My baby won’t latch

My baby won’t latch

Whilst 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.

There are also many babies who don’t latch at all initially. If you are in the middle of this situation, you are likely to be feeling quite distressed and anxious about this but I want to reassure you that with a little time and lots of practice, the majority of babies will learn and be able to do what they are in fact hard-wired to do.

There could be a number of reasons why your baby isn’t latching at the moment.

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

This is likely to improve over the next few days and weeks. 

For some babies this difficulty attaching at the breast may be related to a tongue tie, but whatever the reason, there are two things that are really important:

  • it is important that your body begins to make milk, and to make extra milk each day
  • That your baby is able to receive that milk!

You may be asking yourself, how can this possibly happen if my baby is not able to latch at the breast? Let me give you seven ways that you can go forward.

Pumping your milk

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

You could hand express your milk (with your own hand, not a hand pump), every two to three hours, and that will enable 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 makes more.  It’s a demand and supply mechanism.

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) it is important to use a really effective hospital-grade double pump.

This is a high-quality pump that 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. This is a really efficient way to increase your supply if your baby isn’t latching at the moment.

While you are pumping your milk it’s possible that you could become engorged which means that your breasts become overly full and painful. This can pose an added challenge for your baby for latching due to the fact that your nipple and areola area may become flattened.

In view of this, it’s certainly something to avoid as this can make a latching challenge even more challenging for your baby!

Have a 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.

This means stripping your baby down to the nappy, and lie your baby against your bare chest. This 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.

Despite the fact that 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 hasn’t really been promoted as much as it should have been in the last few years, particularly in our country (UK). 

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

Change your breastfeeding position

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

Potentially, your baby can feed all the way around the clock face of the breast. Have a look at the information relating to good positioning that will help your baby to feel really 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 to try is the use of a nipple shield – a thin silicon flexible shield that 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 out of 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 good, comfortable feeding. They could also affect the milk supply.

These new silicon shields are a far better tool.

They actually aid the mechanics of the latch as well. This is a good use of a nipple shield. 

I have seen 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 in a positive way with breastfeeding. 

Some have used them temporarily and some have had to use them for a number of weeks or months. One mother I met told me that she had used the nipple shields for the full length of her breastfeeding journey – and that was two years!

Flat Nipples

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 absolutely fine in this situation without the use of a nipple shield, for some, the shield itself can provide what we call a ‘super stimulus’ to enable the baby to latch and for the reasons that I 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 really good technique to learn is a technique called “breast compression” 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 please have a look at the information relating to breast compressions and learn the technique because it can be useful in many other situations too.

Skilled Support

The sixth point is to 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 be a real boost to 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.

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Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

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

References

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