When the Newborn Baby Refuses to Latch On the Breast

Submitted by victoria1981 on Sun, 02/28/2010 - 17:48

From about the dawn of conception your prenatal doctor or midwife begins to place not-so-subtle hints about the wonders of breastfeeding. A few months in, and they will downright tell you to do it and to keep at it for as long as you can bear. As a new soon-to-be mother, I'd nod my head with the utmost certainty and assure them that yes, of course I'll breastfeed. It doesn't look all too hard.

Little did I know that visions of breastfeeding would only be that: a vision. From day one I began to realize just why I was receiving so much encouragement and reinforcement before I even could give breastfeeding a try. My baby wouldn't latch on.

For the first few hours the nurses and doctors seemed fine with this. The baby was tired, the baby was getting used to it, yadda yadda yadda. But then the threats started coming.

“Your baby needs to eat,” one nurse stressed. “If he doesn't start eating soon, we're going to have to try him on some formula to get that tummy filled up.”

No!!! I screamed back at her in my head. I could do this; I didn't want to put my baby on formula! The pressure was on. I needed to get this baby latching on, but how?

Why your Baby May Not Latch

It's important for women to realize that no nipple is exactly the same, which may cause problems for both mom and baby. Moms with larger aeroelas that cannot fully fit into your baby's mouth, or those with inverted or flat nipples even when stimulated will probably have a harder time breastfeeding.

Also take into account the fact that your baby is probably somewhat “doped up” if you had any drugs during the birth. Give him or her a full 24 hours to rest.

If you are attempting to use a nipple shield while breastfeeding, DON'T. Nipple shields can be used once your child gets into the swing of things, but until then the chances of your child sucking with a shield on are slim to none.

Lastly, though least likely, your infant may have problems breastfeeding due to an oral abnormality (such as a cleft palate). If this is a concern of yours, do be sure to have this checked into while you're at the hospital.

How to Get Your Baby Latching On

First, if you ever receive the same pressure to put your baby on formula as I did, DON'T. You can still give your baby breast milk. After sobbing to my midwife about how much I wanted my baby to stay off artificial formula she whipped out a breast pump and taught me how to pump my breast milk (the first breast milk, the “colostrum”, is particularly important for the baby's immune system). From there she encouraged me to then finger feed my baby. I was surprised that within 12 hours my son began to finally suck and was sucking the breast milk right off of my finger. I was then able to transfer this to my breast within the next week.

Some babies have difficulties feeding if the milk hasn't come in yet (it may take 1-4 days for this to happen). Again, don't despair; continue to pump and finger feed until your milk comes in (you'll certainly know when this happens). If your baby begins fussing or becoming angry when at your breast, give yourselves both a break and continue feeding him or her with your finger.

Most importantly, be sure to set up post-hospital help with breastfeeding. My midwife came over every day for the first week and helped me find the best positions for my baby and I, showed me techniques on how to help get the nipple into the baby's mouth, and she offered continued support. You can also find help through the hospital, doulas, or La Leche League International.

photo by Hector Landaeta

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