My baby won’t latch

My baby won’t latch

Whilst the majority of babies will latch on after the birth and latch on well and feed, and there isn’t an issue in that area, some babies actually take some time to be able to do this. And there are many babies that don’t latch at all initially. If you are in the middle of this situation, you may feel quite distressed and anxious at present, but I want to reassure you that with 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 a baby isn’t latching at the moment – it might be that you had a difficult labour, or your baby 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 the labour, or simply that he isn’t able to control sucking and swallowing as well as he will be able to do as the days and the weeks go on.

 For some babies it may also be related to a tongue tie, but whatever the reason, there are two things that are really important and that is – one, that your body begins to make milk and to make extra milk each day and two, that your baby gets that milk. So you may be asking yourself, how can this possibly happen if my baby is not latching on at the moment? But I want to give you seven ways that you can go forward.

So, first of all, it’s really important that you pump your milk –  now if you have just had your baby, your body will be producing low volume first milk called colostrum, where you could hand express your milk with your own hand, that is every two to three hours, and that will enable milk to come out of your breast – that will be telling your body to keep on making milk because every time milk comes off the breast, your body makes more.

When your mature milk starts to come in,  that’s when there is a greater volume of milk produced around the third or fourth day, it would be important if your baby is still not latching at that point to use a hospital grade double pump – that is a super duper pump of the lactation world, that will help to tell your body to keep on making milk – and I would suggest you pump every 2-3 hours during the day, and still do one pumping session at night as well if you can, although it is a lot to ask to be pumping that frequently, but with those hospital grade pumps, you really only need to pump, 10 – 15 minutes maximum – because it’s double, your body is producing double the amount of hormones and causing your body to make more milk in less time. So it’s a really efficient way to get your supply in if at this stage your baby isn’t latching at the moment.

And while you are pumping your milk it’s possible that you could become engorged which is when the breast become overly full, and this can pose a problem itself with latching, so obviously we don’t want to complicate the latching situation with engorgement as well, so have a good look at the videos relating to how you can prevent and treat that.

 Another excellent thing that you can do with your baby in order to promote latching is to spend at least two hours per day doing skin to skin time, and that is stripping your baby down to the nappy, lying against your bare chest and this will give a real boost to the hormones that make milk, particularly the prolactin hormone; that means that the pumping you are doing will be more efficient in many ways. The skin to skin you do before you pump will actually ensure that there is more available milk for your baby when you do pump.

It also boosts the hormones that keep you both calm and connected, and calm babies latch better and of course if you are calm, all the better. It will also promote all of your baby’s innate reflexes for latching and there is lots of studies that back all of these up. A wonderful, wonderful thing is skin to skin and it’s something that hasn’t really been promoted as much as it should have done over the years, particularly in our country and we are seeing a lot more of it now and babies are getting all the practice that they need. This also is really helping them to latch on better.

 Thirdly, you can try lots of different positions for feeding – it might be that you were only shown one particular hold for instance during the time of the birth, but you know, there are lots, hundreds of positions, you could say, potentially – your baby can feed all the way around the clock face of the breast, so have a good look at the videos 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.

 And something else you can try, if you have tried the other things and you are still not seeing your baby latching just yet, is the use of what they call a nipple shield. This is a thin silicon flexible shield that fits over the nipple and areola area, and it can actually provide a firm stimulus in your baby’s mouth, reaching to the roof of the mouth to aid the mechanics of the latch.

Historically, nipple shields were seen as a NO NO because they were made out of thick latex and to be honest they were only used really to mask pain because we didn’t have a lot of knowledge historically about positions that worked well to enable good, comfortable feeding. Now these new silicon shields are a far better tool to aid the mechanics of the latch as well, so there is a good use of a nipple shield and this is one of them – and I have seen many mothers and babies really be able to go forward with the latching using these. Some have used them temporarily and some have actually used them for a number of weeks even.

 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 find that the baby is latching absolutely fine in that situation without the use of a nipple shield, but 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 as well, 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.

 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 and breast compressions will enable you to compress your breast to push milk out of the breast and keep your baby actively feeding at the breast when he would have otherwise potentially come off the breast. So please have a good look at the videos relating to breast compression and learn the technique because it can be useful in many situations too.

 And the sixth point is to seek out skilled support with lactation, if you are in the middle of this situation where your baby isn’t latching because that extra support is going to be a real boost to your confidence – it might be for instance, your baby may need a referral to a tongue-tie specialist, if it is relating to a tongue tie but even having that professional beside you as you try to latch and talk you through those things can be a real boost.

 And finally surround yourself with positive people, your friends, your family who are supportive of your efforts to breast feed (supporting a breastfeeding mother)while you are in the middle of this latching issue, and know that 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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