Perfecting That Latch: Solutions To Common Breastfeeding Problems
Breastfeeding is an amazing journey for both mother and baby - but remember, it is a journey and not a simple task that everyone can easily master! From sleepless nights, to pumping around the clock, to breast pain and tenderness, to nipple confusion, and more, there are many issues that can occur during breastfeeding.
One of the first problems that many mothers struggle with is establishing their baby’s latch. A good latch is key to successful breastfeeding - so it’s important to get it right, from the start. A good latch allows your baby to empty your breasts properly, and can prevent nipple pain and breast tenderness for mothers. A faulty latch can cause your baby to gain weight too slowly, or even lose weight, which is detrimental to her growth and development. A bad latch can cause many problems for mothers too, such as frequent engorgement, clogged milk ducts, and even infections like mastitis. An incorrect latch can also cause a mother’s milk supply to diminish over time. Even though most babies learn to latch naturally, many need some assistance in the beginning!
Is your baby struggling with his latch while breastfeeding? Here are the most common causes of improper latch in infants.
1. Baby is too sleepy.
One of the most common issues with a newborn’s latch is just that they are so sleepy. Newborns need a lot of sleep, and this can make it difficult to keep your baby awake enough to focus on latching properly - or even latching at all. If your baby has difficulty staying awake during feeding, try switching positions. Keeping your baby slightly uncomfortable during feedings can keep him alert enough to latch the right away. Some moms undress their baby when it’s time to eat, and others gently tickle their baby’s back or feet during feeding times to keep baby from dozing off. If you notice that your little one just wants to sleep all day long, be sure to wake her to eat at least every 2-3 hours until her growth and development are steady.
2. Baby is fussy or frustrated.
A baby that is fussy or crying will also have difficulty latching properly. Your baby might turn their head, wiggle out of your arms, or try to push you away when it’s time to nurse. The best way to avoid an overly fussy baby is to anticipate when your baby will be hungry or need to eat, before they begin to fuss. Being overtired or overstimulated will also cause a baby to be extra fussy. To calm your little one, try moving to a quiet, dimly lit room with little noise or stimulation. Gently guide your baby to the breast, or even hand express some milk beforehand so your baby will smell the milk and naturally turn toward the breast to begin eating.
3. The mother’s nipples are an issue.
Although there’s not much you can do about it, nipple size and nipple shape matter when it comes to latch. If your nipples are large, it might be hard for your baby to latch properly. Remember, your baby needs to have all of the nipple plus a little of the surrounding areola to get a proper latch. In this case, using a nipple shield will temporarily help your baby latch on until his mouth gets big enough to latch on his own. Some mothers have flat or inverted nipples, which can also make it difficult for their babies to get a secure latch, especially in the beginning. If you have inverted nipples, you can try pumping or hand expressing for a few minutes before letting your baby latch, so you have time to draw out the nipples enough for your baby to latch on. A nipple shield can also be helpful in this scenario.
4. The mother’s breasts are very engorged.
In the first days and weeks of breastfeeding, you may notice your breasts becoming very swollen, hard, and full before each nursing session. This is referred to as engorgement, and it is very common in the early days of breastfeeding as your body adjusts to your infant’s needs. Engorgement can cause your nipples to flatten out, making it harder for your baby to latch. If this happens, be sure to pump or hand express your milk for a few minutes before attempting to latch your baby onto the breast. This can help draw out the nipple and release some of the tension in your breasts, giving baby a better chance at latching on.
5. Baby was born prematurely.
Premature babies are small - even their mouths are smaller than the average newborn! The small mouth size can make it extremely hard for a baby to latch because she can’t open her mouth wide enough to take the full nipple into her mouth. If your baby was born prematurely, talk to a lactation consultant for guidance on how to feed your little one. A nipple shield can help sometimes, but you also may need to pump your milk and feed your baby in an alternative fashion until she’s big enough to latch onto the breast on her own.
6. Baby has a physical problem causing latch issues.
Certain physical conditions can make it harder for a baby to latch. For instance, some babies are born with a tongue tie, causing them to be unable to extend the tongue far enough to get a proper latch. A tongue tie needs to be diagnosed and treated by a specialist like an ENT. Babies born with a cleft lip or cleft palate will also have difficulty latching, especially when it comes to creating a seal around the nipple. A pediatrician, lactation consultant, or other specialists can help you figure out how best to feed your baby in this case.
7. Baby has special needs that make latching difficult.
There are a number of other health issues that may cause a newborn baby to have difficulty latching. For example, a baby born with heart problems might tire easily during feeding sessions. Babies born with jaundice are often difficult to wake and might have trouble feeding well in the beginning. An infant with a neurological issue might have a hard time with latching and sucking motions. In these cases, you will want to talk to a specialist to figure out how best to feed your little one.
Breastfeeding isn’t always easy, but don’t worry, many of the issues that arise in the early days of breastfeeding resolve in time as your baby grows and matures. With the right help (lactation consultants and specialists), you’ll be well on your way to breastfeeding your baby with success.
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.