When we have our babies and are planning to breastfeed, it can be heartbreaking and frustrating when our baby just won’t latch on. Mothers will often think, “What is wrong with me?! What am I doing wrong?” However, there are many different things to consider and important steps to take if you find yourself in this situation. Have a read on how to best get through this while keeping up your supply and keeping your baby interesting in feeding…
1. Find support and help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to find out WHY your baby isn’t latching. There are different possibilities as to why your child isn’t latching. It’s REALLY IMPORTANT to figure out if your baby isn’t latching just because you need a few practical tips or there is a specific reason your baby cannot physically latch on (or stay latched on) and breastfeed.
There can be MANY reasons they aren’t latching, here are just a few:
- Torticollis (a condition where the infant’s neck is a bit twisted). This can be congenital or acquired. For babies who have this condition it can cause them to be in pain, not open their mouth very wide or try to avoid lying on their side. Sometimes the baby will completely refuse one side but feed off the other. Seek help from a bodyworker who specialises in infants (chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist).
- Birth related physical trauma For some babies, how they are born or were smooshed up in the womb can really affect their flexibility etc. When my cousin’s son was born he could not move his arm at all and he was undergoing all of these tests to figure out what was wrong. Turns out, his arm was just “asleep” (Obdormition is the medical term) from being squashed in a weird position for so long in utero! This is an example of how a physical tightness can really affect their comfort levels when feeding and they might avoid a certain position because of the pain, leading to feeding difficulties.
- Jaundice/sleepy baby A baby who is really sleepy and hard to rouse can make it really difficult to breastfeed. However int his case it’s a matter of “waking them up”.
- Tongue and/or lip tie A baby with a tongue or lip tie can have a lot of difficulty latching on or if they do latch it’s very shallow. This can cause pain in some cases. It’s extremely important to seek help from an IBCLC who has extensive knowledge and experiences assessing oral function. If you are interested in more info about ties and breastfeeding, my book on this topic is available here. If someone tells you that your baby doesn’t have a tongue tie but you continue to have problems with the latch, I suggest seeking a second opinion.
- Prolonged separation from mother If your baby is in NICU or you are separated from them for some reason, try to get back with them as soon as possible. Hanging out together skin-to-skin is the best way to encourage your baby to latch.
- Needing extra help which mother is not receiving/bad advice Sometimes we get different advice and suggestions on breastfeeding and how we should latch our baby on. This can lead to awkward breastfeeding attempts. Most women find that baby led self attachment works best.
2. If you cannot get your baby to latch, establish and build your supply as soon as possible following the birth of your baby.
- Pump Here is my video on how to pump efficiently and effectively!
- Hand express Some women find that hand expressions leads to a higher amount of milk removal from the breast! There are many different ways to hand express and different techniques. Click here for a PDF from La Leche League on hand expression.
- Skin-to-skin Even if you have not been able to latch your baby on, skin-to-skin is the more important thing you can do. This give unrestricted access to the breast and many babies who just all of a sudden latch on because the breast is right there! This is the best way to encourage your baby to latch.
- Quiet time with baby Quiet time with your baby helps keep them (and you!) calm and allows for optimal breastfeeding conditions! Don’t do “pass the baby” with friends and family and ask for some space as you get the hang of it.
- If you need to supplement via “triple feeding” (breastfeed, pump and then top up), click here to READ THIS!!!
3. Consider the different options for feeding your baby
As time goes on you might have to change what you are using. Syringe and spoon can be great in the early days but as your baby gets older and needs more milk at each feed, you might have to change to a cup or bottle. Seek help from an IBCLC along the way so you can feed your baby the most efficient way, while also continuing to encourage and help your baby to latch.
4. Have help building a long-term and short-term plan. What you do in the first few days might be very different to what you have to do as the days and weeks go on. If you are supplementing you might find that you need to increase the amount as you baby gets bigger and you work to build your supply. Some women find they have to change from syringe feeding to bottle feeding. Others will find that as time goes on their baby starts to breastfeed and they can use a supplemental nursing system (SNS) to supplement instead of a bottle. Many women do go on to exclusively breastfeed after a time of supplementing so try to stay positive! And continue working with an IBCLC if you can.
In summary there are a few things to focus on when your baby can’t latch.
- Find out WHY they can’t latch.
- Work with an IBCLC along the way
- Use power pumping, hand expression and other pumping techniques to keep your supply up.
- Look into different ways for feeding your baby (bottle, syringe, cup or spoon)
- Make sure you have a plan on how to manage “triple feeding” if you have to do this.
- Stay positive! Many women go on to exclusively breastfeed even after having an extended period of time without their baby latching.