Some women look forward to breastfeeding their babies once they become mums, only to find out later that their children have latching problems.
That can make new mothers very anxious and cast doubts upon their ability to nurse their little ones. If you happen to face this breastfeeding situation, get that idea out of your head, because there are many factors that can keep a newborn from latching on to your breast properly, and only a few of them may have something to do with you.
Keep reading to learn the main reasons for a baby not latching on well and how to help him do so.
Baby not latching on: Why aren't we coming together?
If your baby isn't taking in a decent mouthful of your breast or latching on, it may be due to different aspects considering:
- Your baby's age: when trying to figure out why your baby refuses your breast, bear in mind that, in latching, his age matters. For example, if he's a newborn that hasn't been fed for the first time yet and doesn't seem interested in doing so, he may not be ready for lactation (it happens with some premature babies, for example). When forceps are used for delivery, some newborns get headaches and may not feel like latching on until they wear off, while there are times when pain relievers administered during labour, like epidural, can affect the baby's suckling and latching ability for a few days. If the baby is more than four months old, he may have trouble latching on to your breast, because of factors such as the teething process, being sick (colds and fungal infections like candidiasis, for instance) and elements that distract him during the feedings.
- The time of the day: be aware of your baby's possible reactions according to the time of the day. Early in the morning, your child may reject your breast because milk usually comes in faster when the day starts, or he may just be too sleepy. The contrary may occur in the evening or at night, when you may not supply enough milk or it may come in too slowly, which could make the baby give up latching out of frustration. If your child doesn't latch on after your mealtimes, it may be caused by some food which changes your milk flavour. Acid reflux and colic are conditions that may affect your munchkin's appetite and latching as well.
- The feeds: as pointed out above, the way breast milk comes in can make your baby back down from latching on, either because the milk flow is too fast or too slow. If he stops latching on in the middle of the feeding, he may need to be burped before, for example, switching to the other breast. When he is just appealed by one of your breasts, you should suspect that the milk production isn't equal in the two of them or that one nipple is bigger than the other one. If neither seems to please him and he’s still not latching on, you should try shifting your child's position.
Giving your baby some guidance in latching
Babies come to life with the natural instinct to latching on and finding their mum's breast but, when they don't establish a proper latch, we have to help them out. How? Nothing like some practical tips to ensure your baby's correct nourishment:
- Take breastfeeding classes: before your baby's arrival, look for breastfeeding classes, which are offered by some hospitals and birthing centres. There, you'll learn the basics of nursing from an instructor who may use videos and demonstrations with a doll. Also, that will allow you to meet other mums who you could share the experience and any doubts with when the right time comes.
- The early bird catches the breast: don't put off any attempt to breastfeed your child, even if he seems unwilling to please you. Take it as if it was a training, so the earlier you get started nursing him, the sooner he'll start looking for your breasts and mastering his ability of latching on.
- Skin-to-skin contact: by providing your child with some skin-to-skin contact, with his bare skin on your bare skin, you can stimulate his innate reflex to crawl up your body looking for the nipple, so that he can draw out the milk.
- Find the right position: is your baby not latching on? Well, maybe you are not breastfeeding in the best position. Experts recommend that mummies should nurse in a reclined position, of about 45 degrees, since it helps you support your baby easily and, at the same time, allows him to place his chin into the breast, use his hands and turn his head.
- Tummy down, cheeks and chin to the breast: if you have to get comfortable, so does your little one. The best thing you can do is put him tummy down against your chest, and use the most convenient hand to support his neck and upper back. Be sure he 'buries' both cheeks and chin into your breast, which is necessary to cover not just the nipple, but most of the areola too.
When attempting breastfeeding for the first time, try rubbing your thumb and other fingers across one of your nipples, compressing the areola to express some colostrum, the first milk. If you keep your baby 'ready', with his bottom lip near the areola, he should smell it and latch on to it by following his instincts. If you have big breasts, try squeezing them gently, placing your fingers parallel to your child's lips. The point is to make your breast 'smaller' for your little one.
Baby not latching: Is he latching on well or not?
How can you tell if your baby is latching on to your breast successfully or not? There are a few signs that can help you determine it. A baby is well latched if you feel your breast pulled while your baby moves his jaws, exhaling after swallowing the milk. Ideally, his chin should be touching your breast; the nose, free; and his cheeks, rounded because they are full of milk. During normal feedings, your baby is expected to be relaxed.
On the contrary, the signs of trouble when your baby’s latching to be on the lookout for include pain and sore nipples while nursing your child, due to your baby not latching on properly (with his lips tucked under your nipple and not flanged out around it). Even if you don't feel discomfort right away, take your time to check your nipples and if they are bleeding or cracked, that means your little one needs more 'training'. In addition, he may not be taking good mouthfuls of your breast if he falls asleep while being fed or if he's wriggling around.
As you can see, latching on to your breast has its own little tricks for both you and your child. If he's having some difficulties to succeed in doing it, be patient and keep encouraging him by trying some of the tips listed in this article. But don't hesitate to ask your paediatrician for advice if the problem persists.