In my practice as a lactation consultant, I often get calls from teary moms who are struggling with breastfeeding in some way. It is always frustrating when things aren’t working quite the way we would like. But the phrase, “my baby won’t latch” is particularly troubling to me. I hear this phrase several times a week. It troubles me because it implies that the baby is unwilling to breastfeed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You baby was born to breastfeed! She is hard-wired to seek comfort and nutrition from your breasts. This is, after all, how babies survive! When a baby is unable to latch and breastfeed it simply means that she is unable to latch and breastfeed—not that she is unwilling!
You may assume that your baby is pushing you away when you see her hands balled up in little fists. Or you may think she doesn’t like breastfeeding if she cries when she’s making an attempt. These behaviors just indicate tension in the baby—not rejection or anger. It’s reasonable for her to behave that way since she is having difficulty doing what her body and instincts are telling her to do!
If your baby does not breastfeed right away, you may feel that there is something wrong with your breasts, or that your baby doesn’t want to breastfeed, or even that your baby doesn’t like you. None of these things are even remotely true. Your baby is most comforted by you—the scent of your skin, the sound of your voice and the rhythm of your heart and breathing.
There is no need for panic if your baby doesn’t latch immediately after birth. Babies are born well-hydrated so they have some time to figure out how to drink. Let your baby snuggle skin-to-skin on your chest. Let her nuzzle against your breast. Encourage her as she scoots around searching for your nipple.
If your baby is attempting to latch on and is unable to grasp the breast or maintain her latch, she may be having some simple coordination problems. If she isn’t able to breastfeed by the 2nd day of life, seek the help of a lactation consultant. These things usually work themselves out over time, but your baby may need to be fed another way until she figures things out. You will need support and guidance to ensure your baby gets plenty of your milk while she’s learning to breastfeed.