What to do when my baby won’t latch?

Babies are born ready to breastfeed and according to the laws of nature, instinctively know exactly what to do. Latching onto its mother’s breast should be the most natural thing in the world for a newborn, but that is often not the case. 

Only when a baby has established a strong and accurate latch, is breastfeeding a totally comfortable and productive experience for both mother and baby. The baby gets all the nourishment that they need, and nipple soreness is minimized for mom. So, what exactly is a great “latch?”

A combination of reasons explains why a baby may refuse to take the breast. For many mothers in the first few days and weeks, it is just a matter of a little practice and patience. If the birth has been long or difficult, breastfeeding may take a little longer to get going. Some mothers will have inverted or large nipples that can need some extra guidance to help baby latch on well at first.

Some newborns have abnormalities in their mouth.  In these circumstances, you should reach out right away to a health practitioner, doctor or pediatrician.

Get comfortable with breastfeeding before baby arrives

The more you know, the better. So, it is always a good idea to talk about breastfeeding in your prenatal classes, and be aware of available support resources. At these classes, instructors demonstrate how latching works so that a mom-to-be is aware of the most comfortable breastfeeding positions, and knows how to deal with issues that might arise. 

Start breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth

The earlier you can start breastfeeding, the more likely your baby will naturally latch on to the breast right away. Babies are born with many natural reflexes, all of which are specifically designed to help them find the breast and latch on and feed. The best thing to do with baby is to snuggle up in skin to skin contact as soon as possible after birth which allows both of you to learn the natural and relaxed way to feed, uninterrupted, together. Those first few moments of connection can make all the difference in your breastfeeding journey.

Get comfortable and find the right position

It is always easy for others to advise a new mom to “try to relax.” But, by finding a comfortable position in a quiet and private space, you will calm yourself and give your baby time to let things happen slowly and surely.

Spend time in skin to skin contact and try laid back feeding

Spending time relaxing with baby in skin to skin contact is one of the best things to help with breastfeeding. Babies learn best when all their senses are surrounded by mom – smell, touch, sound, and sight. Try leaning back comfortably and placing your baby in between your breasts, take this time to talk and sing to your baby allowing you both to relax.

Allowing baby to find the nipple is a natural and relaxing way of feeding. Mom needs to be patient and support baby behind the shoulders and bottom. Once baby finds the nipple they will often bob around for a few more moments and then self-latch on. This is an amazing thing to watch and isn’t only for babies in the first few days after birth, this can be done at any time. Many mothers find this is the most relaxing way to feed their baby, and it most certainly helps latching on for babies who may have been having difficulties before. 

Know the signs of a good latch

A good latch is when both mom and baby are comfortable and baby is able to drink effectively. Good signs to look for include noticing that the baby’s mouth covers at least a few centimeters of the underneath part of the areola as well as a little of the top. We call this an asymmetric latch because the baby’s tongue needs to be as far onto the breast as possible.

Baby should not be only sucking on the end of the nipple! The baby’s nose should be free to breathe easily because the baby has latched well with the head tilted slightly back and the chin touching the breast first.  Refer to sign of a good latch.   

Look out for soreness

If a little soreness or tenderness occurs, that is perfectly normal, especially in the very beginning. However, there should be absolutely no pinching or biting, and any soreness shouldn’t last the entire feeding. If any of these things happen or if there is discomfort, reach out to a lactation consultant, talk to a doctor or pediatrician, or find a support group.

If you have inverted nipples, one solution is to wear a nipple shield. Nipple shields will help you get past the initial difficulties of healing sore nipples, or helping your baby develop better latch-on behavior.

The most important advice is to know that you are not alone, and to reach out for help if there are any questions. Establishing a good latch is essential to a great breastfeeding experience!


Medela offers breastfeeding accessories and breast pumps to mothers in Quebec and around the world. A long-time champion of breastfeeding, Medela is the only company to develop products based on the latest research by leading breastfeeding experts and feedback from breastfeeding mothers. As a result, Medela pumps are the number one choice for healthcare professionals, healthcare facilities and mothers around the world. Only you can provide what’s best for your baby. Medela can help.

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