One of the biggest early breastfeeding problems for many new moms is when their newborn won’t latch. I’ve worked with countless mothers struggling with this, and it can feel soul-wrenching.
In my experience, if a baby isn’t latching – there’s a reason! Fortunately, many newborn latching issues can be overcome with the right help.
Drawing from my years of experience and the stories of the families I’ve worked with, I want to share with you five common reasons why newborns might struggle to latch and, most importantly, what you can do to overcome these challenges.
1. Positioning and Latch Technique
The art of breastfeeding begins with the correct positioning and getting a proper breastfeeding latch. Don’t feel discouraged if this doesn’t come naturally. Remember, it’s a learning process for both you and your baby.
What to Do:
Seek guidance on different breastfeeding positions and latch techniques from a lactation consultant (my team offers virtual lactation consults). Laid back and cross cradle is my personal favorite, but you can experiment to see what works best for your situation.
Sometimes, the smallest adjustments, like ensuring your baby’s mouth is wide open before latching, can make all the difference. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a lactation consultant for a hands-on demonstration and personalized advice.
When in doubt, lean back!
2. Tongue or Lip Ties
Tongue and lip ties are conditions present at birth that can restrict the range of motion necessary for effective breastfeeding. They can make it hard for your baby to maintain a deep latch.
What to Do:
If you suspect your baby has a tongue or lip tie, consulting with an oral restriction-trained lactation consultant who can perform a thorough examination is key. You may find that some simple latch adjustments may help, but many babies with oral function issues do need additional bodywork (such as chiropractic), oral exercises to strengthen the tongue, and continued support to learn to nurse more effectively. I take a conservative, holistic approach and try to provide a variety of options to help families make informed decisions.
Keep in mind that this can be a controversial topic. Many healthcare providers believe tongue ties “aren’t a thing”, but I assure you – they are, and they can cause issues. On the flip side, some healthcare providers cut/laser every tongue (whether it’s needed or not) so just be aware of that.
3. Nipple/Flow Preference
Nipple preference can occur when a baby is getting a bottle and prefers the flow. This can lead to a preference for the bottle’s faster milk flow or difficulty adapting to the different sucking mechanisms needed for breastfeeding.
I do find that babies who have been given a bottle from the start rather than the breast can develop some nipple confusion and aren’t sure what to do with the breast. But in most situations, a baby refusing the breast over the bottle is due to to a nipple/flow preference.
What to Do:
Delay the introduction of bottles and pacifiers until breastfeeding is well established whenever possible. If you need to introduce a bottle early on, choose a bottle that is a gradual sloped nipple and slow flow. Practicing paced bottle feeding can be helpful, too.
Engorgement can make your breasts very firm and swollen, which might make it difficult for your newborn to latch properly.
What to Do:
To alleviate engorgement, try doing reverse pressure softening. Warm compresses and gentle massage can also help improve milk flow and make it easier for your baby to latch. Gentle hand expression can help as well. I talk a lot about engorgement in Fuss-Free First Year (along with tons of other helpful topics), so make sure to sign up!
5. Baby’s Health Issues
Sometimes, underlying health issues in newborns, such as jaundice, infections, or birth trauma, can affect their ability to latch and feed effectively.
What to Do:
It’s crucial to work closely with your healthcare provider to address any health concerns. Keep trying to breastfeed and offer the breast often. Skin-to-skin contact can also encourage latching and bonding.
6. Tension in the Baby’s Body
Tension in the body can significantly impact a baby’s ability to latch and feed effectively. This tension might be due to their position during birth or even before birth, or from birth trama. Sometimes a baby who has movement restricted throughout the day (such as from swaddling, swings, bouncers, or the snoo) can also cause increased tension. This can all lead to discomfort when trying to turn their head or open their mouth wide enough for a proper latch.
What to Do:
First, observe your baby for any signs of discomfort or stiffness in their body. Gentle baby massage or a visit to a pediatric chiropractor or craniosacral therapist, especially one experienced with newborns, can be incredibly beneficial. These professionals can help release any tension, making breastfeeding more comfortable for your baby. Additionally, practicing skin-to-skin contact can soothe your baby and naturally decrease body tension, promoting easier latching.
7. Discomfort from Positioning or Pressure
Sometimes, the issue isn’t with the baby inherently but with external pressures or positioning. Uncomfortable positions or too much pressure on the baby’s head, back, or limbs during breastfeeding can make the experience stressful for them, leading to refusal to latch.
What to Do:
Pay close attention to your baby’s signals and try different breastfeeding positions to find one that seems most comfortable for both of you. Ensure there’s no undue pressure on your baby’s head or body and that they have enough support to feel secure without being restricted. Using pillows to support your arms can also reduce strain and make the process more comfortable. Remember, a relaxed baby is more likely to latch successfully, so creating a calm, soothing environment during feeding times is key.
By addressing both the physical and emotional needs of your baby, you create an atmosphere of trust and comfort essential for successful breastfeeding. Remember, it’s not just about feeding but about nurturing and bonding with your baby. If challenges persist, don’t hesitate to reach out for support from healthcare providers or lactation consultants who can offer tailored advice and assistance. My team would love to help you!
Your journey is unique, and with patience and the right support, you and your baby can find your rhythm.
More Articles You Might Enjoy:
- Breastfeeding Your Newborn Baby
- Fussy Baby While Breastfeeding
- Breast Milk Colors: What They Mean and When to Worry
Katie Clark is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She has helped thousands of mothers and families around the globe navigate breastfeeding challenges and questions since 2015. She has a passion for creating research-based, helpful breastfeeding education and helping parents find a way to make breastfeeding work for them. Katie is a mom of three little boys and lives in the great state of Colorado. She also has a degree in Communications with an emphasis in print journalism.