What To Do If Your Baby Won’t Latch on Right After Birth
Many babies right after birth will be placed skin-to-skin, follow their 9 instinctive stages, and latch on beautifully within the first hour or two. And that’s fantastic! These babies’ mamas can just sit back, relax and enjoy their scrumptious little newborn.
But that doesn’t always happen, and what do you do if your baby doesn’t latch on right away? What if lactation support isn’t immediately available? What can you do to make sure your baby gets fed while at the same time be actively establishing your supply?
Today, we’ll answer these questions. But first, I want to identify some of the red flags during labor and birth that can potentially create issues with latch in those first few hours postpartum. These are not things you should worry about as they’re happening—stay present with your birth! And really, they might or might not end up causing issue. But I think it’s important to have a heads up so that you can quickly get the help you need if you need it.
Red Flags for Potential Latch Issues:
- Less optimal positioning during labor (i.e. posterior, asynclitic or transverse)
- The umbilical cord around neck
- An especially difficult birth
- A super fast birth
- A super long birth
- A medicated labor
The first 5 red flags above point to some kind of alignment issue for baby. If your baby comes down the birth canal at an odd angle, her neck could be pinched on one side, which could pull on her jaw muscles and cause tightness. Same goes for the cord being wrapped around her neck and for having an especially difficult, fast or long birth. For these kinds of muscular issues, gentle bodywork (i.e. chiropractic care, cranial sacral therapy, OMT, myofascial release therapy) by an experienced care provider could help, so interview a few prenatally and know who you can call in a jiffy.
The last sign, having had a medicated labor, has to do with baby feeling the effects of the medication. These babies might seem lethargic in the first hours after birth, and not have the energy to suckle effectively until the medication wears off. Also, labor drugs are typically given alongside IV fluids, which can cause swelling for mom and make her breasts more difficult to latch onto.
Now that we’ve established why you might encounter latch issues, let’s look at you can do if you find yourself in this situation. Of course, the first thing on the agenda is to call a lactation support person. Most hospitals have IBCLCs on staff during business hours to help get you and baby off to a good start. But if you’re having issues in the middle of the night or have had a home birth and don’t have immediate access to lactation support, it’s also important to know what to do.
This can initially be pretty disheartening, and even a bit scary, for a mom who has had her heart set on breastfeeding. But all is not lost! You don’t have to scrap your breastfeeding goals and fall back on formula—you can absolutely still breastfeed your baby! You just might have to take a few temporary triage steps in the meantime until you can get it chugging along.
A good rule of thumb is: if your baby hasn’t latched on to the breast and had a good feeding in the first 2 hours after birth, and it’s time to think about an alternative way to feed her…for now.
A fantastic way to do that is to hand express your breastmilk into a teaspoon and give to baby. You don’t need to have a pump on hand or any specific types of bottles, you literally just need a hand and a spoon. Talk about self-empowerment! And you won’t lose any of your precious colostrum on the sides of the pump flanges or bottles, because you’ll be expressing directly into the spoon. Here’s a good video about hand expression, which I suggest practicing a few times prenatally. Side note: please don’t be discouraged by the mom and her massive collection bowl in the video—she has an already established supply of milk and is not expressing milk for an hours-old newborn. What you’ll be looking for in those first hours postpartum is enough milk to fill your baby’s marble sized tummy—that’s why we use spoons, not a large mixing bowl!
After you express your milk into the spoon, tip it into baby’s mouth slowly, giving her a few drops of milk at a time. Repeat this process until your baby seems full— her body should be relaxed, her hands open and be deliciously “milk drunk.” Babies need to be fed 10-12 times a day, so make sure you’re feeding baby and stimulating your breasts in order to establish your supply. If you need extra stimulation, feel free to pump after you’ve hand expressed and fed your baby—this is less about the quantity of milk that you pump and more about having adequate breast stimulation for creating milk supply.
Hopefully this gives you a few tools to use to feed your baby if you’re having latch issues in the first few hours after birth and don’t have access to support. But please do reach out for lactation support as soon as you notice an issue, and continue to try to latch baby on at the beginning of each feeding. Keep at it, mama! You and your baby do this. So here’s to happy, latchy days ahead!
Check out Kellymom.com for additional breastfeeding resources!