra milk each day
  • That your baby can receive that milk!

You may be asking yourself, how can this possibly happen if my baby won’t latch at the breast?

Here are seven ways that you can go forward.

Pumping your milk

It’s crucial to pump your milk. If you have just had your baby, your body will be producing a low volume first milk called colostrum.

You could hand express your milk (by hand, not a hand pump) every two to three hours, which will enable your milk to come out of your breast.

Doing this will ‘tell’ your body to keep on making milk, because every time demand goes in at the breast and a little milk comes off, your body produces more. It’s a demand and supply mechanism.

Pumping milk with a breast pump

If your baby is still not able to latch by the time your mature milk comes in around the third or fourth day (this is when there is a greater volume of milk produced), then look to use a hospital-grade double pump.

A high-quality pump will help to tell your body to keep on making milk as if your baby is putting in that demand. Usually, the shop-bought electric pumps will not be as effective at generating the amount of milk needed.

You will need to pump every 2-3 hours during the day, and at least one pumping session at night if you can.

It can be tiring to fit those pumping sessions in but the great thing about the hospital-grade pumps is that you should only need to pump for 10 – 15 minutes maximum at each pumping session.

Because it’s a double pump, your body will also produce double the amount of hormones and cause your body to make more milk in less time, which is an efficient way to increase your supply if your baby isn’t latching at the moment.

While you are pumping your milk, you could become engorged, which means that your breasts become overly full and painful, posing an added challenge for your baby for latching because your nipple and areola area may become flattened. Because of this, it’s certainly something to avoid. 

Look at the information on how you can prevent and treat engorgement.

Skin to skin

Another excellent strategy to encourage latching is to spend at least two hours every day doing skin to skin time, stripping your baby down to the nappy, and lie your baby against your bare chest. It will give a real boost to the hormones that make milk, particularly the prolactin hormone, which means that the pumping you do later is much more likely to produce a greater yield of milk!

Skin to skin also boosts the hormones that keep you and your baby calm and connected. Calm babies often latch better. Skin to skin will also promote your baby’s innate reflexes for latching.

Even though there are a lot of studies showing the importance of ongoing skin to skin for all babies and their mothers, it is still something that isn’t promoted as much as it should have been in the last few years, particularly in the UK. 

However, we are starting to encourage it a great deal more, and consequently, babies have greater opportunities to boost their mother’s supply as well as latching more effectively.

Mum holding her happy baby

Change your breastfeeding position

You can try lots of different positions for feeding. It could be that after giving birth, you only knew of one breastfeeding position, but there are, in fact, hundreds!

Potentially, your baby can feed all the way around the clock face of the breast. Look at the information relating to positioning that will help your baby to feel stable and promote all of those reflexes that will help him to latch in the best possible way.

Nipple Shields

If you have tried the above suggestions and your baby is still not latching just yet, a useful tool can be a nipple shield, a thin silicon flexible shield. The shield fits over the nipple and areola area and will provide a firm stimulus in your baby’s mouth, which reaches to the roof of his mouth and consequently will aid the mechanics of the latch.

Historically, nipple shields were seen in a negative light because they were made from thick latex, and they only generally used to mask pain, because at that time we didn’t have a lot of knowledge about positions that worked well to enable comfortable feeding. They could also affect the milk supply.

A nipple shield

The new silicon shields are a far better tool.

They aid the mechanics of the latch as well, which is a good use of a nipple shield. 

Many mothers and babies who were really struggling with latching, suddenly find that latching is possible and not painful when using a shield.

These mothers have been delighted that this ‘tool’ has enabled them to go forward positively with breastfeeding.

Some have used them temporarily, and some have had to use them for several weeks or months, with a few even using them for the full length of their breastfeeding journey.

Another reason why your baby may not be able to latch at the moment is if your nipples are flat or inverted.

Although some women will find that their baby can latch fine without the use of a nipple shield, for some, the shield itself can provide what we call a ‘super stimulus.’ This enables the baby to latch, and for the reasons mentioned earlier, the actual mechanics of the latch. 

So it is certainly something to try if you are struggling with the latch and if you have flat or inverted nipples. Even short nipples can sometimes pose an added challenge.

Breast Compression

Another technique to learn is “breast compressions” because when your baby starts to latch at the breast, he may get frustrated with the lack of flow. 

Breast compressions will enable you to ‘push’ milk out of the breast and keep your baby actively feeding when he may have otherwise come off the breast.

So learn the technique of breast compressions because it can be useful in many other situations too.

Skilled Support

Seek out skilled support with lactation if your baby isn’t latching.

That extra support will be a real boost to your confidence. It could be that your baby may need a referral to a tongue-tie specialist if the lack of ability to latch is related to a tongue restriction.

Whatever the cause, having that professional beside you as you encourage your baby to latch can really increase your confidence.

Supportive Family & Friends

Finally, surround yourself with positive people, your friends or family who are supportive of your efforts to breastfeed while you are in the middle of this latching issue.

Be encouraged because, with time and perseverance, the majority of babies will do what they are hard-wired to do.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

Version 1.1 published in March 2019. Next review date: Jan 2022


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