We’ve all had issues where our baby won’t latch to our nipple for some unknown reason. This can come from a variety of issues.
The baby might not have taken to you just yet, maybe the breastfeeding position isn’t adequate for him, or perhaps you have a case of sore nipples which makes the surface harder to latch onto.
It can also be a case of nipple confusion caused by overuse of pacifiers, dummies, or baby bottles.
Whatever the case may be, a baby not latching to the breast is not a great cause for alarm and is honestly one of the more common breastfeeding problems that you’ll encounter during motherhood.
And, lucky for all of us, it’s a problem that’s very easily fixed through various methods, depending on the source of the issue at hand.
They act quick enough, and most importantly, don’t take a lot of effort to perform, giving you ample time to bond with your little one afterwards through your breastfeeding sessions.
So what are these methods? We’ll get into it in just a minute.
First, it’s important to know the causes before delving into the solution.
Causes Of Failed Latching
Sometimes it’s not just your child’s demeanor that can cause them not to latch. Sometimes it’s a whole different source altogether.
While some issues are more common than others, there are persistent ones that can cause failed latching.
1. Breast engorgement
Breast engorgement is one of the main culprits of failed latchings not caused by your little one.
When a breast becomes engorged, it becomes firm and the nipple is flattened, giving the baby’s mouth a hard time to wrap itself around it.
The main cause of breast engorgement is usually overly abundant milk production, which will result in a whole number of other problems for both you and the baby outside of failed latchings.
Some of these are, but aren’t limited to, mastitis and clogged milk ducts for mom, as well as a faster flow of milk.
For baby, this means increased fussiness, more watery poos, frequent spit-ups, and a whole lot of gas.
To deal with breast engorgement, it helps to hand-express breastmilk a little bit of milk before a feed to soften the area around the nipple up, in turn giving your baby an easier time at latching.
2. Bad breastfeeding position
This is a cause common in most new moms, though because I’ve covered it above already, I’ll keep it brief.
A good breastfeeding position is important when looking for your little one to latch deeper.
Make sure to have your baby’s head at the right angle and align his lips so he can wrap around the nipple and press into the areola, requiring as little effort as possible.
3. Nipple confusion
The last of the three big issues of failed latching is nipple confusion, most often caused by using baby bottles and pacifiers too early in your newborn’s development.
If used within the first few weeks of his life, your baby might get accustomed to the feel of the artificial nipples and refuse to take the real deal.
The fast flow of some baby bottle silicone nipples might be more to his liking as well, since he doesn’t have to work for his meal and can just relax and suckle gently.
Babies will often choose the path of least resistance and bottles generally tend to win here.
To avoid this from happening, don’t introduce the bottle too early in your child’s life.
Let your little one adjust to the feel of his mother’s breast first before giving him the option of bottle feeding in the first place.
And, if you do, make sure you find bottles with silicone nipples shaped like a mother’s and with a slow flow system.
The better simulated the mother’s breast is, the less chance there is of nipple confusion happening in the first place.
While this reason makes moms forsake bottle feeding altogether and stick to exclusively nursing their child, a lot of moms can’t afford that privilege, especially those who still work or can’t devote that much time to nursing alone.
So no, bottles aren’t a sin or anything – they’re lifesavers, as long as you make sure to alternate between breast and bottle every so often.
Besides, your husband is going to need some alternative to help him feed the baby if you’re not around for whatever reason.
4. Baby is sick or uncomfortable
For many children, a cold, sore throat, or even gas can greatly contribute to the issue of failing to latch onto the breast.
During these periods, it’s common to see babies fail to latch onto the breast since they’re having trouble breathing properly or are simply feeling too unwell to even consider feeding or putting any effort in.
If this is the case, it’s better to drip-feed your child if you can or switch him to the bottle, though in case of gas, it’s best to find the cause of the issue and eliminate that before considering any other moves.
15 Steps To Get Your Baby To Latch Onto The Breast
1. Do the regularly expected things
The process has to start somewhere and what better way to start off than by doing the normal procedures. In those early weeks, this means that you feed your baby regularly.
Whether it’s baby formula or expressed mother’s milk, always make sure there’s enough of it and that your baby isn’t skipping any feedings.
This way you’re ensured you’ll have the best results when trying to get him to actually latch onto the breast to get access to your breast milk directly from the source.
Another important facet is to maintain a steady milk supply.
If your child gets used to the taste of your milk, he’ll be more inclined to suckle on your breast after he realizes that’s the primary source of it.
Think of it as a sort of reward system where the baby realizes that the more effort he puts into sucking on mommy’s breast, the more tasty milk that he’s so used to getting flows out.
Normally, this is enough for more babies to latch onto the breast quite quickly, but there are clear exceptions sometimes (as briefly touched upon at the start of the article.)
Sometimes it’s the minor things that many new moms often forget to realize that makes their little one not want to latch.
Things that, once noticed, can be fixed rather easily.
2. The position
Whenever a baby won’t latch, the first thing a mom ought to look at is the position in which she’s trying to have her baby latch.
No baby will want to feed in some awkward, unnatural, or downright uncomfortable position.
Make sure his neck and the head are properly supported while you still have a firm grip on the rest of his body. This is easily performed through a football hold or a cross-cradle hold.
3. Get rid of all tension
Whether it’s mamma’s or baby’s, stress can be a killer for the feeding mood.
If either you or your precious child have experienced a recently stressful moment, you might want to hold off on the feeding for a bit.
About a half-hour to an hour of waiting ought to be enough.
You can practice your hold with your baby and keep him close to your chest in the meantime to help calm him down faster and get him pre-prepared for the upcoming breastfeeding session, if he’s the one that’s stressed.
On the other hand, if you’re the one who’s had a stressful day, let your partner handle the baby for a bit while you take a small nap or a bit of a reprieve to decompress.
4. Make access to the breast quick and easy
There’s a reason mommies wear specific clothes and nursing nightwear when their babies are still in the breastfeeding stages, and that’s to have easier access to the breast.
The quicker you can get adjusted to a proper breastfeeding position, the less fussy your baby is going to be.
Do make sure you always find yourself in a nice and comfortable place where you won’t feel a chill if you need to breastfeed for a longer period of time.
5. Offer opportunities to breastfeed early and often
Babies tend to have a rather short attention span when they’re very young.
While they will remember some significant moments, breastfeeding is nothing more than a passing memory.
By this I mean that if your child gets frustrated from you offering your breast when he doesn’t want it, he’ll forget about that frustration if you just let it go then and there.
This way, you can give it a bit of a pause and try again later, making sure he’s always nearby.
If you can make it seem more spontaneous than forced, then that’s all the better and will make this process a lot shorter than it normally would be.
Repeat until your little one finally decides he wants to latch onto the breast, and have fun from there on out.
Just make sure to not force him to latch.
As I’ve already said, if babies won’t latch at a given time, they simply won’t, and any further attempts to do so are just going to end up having the opposite effect of the one you want.
6. Use a pump to supplement a failed latching session
Sometimes your child will simply fail to get enough milk out of your breasts during a session, if any at all.
This act will usually reduce your milk flow due to the small amount of time spent latching and suckling, so you’ll want to supplement the session through the use of a breast pump.
By making sure all of the sessions last the same, whether through direct suckling, full-on pumping, or a mix of both, you’re making sure that you always have a healthy and even milk supply.
This will help keep your baby used to the level of your breasts’ milk flow a lot easier and will help prevent issues from arising from too high or low of a milk flow.
7. Getting rid of baby’s frustration through feeding supplements
If you want the frustrations mentioned earlier to subside faster, a good method is to try supplementing your breastmilk with a bit of pre-expressed milk or formula.
To avoid using baby bottles or any similar artificial nipples that might end up causing nipple confusion, it’s recommended to go with either the cup feeding or finger feeding method.
The first one is self-explanatory and is more for your partner than you due to it being quicker to perform, while the finger feeding method is meant to replicate the feel of your breast.
In this case, it’s better for it to be your finger than someone else’s, so the baby can get used to the feel of your skin and be more comfortable in your presence when it’s time for a feeding session.
The process is essentially drip-feeding the milk over a finger, one that should be cleaned beforehand to avoid contaminating the milk and giving the baby any infections, which will only have the adverse effect.
Do make sure that this supplementation method isn’t too long or too frequent – you don’t want it completely replacing breastfeeding, as these can be rather tedious to perform.
Besides, you want that all-natural mommy-baby skin contact to foster a better relationship between the two of you.
8. Practice latching in shorter periods
Practicing latching in short bursts is usually the most recommended way of going about getting your little one to breastfeed properly.
If everything is going well, 10 minute periods should be the most commonly implemented. Any more and you’ll see less results because your baby will get tired of being in one position too long.
You don’t want to force it too much either if you’re seeing him resist, otherwise you’ll achieve the opposite effect and he might even start hating the whole process in its entirety.
If he resists, don’t hesitate to cut the session short and leave him be.
Supplement the rest of the latching session through pumping as explained above, and try again later when your baby is feeling less frustrated.
9. Alternate between supplementing and feeding
If your little one starts getting antsy in the middle of a feed, take a bit of a breather and supplement the feeding through either cup or finger feeding, whichever method he prefers best.
Only do enough of it to let him calm down before getting him back on the breast.
Alternate between the two, but make sure direct feeding takes higher priority than the supplement, otherwise you might instigate a case of nipple confusion.
If your baby’s stopped feeding due to a slower flow of milk, you might want to try doing some breast compressions to stimulate a faster milk flow again.
This is especially useful if you were using a baby bottle to feed him before and had him get used to the faster flow of the artificial nipple.
Alternating is a good way to help transition him back to the breast, if anything.
10. Don’t force the baby into feeding
Many new moms who don’t have the experience getting their baby to latch may think that if you force the issue hard enough, he’ll end up doing it.
This is as far from the truth as it can be. If he won’t latch, he just won’t.
There’s definitely a reason behind it and it’s better to find out what it is and adjust accordingly than repeating the same mistake that’s causing it in the first place over and over again.
The best way of going about this is to work with your IBCLC-certified lactation consultant, who can help to find the root of the problem and offer an adequate solution to the issue at hand.
It could be a case of poor positioning or an oversupply of milk.
Until you find out what it is, just supplement the feeding sessions with pumping sessions instead to make sure you have all the milk flow your baby needs when the time comes to swap again.
11. Never starve your child
This is another egregious mistake that many new moms tend to gravitate toward.
They think that by denying their child any food, they’ll get him to eventually cave in and accept the breast. This can’t be further from the truth.
Babies can be surprisingly stubborn sometimes and you’ll just end up resulting in inadvertently torturing your child for no reason.
Having your little one miss his feeding time isn’t as simple as an adult skipping breakfast.
An adult has finished growing, whereas your baby’s just beginning to, and he’s going to need all the nutrients that he can get.
Skipping a feeding will hurt him a lot more.
Supplement if you have to, but don’t resort to starvation to try and achieve proper latching. It most likely will not work or will end up with having your baby build an aversion to you.
12. Keep your child happy through constant feeding
This ties into the previous mention of starvation.
A sated baby is a happy baby. Never forget that.
If his little tummy is full, you’re more than likely going to see your precious bundle of joy with a smile on his face than not.
It doesn’t matter through which method you do it, as long as it’s done.
After all, a child won’t mind how he’s getting his food, as long as he gets it. So feel free to offer bottled milk, formula, or any other recommended alternative.
That said, where possible, do try to always lean to breastfeeding a bit more.
Keep getting him closer and closer to the breast while you’re holding him to nurse him, and then have him gradually shift to it.
13. Lots of skin-to-skin contact
One of the best ways of getting a baby to latch is to make sure there’s a lot of skin to skin contact between mother and baby.
The warmth generated between the two of you will help release the hormone oxytocin for both of you – a hormone responsible for the warm and fuzzy feeling of love that we get when near something dear to us.
It will help grow the relationship that the two of you have and get your child to be a lot more comfortable around you, making latching and subsequently feeding via the breast a lot easier to achieve.
14. Be patient
This is certainly a process that takes a certain amount of time to do, but be patient. It won’t last too long.
Most babies will generally learn how to properly latch onto the breast within the first 4-8 weeks.
In the meantime, just try your best to accelerate that process (without overdoing it).
15. Seek professional help
While these steps might help resolve most issues with your baby’s latching, a lactation consultant or family pediatrician can help with the more odd cases.
Or, they can simply help you out with figuring out the reason why your baby won’t latch on quicker than having you do trial and error at home.
Using little tricks to get your baby to latch on easier
A good tip to follow when your baby won’t latch is to use some of your previously expressed milk and drip it onto your breast or nipple shield.
This way, your little one will feel instantly rewarded for trying to suckle on the breast as he’ll be handed a little bit of milk thinking it was his effort that produced it, spurning them on to suckle some more.
You can do something similar without the need of unfreezing your milk stash by just giving your breasts a nice massage, doing a bit of pumping, or just hand-expressing a little milk prior to the feeding session.
This will help stimulate letdown without having the baby need to work hard for it, allowing him to pick up where you left off with these methods and just have instantaneous access to the liquid gold he covets.
Try not making it too much of a habit later on – you don’t want to spoil your kids. Slowly ease your little one into causing letdown on their own.
Don’t use co-sleeping as a method of bonding for easier latching
While it sounds good on the surface, co-sleeping can be a dangerous and potentially fatal experience for a baby.
A newborn requires a flat surface to lie down upon that has no other additions on it whatsoever.
This is to lower the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) to a minimum.
This is rather difficult to achieve if a mom tries co-sleeping with her baby since she can’t exactly fit in the crib alongside him.
Yes, it does provide lots of skin to skin contact and it might lead your baby to latching faster, but I personally think that it’s not worth the included risk.
Unless you have extra supervision like your partner being in the same room keeping an eye out on the baby to see that he’s not suffocating, I’d advise against using this method.
A Nursing Strike
Not to be confused with self-weaning, a nursing strike is when the baby suddenly stops breastfeeding. While self-weaning is a gradual process, this happens in an instant.
The cause might not always be apparent, so make sure to pay attention to try spotting the reason for his sudden behavioral shift.
It can be anything from a small grudge and protest against you for denying him something in recent memory, to some sort of physical discomfort or pain that he’s grown to associate with breastfeeding.
Whatever the case may be, speaking with a pediatrician or your lactation consultant will bring about the best assessment to the cause and they’ll be able to help you remedy it through specific steps.
A lot of new moms fall into a state of great distress when their baby won’t latch, but it’s mostly an overblown problem.
While it may look scary on the surface, anyone with experience will know that it’s definitely not the worst issue you can have during your early mothering period, and fortunately it’s a problem with several solutions.
The key is to find the right method or mix of methods that help you get your child to latch on as fast as possible, so you can have a peaceful breastfeeding experience.
And, while the list of tips I’ve included here is useful and all-encompassing, there are some cases that might fall outside of them.
In that case, I suggest seeking professional help from a lactation consultant, pediatrician, or any other healthcare provider that’s nearby.
They can help better diagnose the problem and can aid you in providing more precise steps that’ll suit your baby better, rather than just having to do the guesswork yourself.
Do keep this article as a reminder though so you don’t have to go to the doctor if you can avoid it (outside of the extremely pressing issues, of course).
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