Risk Factors That Can Affect Your Newborn's Latch

Keep your breastfeeding journey on track from the get-go by understanding what may be causing your newborn to experience latching difficulties and speaking with your birth team and a lactation consultant to ensure your baby still gets your colostrum.

The Newborn Latch Isn’t Always Easy for Your Little One to Master!

…But not to worry, mama! Chances are, there is a good reason why your baby may not latch right away or may encounter difficulties when trying to latch in the hours or days after birth. Staying calm, speaking with your birth team or a lactation consultant about different options for ensuring your little one still receives your breast milk, and learning what may be causing the newborn latch challenge will all help to keep your breastfeeding journey on track and your breast milk supply plentiful in the meantime. Consider these situations and risk factors that may be preventing your baby from latching properly:

  • The positioning isn’t quite right – try some other positions! Certain holds may not be comfortable for your baby. Check with a lactation consultant about other positions you can try. If the traditional crossover hold isn’t working, they might recommend that you try side-lying, the cradle hold, or the football hold and can help correctly position you and your baby, so you can switch between these holds once you’re at home too.

    You’ll know if your newborn is latched properly when he or she has a portion of the lower areola (and sometimes surrounding breast tissue) in their mouth and your nipple at the roof of their mouth. Their lips should also be puckered outward and not tucked under their gums. To help your little one latch correctly, try the hamburger hold (also known as the C-hold) by holding your breast from underneath between your thumb and other fingers (as you typically would with a hamburger or sandwich) in what looks like an upside-down “C”. Support your baby’s head and tickle their nose and lips with your nipple until they open their mouth wide and latch correctly. This hold is also helpful because you’re able to massage your breast as he or she feeds to help encourage sucking and removing colostrum.
  • Pain medication used during labor may take some time to wear off. There is some evidence that certain pain medications received during labor may affect breastfeeding in the hours after birth. This is generally thought to be because opioids, such as epidurals, cross the placenta – so your baby gets some of that medication too. Even after birth, it may take some time for the sedation to wear off so your baby can latch properly. Though receiving pain medications are a totally common – and normal! – aspect of labor, studies show that mothers who receive labor pain medications are more likely to report delayed onset of lactation (regardless of delivery method).

    If this happens, just be patient – your baby will perfect the newborn latch soon enough. In the meantime, speak to your healthcare provider or a lactation consultant about hand expression or using a hospital-grade (multi-user) breast pump to give your breast milk production the best start and ensure your little one still receives your ultra-important colostrum – typically by syringe or spoon – until they can latch.
  • You have flat or inverted nipples. The structure of your nipples, especially if they are flat or inverted, can make latching challenging for your newborn. The good news is that there are tools that can help you still breastfeed your baby!

    Try contact nipple shields or our TheraShells™ to resolve breastfeeding difficulties due to flat or inverted nipples and help your little one latch properly. Contact nipple shields are positioned on top of your nipple while your newborn is nursing, which helps them latch while gently encouraging the nipple out with your baby’s suction. Alternatively, TheraShells are worn under your bra to provide soft pressure around the areola, which can also encourage the nipple to draw out.
  • Your baby has a tongue tie. Tongue tie is typically present at birth and usually means that the tiny piece of tissue connecting your little one’s tongue to the bottom of his or her mouth is short, thick, and/or tight, which prevents them from having a full range of motion with their tongue. This can cause latching difficulties, since babies use their tongue to draw the nipple and breast tissue into their mouth to nurse. If they’re unable to do so, it can cause frustration, harder sucking (which can make nursing painful for you, mama!), poor milk transfer, or even an eventual refusal to nurse.

    If you suspect your baby might have a tongue tie, speak to a pediatrician or lactation consultant right away – both of whom you can request to meet with in the hospital, if either hasn’t already stopped by your room post-birth. If recommended, a minor, quick procedure can fix your little one’s tongue tie and allow them to nurse much easier.

If you are encountering ongoing newborn latch issues, be sure to begin pumping as soon as possible. Not only will this stimulate your breasts to increase breast milk production, but this also allows you to ensure your baby still receives your breast milk in some way – which is especially important so early on after birth! You may also wish to explore exclusively or primarily pumping breast milk for your baby, if direct nursing is very difficult or not possible. No matter how he or she receives your liquid gold, the important thing to remember is that every drop counts and getting all the great nutrients, vitamins, and benefits of your breast milk will help them get a great start in life. 

Continue working with your healthcare provider and a lactation consultant to resolve any ongoing breast milk feeding challenges. Though breastfeeding is natural, it is also a learned behavior so don’t get too stressed or disheartened if you encounter early difficulties or newborn latch issues! You’re doing a great job and every drop of breast milk that you are able to provide to your baby counts.