Is the newborn latch and unlatch game making you crazy?
Early on in breastfeeding infants can latch and unlatch for a variety of reasons and not all of them mean something isn’t working, but sometimes this is a sign that you need to look deeper to help your baby latch more successfully. Let’s dig in to find out why babies do this and what you can do to help!
Check out my free guide to baby-led latching, here.
Latching is a skill that requires practice and patience, full stop. Your baby may go about this in a way that seems counterintuitive, but for them, it is how they are getting oriented to the breast.
Infants are exploring their new environment and practicing their reflexes. Learning to latch on takes practice to master! Infants are hardwired to practice these reflexes until it is second nature. if your infant is just hours to days old and is exhibiting this behavior but is content and happy go ahead and let them practice. These reflexes include….
- Rooting reflex: The baby will turn their head and open their mouth when their cheek is stroked or touched.
- Suck reflex: When something touches the roof of the baby's mouth, they will start to suck.
- Swallowing reflex: As the baby sucks, they will also automatically swallow the milk.
- Tongue thrust reflex: This is the baby's natural instinct to push their tongue forward when anything touches their lips, which helps prevent choking and ensures they can effectively latch onto the nipple.
It's important to note that these reflexes can vary from baby to baby and may become less prominent or disappear altogether as your baby grows and becomes more skilled at feeding.
Gas! Many times when babies get going and then squirm and pop off the breast a burp might be lurking. Lift them off the breast and try some burping positions to help move that air bubble along. You can also try some bicycle kicks with their legs and a gentle belly massage to get the bubbles movin’. Visits with a chiropractor can also help with bowel movements for your baby to be more comfortable.
It is worth noting that a good latch can help cut down on the amount of air a baby is taking in during feeding. Continually popping on and on and losing suction can contribute to your baby taking in more air during feeding. Check out my blog on latching, here.
Here is a quick demo of my favorite burping technique:
Unlatching repeatedly and fussing at the breast can be a sign that it is time to change position. Here are some
- Problem: Your baby feels unstable in their position. Their arms and legs are flailing around and they are arching their back OR they are tightly swaddled and not able to use their arms and hands at all.
- Fix: Stabilize their feet into your body or a pillow. Allow them to use their hands at the breast, while it may look uncoordinated in the beginning, this is one-way babies find their way to the breast.
- Problem: Baby is not fully connected to your body
- Fix: Pull your baby tightly against your body with no gaps.
- Problem: Gravity is working against you both…you are hunched over your baby and they are in a cradle position which pushes their chin toward their chest causing a shallow latch.
- Fix: Lean back….way back, think how you lounge on the couch 9 months pregnant watching Netflix. If you removed your hands from your baby, they would still stay on your body? This helps them feel secure. Check out my blog with more latch tips, here.
- Problem: They are showing a head-turning preference from in-utero positioning that may make latching in this position more difficult OR have them preferring one breast over the other
- Fix: shift baby over to the other breast in the same position that they are on the breast they are consistently latching to. Consider seeing a craniosacral therapist or chiropractor to address tension and help them use their full range of motion.
In Boob School, you get access to my Latched AF workshop which will give you all the tools to latch comfortably with reclined breastfeeding. You also can get more tips and tricks for latching with our latching freebie *insert link*
Many parents wonder if it is safe to feed a newborn in a reclining position. YES BIG YES! Reclined breastfeeding is like breastfeeding with training wheels. Giving your baby lots of positional stability will make latching SO MUCH EASIER. Here is a video of a sweet 10-day-old baby latching in a reclined position. This mama was having a ton of challenges, sore nipples, latching pain, mastitis, and engorgement. After joining Boob School, and learning about reclined breastfeeding, they were able to get things back on track and latch comfortably.
Calm Your Baby with Hand Expression
If the newborn keeps unlatching and crying it is a good time to try hand expression and spoon feeding. Check out my blog on hand expression, here. This simple tool can help “reset” babies get their tongue forward and help them feel more settled before trying again. Place infant skin to skin, both of you take a deep breath and try again.
In Boob School, we have an entire masterclass on hand expression and exactly how to master this skill so you can use it to support your milk supply and help with early breastfeeding challenges.
Overactive let down aka fast let down
Overactive let-down, also known as a fast let-down, is a condition where the milk flows from the breast too quickly for the baby to effectively nurse. You may see the following signs if you have an overactive letdown….
- Choking or gagging at the breast: Your baby may have trouble swallowing the fast-flowing milk, leading to choking or gagging.
- Overstimulation: Your baby may become overly stimulated and fussy due to the rapid flow of milk.
- Inadequate feeding: Your baby may not be able to effectively empty the breast, leading to incomplete feeding and potential weight loss.
- Engorgement: Your baby may be unable to handle the fast flow of milk, leading to engorgement and discomfort.
Tips for navigating an overactive letdown
- Position: Try to nurse in a deeply laidback position…this allows gravity to help your baby manage your fast flow. Rule of thumb, the more laidback the better, think nearly flat on a bed or couch. Check out a blog with more tips, here.
- Nurse on one breast at a time: Nursing on one breast for a full feeding can help regulate the flow of milk and prevent the baby from becoming overstimulated.
- Pause and burp your baby: Pausing to burp your baby during feeding can help release excess air and prevent choking.
- Empty one breast before switching sides: Allowing your baby to fully empty one breast before switching sides can help regulate the flow of milk.
Here is a video of a mama I worked with who has a very strong letdown. We worked together to improve the baby's suck and ability to manage the letdown and also to recline deeply to help slow the flow of milk.
What is normal….
So what is normal anyways?? We do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Knowledge can be one way you can set yourself up for success with breastfeeding. One area I am continually going back to with parents is…what is a normal intake, and how can I possibly know that without measuring each ounce or getting a weighted feed??
Let’s break down the overall signs of adequate infant intake.
Pees and Poops
- Day 1 of life you can expect on average, 1 pee and 1 poop.
- Day 2 of life…3 pees and 2 poops.
- Day 3 of life…4 pees and 2 poops.
- Day 4 of life…5 pees and 3 poops.
- Day 5 of life…6 pees and 4 poops.
- After the first five days, the normal number of wet and poopy diapers (6+ wet, 3-4 poopy diapers in a 24/hr period).
Over the first few days of life, your baby’s poop will also change in color and turn from meconium to yellow breast milk poop.
Time at the breast
- You are averaging 8-12 feeding sessions a day and hearing swallows at the breast and your baby has appropriate weight gain at checkups with your pediatrician.
- We want to focus less on time at the breast and more on the baby’s cues of being full. Depending on the latch, letdown, and baby’s ability to effectively drain the breast, there is a wide range of normal time at the breast.
- Baby seems happy and relaxed after a feeding
- Baby fists may be clenched at the beginning of the feed and are now relaxed and open.
When is it time to reach out for more help?
If your baby cannot maintain a latch for more than 5-6 good sucks before falling off and getting frustrated or your baby is on the other end of the spectrum and taking longer than 30-40 to nurse at the breast, it’s time to ask for help! Reach out to an IBCLC for support and contact your pediatric provider with any concerns. If you want to book an appointment with an IBCLC on our team, click here.
Even for the seasoned mama who has breastfed in the past, each new baby is a new breastfeeding relationship and it will take time for you to get the best latch that you can in each feeding session. There are many techniques that can be used to help you and your baby rock that latch, but the most important thing that I tell mamas over and over is to try your best to be patient and not feel overwhelmed at the moment.
At times, hello 2 a.m. feeding from hell, this is easier said than done. It is okay to step away for a moment and leave your baby with another caregiver or safely in their crib if you need a reset. Remember your feeding journey may look less like a straight line and more like a winding road. Keep on keeping on, mama. You’ve got this!
Want more info on latching?
Check out Boob School, to get more knowledge, support, and empowerment for your breastfeeding journey! Here’s what you get….14+ modules to take you from your very first latch to weaning your baby. 11 bonus PDFs so you never have to do a 2 am Google spiral. A 45+ page ebook, a free membership to Natural Breastfeeding where you can watch 60+ videos of other moms latching their babies. Get access to our private Facebook group and weekly support group calls. Get the support you deserve, today!
Cheering you on, always!!
Boob School Founder and CEO
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