What if my baby is having trouble latching during breastfeeding?

A common struggle of breastfeeding is getting your baby to latch. When babies don’t properly attach to the breast, it can cause pain for the parent. It can also result in your baby getting less milk.

Researchers at the UC Davis Medical Center found that 92% of new parents reported problems breastfeeding three days after birth. More specifically, half of new parents reported difficulties with getting their baby to latch.

Most experts agree that breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants and is easier to digest than formula. However, the decision to nurse is a personal one. Problems with latching can affect a baby’s ability to gain weight. Breastfeeding parents can also develop painful conditions such as sore nipples, breast engorgement and mastitis, according to La Leche League

Some newborns struggle to breastfeed due to a difficult labor or delivery, medication during labor, separation after birth, swallowing mucus at birth, an earlier bad experience with nursing due to blood tests or other medical procedures happening while breastfeeding. 

Babies can also become tongue-tied, preventing them from using their tongue to latch effectively, causing nipple damage. 

Tips for getting a good latch

According to WebMD, skin-to-skin contact after birth helps babies latch intuitively and comfortably. 

Experimenting with different feeding positions can help achieve a good latch as well. Experts recommend a position known as laid-back breastfeeding, which involves sitting in a semi-reclined position and placing your baby on your chest, which triggers their instinctive feeding reflexes. 

You can also try standing with your baby held against your shoulder so they can move down to the breast. Your baby may even latch on while you are walking, rocking or swaying, according to La Leche League.

If your baby hasn’t been properly nursed within 12 to 14 hours after birth, try expressing your milk using your hand or a breast pump, which will prompt milk production. While you and your baby learn to nurse, you can feed the expressed milk through a cup, spoon or syringe. Try to feed your baby before they become very hungry so they’ll have an easier time latching. 

If your baby continues to struggle with latching, don’t be afraid to ask for help. A lactation consultant or maternity nurse can offer breastfeeding tips for positioning and getting the correct latch. 

Tips to alleviate pain associated with latching difficulties

If your baby has trouble latching, you’ll likely feel discomfort during feedings, which can result in sore, cracked nipples. Since most breastfeeding parents will experience struggles with latching, at least at first, here are some ways to alleviate the pain.

The good news is you probably only have to make a few minor adjustments to modify the discomfort and get you and your baby back on track. To ease the pain of sore nipples associated with latching struggles, experts recommend applying heat compresses for 10 minutes three times a day. Also, massaging your breasts in a warm shower can help unclog a blocked duct, relieving pain. 

WebMD also suggests rubbing some breast milk onto your nipples and letting it air dry on your breast after feeding to help reduce soreness and inflammation. 

But ultimately, for some parents, breastfeeding can be too difficult to continue, and that’s OK! Fortunately, there are many safe and healthy alternative feeding options such as expressed breast milk, infant formula or a combination of both.

While it may be discouraging to see your baby distressed during the breastfeeding process, it’s important not to view their struggles as a sign of rejection. In actuality, your baby needs your comfort more than ever. Hold your baby close and make them feel secure. The best thing you can do is relax, provide a calm environment and take it one feed at a time.

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