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Care Plan: What to do if Your Baby Won’t Latch

Although breastfeeding is a natural action, it's also a learned behavior for both you and your baby. While it's true that some newborns and their moms "click" right from the start, it often takes a few days to get a good, deep latch where your baby is breastfeeding effectively and you're not feeling any pain.

But what if your baby isn't latching at all? This is more common than you'd think, so don't worry if it happens. The problem can be caused by many factors, including your baby's mouth, your baby's suck, or your nipples. Only in rare cases are nipples the cause, and that's if they're flat or inverted. Most nipples will "come out" with some pumping or practice with the baby at the breast.

Try not to get frustrated if your baby doesn't latch on right away. By following this Care Plan or our Care Plan: How to use a Nipple Shield, you should be breastfeeding well in as little as a few days or at most in a few weeks.

Pumping and bottle feeding

  • Use a breast pump and then bottle feed your baby, making sure you begin pumping every time you offer the bottle, since this will keep your milk supply up. If you're in the early days, you might not get much yield at the pump, especially if you're still in the colostrum phase and your mature milk hasn't come in yet. Offer your baby whatever you're able to pump and top it up with a breast milk substitute if necessary.
  • Always try to latch your baby at the start of each feeding during this time. Another trick is to try latching after you've pumped a bit and after he's fed some, when his suck is "warmed up" and your nipple is protruding more.
  • Remember that any latch is successful at this point, even if he just grasps on and sucks for a little while. Continue to pump and supplement until you're sure he's getting full feedings at the breast (see How to tell if your newborn is getting enough at each feeding). If you persist with this plan, you should see some results in a few days.

If you've followed the pumping and bottle-feeding plan detailed above, yet you're concerned your baby still isn't latching well, you could try the next Care Plan: How to use a Nipple Shield.

Tips for Success

  • Remember, in the early days of nursing any latch is successful – don't be discouraged.
  • Pump every time you offer the bottle, it will keep your milk supply up.
  • Try feeding after you've pumped a bit, your nipples will protrude more and make it easier for your baby to latch on.

Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council. Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.

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