What To Do If Your Baby Has Trouble Breastfeeding?

What To Do If Your Baby Has Trouble Breastfeeding

Every mother worries about her baby’s feeding time. They worry if the baby has had enough and if they are able to suckle properly. When the baby does not latch on properly, it is a cause for worry. Usually, babies have little or no trouble latching on to the breast for feeding, once they get the hang of it.

Babies that feed well by latching on to the breast properly are healthy. They grow strong and have immunity. The ones that are not able to feed properly can grow frail and require medical attention. There could also be health problems for the mother because the baby isn’t feeding properly. Some common breast conditions that mothers face are mastitis,[1] leakage of breast milk, engorgement of breasts, and even blocked or plugged milk ducts.

Mostly, with a little help, in the beginning, babies tend to latch on and feed well. But, there are cases where the baby is distracted while feeding or when it cannot latch on properly. This results in the baby not being able to feed properly. This in turn leads to tantrums and illness.

In order to find out how to remedy your baby’s breastfeeding patterns, we need to find out the causes behind it. It is important to remember that as helpful as your family is, a medical practitioner will be able to help you in case your baby is finding it difficult to latch on.

Why is your baby not able to breastfeed properly?

There could be various reasons behind your baby’s inability to feed. Let us look at a few of them.

The mother’s body- breast or nipple problems

The baby could be finding it difficult to feed because of the shape or size of the mother’s breasts. Again, since there are various problems that we face, we will break this down into the most significant ones.

Flat or inverted nipples

This is a common problem that new mothers face. Mostly, babies are able to latch on easily, but they may not feed properly because they are not able to suckle well. This results in short feeding times, and cranky, hungry babies.

Engorged breasts

Your body undergoes changes various changes before, during, and after childbirth. One of the problems you face in the first week or so after childbirth is the engorgement of breasts. There is a transitional stage, mostly days three to five, when your colostrum (the first milk that your baby gets when you start feeding) turns into mature breast milk. During this stage, the production of breast milk increases. It is due to this that your breasts are swollen and hard. You can have extra sensitive nipples or pain during breastfeeding during this time. It makes it more difficult for your baby to latch on as well.

Large breasts

The size of your breast plays a role in breastfeeding. Large breasts prevent you from seeing your baby, and whether it is able to latch on properly. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to support your baby’s head and hold your breast in place.

Large nipples

A baby’s mouth may not be large enough to latch on well if you have large nipples. Moreover, if you have a premature baby, even normal-sized nipples could be a deterrent to feeding.

A baby needs to be able to take in the entire nipple and a part of the areola in order to feed properly. If the nipple is large, then, the baby is not able to suckle because it cannot grasp the areola and squeeze milk out of the breast.

The baby’s health conditions

There are various health conditions that could cause your baby to have trouble while feeding.


Some babies are born with ankyloglossia or tongue-tie, they find it difficult to move their tongue out of their mouth. This is because a piece of tissue is connected closer to the tip of the tongue, instead of it being towards the back of the mouth. This makes it difficult for the baby to feed. It gets fussy and does not feed properly.

Cleft lip or cleft palate

A cleft lip makes it difficult for the baby to hold on to the nipple and create enough suction to feed for a long time. This makes the baby tired and fussy, and it has trouble feeding. Similarly, when the baby has a cleft palate, there is not enough suction during feeding. The baby is too young to articulate its needs and ends up being distracted.

Down syndrome

Babies born with down syndrome do not have enough muscle power to feed. They may be too weak to feed. They could also be affected by thrusting their tongue during feeding. This makes them push the nipple away.

Special needs

If the baby has physiological or a neurological issue, it may have difficulty while feeding. It articulates this by fussing or crying. It could also have difficulty breathing while feeding. This makes it choke on the milk sometimes.

External factors

Sometimes, your baby is just not able to feed properly. This could be because of many different factors.

Falling asleep

There are times when the baby falls asleep during feeding. You can continue feeding by gently squeezing your breast and stroking the baby on or under its chin.

Noise and other distractions

Sometimes the baby doesn’t feed properly because it is easily distracted by the noise and colors of moving objects. While it is feeding, it releases the nipple and gazes in the direction of the noise or the object that moves.

How do you remedy this?

There are a few ways you can try to solve this issue.

Nipple shield:

If your nipples are flat or inverted before feeding time, you can pump them a few times so that your baby is able to suckle easily. If this does not work, then you could try using a breast pump. The suction caused by a breast pump helps to draw the nipple out. In case even a breast pump doesn’t help, you could ask your medical practitioner to suggest a remedy, and try a nipple shield.

If you have large nipples and your baby is finding it difficult to latch on, then you can use a nipple shield. This is a small contraption that can be placed over the nipple. This is smaller than the nipple itself. This shield helps the baby with feeding because your baby can grasp the shield in its mouth. This is a temporary solution. You can remove the shield as your baby grows, as it will be ready to suckle after a few months.

Pumping it out:

When you experience engorgement in the breasts and feel pain when the baby latches on, you can squeeze some milk out to soften the nipple and areola. This helps the baby to latch on easily and feed without a fuss.

Using a pillow for support:

In case your breasts are too large or heavy and you are not able to check if your baby is able to feed properly, you can ask someone to help you during the initial days of feeding. In a while, you will be able to understand your baby’s feeding habits. You could also use a pillow to support your baby’s head. You could also have a chair with an armrest that can support your arm while feeding. With this kind of support, your baby will be able to settle down and feed without being distracted or moved unnecessarily.

Consulting a pediatrician:

If your baby has problems latching on because of developmental problems, such as tongue-tie or cleft lip or palate, then it is best to meet a doctor who can remedy it using a medication, physiotherapy, or surgery. In order to have the correct diagnosis, you can meet your pediatrician who could direct you to an ENT who could help you with further diagnosis.

Babies with Down Syndrome could undergo physiotherapy to feed properly. They could also have consultations with a lactation professional. The lactation professional will work with you and the baby to familiarise it with your skin.

If your baby is born with physiological or neurological issues, you could pump the milk into a bottle and spoon-feed it till it is able to latch on to the breast and feed on its own.

Have a designated feeding area:

It is helpful to have a little corner in your room or in the nursery. A supportive armchair with pillows to support your back and arm. Using dark blinds to darken the room could help with those babies that find it difficult to focus while feeding. It will be a good idea to close the door while feeding so that there is no noise.

With a little help from your doctor and those around you, you will be able to overcome these problems while feeding your baby.

Sometimes, your baby is not able to feed properly and remains stubborn. This could be due to a host of reasons. There is no need to panic. You can use a breast pump. The baby may take to the bottle more easily. You could also try

  • Feeding using a cup and a spoon
  • Finger feeding- dip your finger in the milk and feed the baby
  • Use a supplemental nursing system
  • Use a formula to feed the baby

A well-fed baby is a happy one. So, if your baby is not taking to breastfeeding, you can use any of these options.

[1] Swelling or inflammation of the breast. This could be followed by an infection.

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