What Do I Do? If My Baby Won't Latch

You have been told all about the highs and lows about breastfeeding. The possible pain, being exhausted, not having enough breastmilk, but one thing people rarely mention is that sometimes the baby refuses to even latch on the breast!

Mothers are usually back in the comforts of their home before their milk comes in. Most babies are not really hungry the first day or so, because they are born with extra fluid in their tissues and until they excrete it, they are usually not very interested in eating. This works out pretty well in most cases, because by the time they decide they are hungry on day 2 or 3, your milk is starting to come in. Sometimes you and your baby aren’t completely in sync in the beginning, and that can cause some breastfeeding ‘bumps in the road’. However, for many mothers in the first few days and weeks, it is just a matter of both baby and mom needing a little practice and patience.

But what happens when, despite great technique and positioning, baby won’t latch? There are more obvious reasons why certain babies may take a little longer to get the hang of it. For example: prematurity, a difficult delivery, an oral abnormality, or simply that your little one isn’t yet able to control sucking and swallowing effectively. Other times, it can take a full-term healthy baby a little longer to catch on for seemingly no reason at all!

General Tips If Your Baby Isn’t Breastfeeding

    • – Bring your baby to the doctor to check for any health problems.
    • – Breastfeed your child in a quiet, dark area away from distractions.
    • – Try to use a different breastfeeding position.
    • – Offer the breast frequently but don’t force your child to breastfeed. If breastfeeding becomes a negative experience for your baby, it may be harder to bring him or her back to the breast.
    • – Even though it’s hard, try not to worry. Stress can reduce the supply of breast milk.
    • If your baby will not breastfeed, hand express your breast milk or pump to maintain your supply.
    • – Give your baby your expressed breast milk or infant formula in a bottle while continuing to offer the breast.
    • – If you don’t want to introduce a bottle to your baby, you can use an alternative feeding method such as cup feeding, finger feeding, or a nursing supplementer device to provide your child with breast milk or formula while you’re working on getting your child back to the breast.
    • – Consult your doctor, a breastfeeding specialist, or a breastfeeding group in your local area for help and support.


Keep Your Milk Supply Up

If your baby is still not able to latch by the time your mature milk comes in around the third or fourth day (this is when there is a greater volume of milk produced), then look to use a hospital-grade double pump (shop-bought electric pumps are usually not as effective at generating the amount of milk needed). A hospital-grade pump will help to tell your body to keep on making milk as if your baby is putting in that demand. You will need to pump every 2-3 hours during the day, and at least one pumping session at night if you can. You should only need to pump for 10–15 minutes maximum at each pumping session. Because it’s a double pump, your body will produce double the amount of hormones and cause your body to make more milk in less time—an efficient way to increase your supply if your baby isn’t latching at the moment.


Skin To Skin

An excellent strategy to encourage latching is to spend at least two hours every day doing skin to skin time. Lying your baby wearing only a diaper against your bare chest boosts the hormones that keep you and your baby calm and connected. Calm babies often latch better. Skin to skin will also promote your baby’s innate reflexes for latching. Skin to skin gives a real boost to the hormones that make milk, particularly the prolactin hormone, which means that the pumping you do later is much more likely to produce a greater yield of milk.


Change Your Position

You can try lots of different positions for feeding. Try laid back or natural breastfeeding positions—you lay back in a comfortable, supported, semi-reclining position with your baby lying on you. Try using the position in which your baby is happiest to be held. Try standing with your baby held against your shoulder, so he can move down to the breast. He may latch on while you are walking, rocking or swaying. Potentially, your baby can feed all the way around the clock face of the breast.


Frequent Feeds

Offer a breastfeed before your baby becomes very hungry. It’s hard to learn a new skill when you’re ravenous. Early feeding signs include rapid eye movement while asleep, clenched fists, head turning, sucking hands and general body movement. Try not to wait too long as crying makes it harder to breastfeed well. Try offering feeds more frequently.


Nipple Shields

If you have tried the above suggestions and your baby is still not latching just yet, a useful tool can be a nipple shield, a thin silicon flexible shield. The shield fits over the nipple and areola area and will provide a firm stimulus in your baby’s mouth, which reaches to the roof of his mouth and consequently will aid the mechanics of the latch. Many mothers and babies who are really struggling with latching, suddenly find that latching is possible and not painful when using a shield and has enabled them to go forward positively with breastfeeding. Some moms use this tool temporarily, and some use them for several weeks or months, with a few even using them for the full length of their breastfeeding journey.


Flat and Inverted Nipples

Another reason why your baby may not be able to latch at the moment is if your nipples are flat or inverted. Even short nipples can sometimes pose an added challenge. If your newborn is not latching on and you think it’s because of your nipples, there are many ways to correct flat or inverted nipples successfully and make it possible to breastfeed. Stimulating your nipples or using a breast pump before you breastfeed can help to draw them out and make it easier for your baby to latch on. The use of a nipple shield can provide what we call a ‘super stimulus.’ This enables the baby to latch, and for the reasons mentioned earlier, the actual mechanics of the latch.


Baby Takes One Side Only

Often, the baby latches on more readily to one breast than the other. Perhaps one nipple is easier to grasp, or the milk on that side flows more freely. It is important to keep working with the baby to take the less-preferred side as quickly as possible, to assure that both breasts receive adequate stimulation and emptying. You can start feedings on the “difficult” side and see if the baby cooperates more when he is hungry. If he starts to fuss too much, switch to the preferred breast and let him settle and nurse. Then, building on this success, resume your attempts on the other side. Many mothers attest to the effectiveness of a simple maneuver to entice the baby to take the less-preferred breast: start nursing on the favored side (a cross-cradle hold works well) and then slide the baby over to the second breast without changing his position.



If your baby is resisting the breast, it’s easy to feel frustrated and helpless when you’re tired and can’t find a solution. Keep in mind, a baby’s behavior can change very quickly. Patience and understanding will help while your baby refuses to nurse.

Behavior often changes in response to gentle repetition. Your baby can still have your expressed milk until he is ready to breastfeed. And remember, for any nursing mother, a lactation consultant can also be an extremely helpful resource in helping establish a proper latch and giving a mother the confidence you need.