When Your Baby Has Trouble Latching on or Sucking

Babies must be able to effectively remove milk from the breast during breastfeeding if they are to obtain enough milk to gain weight and “tell” the breasts to increase or maintain milk production. When they can’t, milk production decreases, resulting in poor weight gain.

It is important to recognize the signs that a baby is unable to effectively remove milk during breastfeeding so that steps can be taken to remedy any problem. Signs of a baby’s ineffective sucking may include the following:

  • Does not wake on cue for feedings eight or more times in 24 hours

  • Cues to feed 14 or more times in 24 hours

  • Latches on and then lets go of the breast repeatedly

  • Falls asleep within five minutes of latching on or after sucking for only two or three minutes

  • Feeds for more than 45 minutes without acting satisfied or full after a meal

  • Produces fewer than three stools in 24 hours by the end of the first week (for the first four to eight weeks)

  • Produces fewer than six soaking wet diapers in 24 hours by the end of the first week

When a difficulty with latching on or sucking persists beyond the first several days after birth, it can be discouraging. But stay positive—most babies will learn to breastfeed effectively if given time. Until the issue resolves; however, work with your baby’s pediatrician and a certified lactation consultant, and take these steps to make sure your baby is getting enough to eat:

  • Wake your baby to breastfeed every two to three hours if he or she is sleepy and still has not mastered feeding cues.

  • Massage your breast with downward and inward strokes to deliver milk into your baby’s mouth when he or she begins to fall asleep at the breast too soon after starting to feed.

  • Use a hospital-grade, electric breast pump to ensure milk removal. Express milk for several minutes after breastfeeding.

  • Offer additional calories by giving baby any expressed breast milk available first or a prescribed infant formula based on his or her progress at breast.

  • Make skin-to-skin contact with your baby. This seems to help babies get to the breast more effectively, sooner, and it helps you maintain milk production.

  • Try pumping one breast while breastfeeding your baby on the other when your baby has the basic idea of effective sucking but cannot seem to do it consistently.

  • Get support. Contact a representative of a breastfeeding support organization, who will have lots of information and will provide you with moral support whenever you need it.

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Jovino, DO

Date Last Reviewed: 4/6/2010

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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