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What To Do When Your Baby Won't Latch

We get these emergency calls every week. I see the panicked looks in parents’ eyes in the hospital. Even months into nursing, we hear from parents whose babies have gone on a strike. “My baby isn’t latching”. If your plan is to breast or chest feed, that may seem like a death sentence for your feeding goals. I’m here to tell you, it isn’t!

You may not be able to get the lactation support you need immediately. At Skilled Lactation Solutions, we work really hard to prioritize these situations and get them on our schedule as soon as possible, but you may have reached out on a day we’re already fully booked, or in the middle of the night. That doesn’t

mean you can’t take immediate steps to save your lactation relationship! Here are some expert tips to get you through what seems like an impossible situation until help arrives.


FEED. THE. BABY. Top priority always. But feed what? Feed how? These questions can make or break moving forward with breast or chest feeding. Giving a bottle of formula when your baby won’t latch is of course an option, but there are better ones! Always give your expressed milk first before formula. In the first 24hrs, hand expression is better than pumping at removing colostrum. After that, pumping is a better option than hand expression alone. Check out how to hand express here. You can give milk from a syringe while they suck on your finger, or use small amounts in a medicine cup or even a teaspoon while holding your baby. Here’s how much milk your baby should get per feeding depending on how old they are.

It’s important to know that in the early days, your baby’s brain is processing a lot of information. The muscles it takes to suck on a bottle are different from the ones it takes to suckle at the breast or chest. It’s very normal for them to prioritize the task that gets them fed faster and easier. Giving a bottle when latching isn’t going well is often going to complicate progress. If you do choose to bottle feed, choose a Slow Flow Nipple and use Paced Bottle Feeding. If you don’t have enough expressed milk to feed your baby, you can use pasteurized donor milk from a milk bank or informal milk sharing to keep your baby on human milk. If you choose formula, make sure you’re educated on the different types and safe prep for your baby.


Protect your milk supply. For every feeding your baby gets while away from the breast, express milk. Hand express. Use a hand pump. A Haakaa. An electric pump. Whatever you have access to. This protects you from clogged ducts or mastitis. Also important, it protects you from becoming so engorged that your baby CAN’T latch on. It also keeps your milk supply stable. Nothing is more sad than a baby who comes back to the breast/chest but the supply has dipped, so they get frustrated and quit again. This is a crucial part in making it through such a challenging situation, and it’s the one most people forget.


Get back to basics. Just because your baby isn’t latching doesn’t mean you can’t set the mood and remind them your chest is the best place on earth, and your body is their home. Some people call it a “nursing vacation”. Cancel any visitors or non-essential trips and tasks. Stay skin to skin. Keep the lights dim and the environment calm. Play water sounds. Wear your baby in a carrier, wrap, or sling. Keep calm.


Find help. Don’t delay. Time is not on your side. There are situations where doulas, kind family members, your pediatrician, peer lactation supporters, or CLCs/CLEs can be so helpful, but this is a complicated and high-stakes lactation challenge that needs the expertise and training of an IBCLC. When setting up the appointment, ask if they have experience with babies who aren’t latching who are the same age as your baby. Ask what additional training they have to do a functional oral exam. You’d be surprised to know that not all IBCLCs have the skills required to identify the reason why your baby isn’t latching AND address the root cause. If you need help finding one, this is a good place to start.

If your baby isn’t latching, there’s still hope. Reach out for a consultation today.


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