Baby Latches And Unlatches And Cries – Causes and Solutions

While breastfeeding is a wonderful journey of motherhood, this also comes with problems – 1 of these issues is your baby latching and unlatching repeatedly. There are reasons behind this, and generally, your baby’s comfort, milk supply, and breastfeeding position are on top of the list.

Breastfeeding is beneficial in so many ways. It offers many perks like avoiding all the nuisance of bottle feeding and saving you from the expensive baby formula. But what if your baby latches then unlatched and eventually cries? Is this normal, or what seems to be the problem?

You will probably agree with me saying breastfeeding is beautiful, wonderful, and beneficial – as much you can, as a mother, you will do whatever it takes to give your baby your liquid golden gift.

However, I understand how it feels when your little one doesn’t seem to enjoy nursing. I know that the latching and unlatching issue is frustrating, and I honestly cried with my son, especially in our few first days. But hang in there – like me, you will be okay.

Trust yourself, trust your baby – you may not believe it, but you and your baby know how to make breastfeeding works. Research revealed that you both have the innate skills and instinct for proper breastfeeding, trust the process.

In this article, let’s talk about breastfeeding issues, particularly latching and unlatching. You may find this article helpful – so stay with me.

Important facts about breastfeeding

As a short review, be reminded of the following important facts of breastfeeding.

  • Breast milk – the most natural unique and perfect food for your baby. This varies from mom to mom, day to day, and while feeding – the milk, like magic, changes as needed.
  • Colostrum – the first milk, thick and yellow colored fluid, nutrient-rich, loaded with immune-growth and tissue repair factors, and helps in the development of immunity in your baby. Make sure your baby gets the colostrum.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding – your baby receives only breast milk or expressed breast milk from you or anyone lactating (WHO and UNICEF).
  • The WHO and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding as follows:
    • Initiate breastfeeding within the 1st hour after birth
    • Exclusive breastfeeding (no formula milk) for the 1st 6 months
    • Continue breastfeeding for 2 years or more
    • Introduce solid foods starting in the 6th month – and continue breastfeeding
  • It’s perfectly normal to encounter nursing problems, especially for first-time moms. Expect some issues as follows:
    • Milk supply may be too low or too high
    • Painful or cracked nipples
    • Mastitis or breast infection
    • Poor latching or shallow latch
    • Your baby is latching-unlatching constantly
  • Induce more milk production by:
    • Rest and sleep – Paying attention to yourself and get enough
    • Increasing water intake – it says “water” not juice, coffee, sodas, and other refreshments. Water mom – water does wonder in your body.
    • Fighting off stress and eliminating stressors – how to do this is an individual thing so whatever you do make sure you’re happy with the results.
    • Working on your balance diet – eat more foods that are known to increase milk production like nuts, green papaya, carrot, oatmeal, ginger, and sesame seeds.
    • Try to avoid mint – some claim that consuming mint can decrease milk supply.
    • Remember the supply and demand process – if you miss emptying your breast, then you may be telling your body to reduce producing milk.
    • Pumping or feeding your baby at regular intervals – will stimulate your breast to produce more hence increasing milk supply.
    • Trying to limit pacifier use – instead, offer your breast. An extra stimulation, just what you need.
    • Massage your breast and applying a hot compress before feeding or pumping.
    • Consult your doctor, if needed.

Why is breastfeeding special?

Studies suggest that breastfeeding offers so many more benefits than we can tell. The impacts of breastfeeding among children are evident, and parents or caregivers can always tell.

Here are some common advantages of breastfeeding.

  • Help in fighting off viruses and bacteria – especially in this pandemic time, we can’t risk our baby’s health, giving your precious milk will greatly help against infections.
  • Reduce the risk of SIDS by improving your baby’s overall health – a study found that exclusive breastfeeding for at least 2 months reduced the risk of SIDS by 50%.
  • Protects your baby against asthma, allergies, and infections like ear infections.
  • Promote proper digestion hence no constipation and seldom to no diarrhea or upset stomach to your baby.
  • Very economical – of course, a self-explanatory perk of breastfeeding.

A good latch is vital

Babies are born with amazing reflexes, and some help a lot in getting a good latch which is a must in breastfeeding. But, if your baby is latching right – then he’s a versatile winner. But, surely it will take him skills and effort to learn the art.

A proper latch should feel like a pull/tugging sensation, not painful, not pinching or clamping down. And of course, you will see your baby is nursing well.

On the other hand, a shallow latch is when your baby isn’t opening his mouth widely or, in short, nipple feeding. You must remember, it’s breastfeeding, not nipple feeding – if this happens, you may or may not feel pain, but for sure, your baby is not getting enough milk while feeding.

Potential causes for latching and unlatching repeatedly

A newborn baby is latching and unlatching repeatedly because he can't get a good latch on mom's breast.

If your baby is latching then unlatching repeatedly, you may ask why it’s happening and what’s causing it. Here’s a list of the possible reasons why your baby is having this issue.

  • Your breastfeeding position may not be comfortable for your baby – both your positions while nursing matter. There are different types of nursing positions that you can try then figure out what is best.
  • You may have a low supply of milk – you can try massaging your breast before feeding and do gentle soft compressions.
  • Contrary to low supply, you may have a fast letdown and your baby is getting too much milk or your milk is hitting the back of your baby’s throat causing him discomfort. Unlatching then will allow your baby to catch some air to breathe and keep up with the fast letdown.
  • The needed calm or relaxed environment while nursing is unmet. Your baby is distracted.
  • Your baby isn’t getting a better grip – he isn’t able to suck properly.
  • Your breast itself – your nipple or breast size may not be good enough for your baby’s mouth. Don’t worry though, your baby will adjust, until then – be patient.
  • Your baby may be full and converting your nipple into his pacifier or he is playing.
  • Your baby may be gassy or having stomach discomfort – burping him from time to time is a good measure.

General effects of poor latching

  • Poor nourishment – he is not getting enough milk even if you are abundantly producing milk for him.
  • Discomfort for you – painful and cracked nipples are common. This also increases your risk of blocked milk ducts and mastitis.
  • Reduction of your milk supply – remember the demand vs supply factor, if your baby is not getting enough milk (poor breast emptying), the milk production will meet the low demand hence decreasing the milk supply.
  • Shorter sleep for your baby.

What can you do to solve the latching-unlatching issue?

Figuring out the causes of the problem is 1 best way to fix the issue. In latching-unlatching concern, here’s what you can do to support your baby:

  • Know the root cause of poor latching and unlatching – check your position.
  • Don’t be too upset and frustrated – be patient, again, trust the process.
  • Get the proper position and don’t forget to promote comfort and safety to your baby.
  • Eliminate distractions – try to relax and create a calming pace.
  • Burp your baby – know when to burp your baby, you can do it between feedings or wait until your baby is finished feeding, or as needed – trust your motherly instinct.
  • If you have heavy milk flow – pull back for a while, allow your baby to breathe, then offer your breast again.

Baby latching-unlatching related concerns

Baby is not unlatching while sleeping

Don’t be too generous by allowing your baby to sleep with your breast as his pacifier. Take it from me as a new mom. I had a terrible experience on this – imagine my son waking me up by his tiny teeth biting my nipple; I was in tears due to the excruciating pain.

Don’t let this happen to you too. Don’t let him get used to pacifying your nipple – break the habit ASAP instead of regretting it in the future.

The following are effective measures in my case:

  • Getting a good pacifier or most of the time, my son is thumb sucking (I know, this too is not a good practice).
  • Distracting your baby – sing, talk, or move around if he’s not letting go of your nipple.
  • You can help him unlatch, especially if he’s already asleep – insert your little finger in the side of his mouth and carefully unlatch him.

Your baby is hungry but keeps unlatching

  • You may have a low milk supply or a fast letdown.
  • Poor latch and he may feel gassy or having stomach discomfort.
  • Your baby may have a tongue-tie – check the floor of his mouth and seek help when needed.
  • I know it’s gross, but take care of yourself – take a shower/clean your breast. The smell and taste of stale milk are not so fun, at all, so keep yourself clean.

Your baby keeps unlatching and crying

  • Burp if burping is needed – don’t worry, you will know how and when to burp him
  • Pump out your milk if you think you’re oversupplying milk
  • Increase or induce milk supply if you think you’re supplying low
  • Check your baby’s tongue – find out if there’s an anatomical problem

FAQs

How can I tell if my baby is full?

Rule of thumb – once your baby is full, he will look like he’s full, and when you re-offer your breast, he will not get it again – just like that. Wonderful, isn’t it?

Experts generally say your baby will have open palms, appear relaxed, contented, and will have an uninterrupted sleep when full. Obviously, your breast will feel empty after feeding, and your baby comes off your breast on their own at the end of feeds.

How do I know if my baby is getting enough milk?

You may want to know the signs of getting enough milk; here’s a quick answer…

– Your baby is showing good weight gain
– Your baby is wetting/pooping 6 or more daily
– Your baby is at the right pace of growth

Can my baby drink breastmilk from other lactating mothers?

Yes. If you’re familiar with milk sharing, this is giving or using donor breast milk when a mom is having trouble producing milk – this is using expressed or pumped donor milk. At the same time, a lactating woman can also share her milk through direct breastfeeding, called wet-nursing.

3 most common types of milk sharing (in the U.S.)

– Formal Milk Sharing – Donor milk distributed by milk banks.
– Informal Milk Sharing – Mom gives her breast milk directly to the parents in need.
– Wet-Nursing – Lactating women who directly breastfeed another woman’s child. Wet-nursed children are mostly called “milk-siblings.”

I tried breastfeeding my nephew myself, and my sister tried breastfeeding my son too. This happened when my sister was not around, and I fed my nephew instead of bottle-feeding him. On the other hand, my sister fed my son when her breasts were engorged while she was in our house; instead of pumping, she fed my son.
Another friend, my son’s godmother, was pumping at work, but she doesn’t want to give her son pumped milk, so my son got her pumped milk instead.

We got pregnant almost simultaneously, hence our milk sharing – honestly, the experience was wonderful.

How long should I breastfeed?

The WHO and UNICEF have always recommended breastfeeding for at least 2 years. So if you’re still breastfeeding after 2 years – well done, mommy, you’re doing a great job.

However, if you cannot start breastfeeding or need to stop earlier, don’t be guilty – others may not understand it, but mothers do.

Note that not all moms are given a chance to breastfeed. Sadly, others are having difficulties or issues that they have no control. Let’s respect these moms – they have the willpower to nurse, but they just couldn’t due to health conditions.

In some cases, if your baby is having a condition called galactosemia – it would be impossible for you to breastfeed him – don’t force it. He can’t tolerate breast milk, that’s it; his body can’t simply break down the sugar galactose.

Who should not breastfeed?

If you are infected with HIV or has AIDS – you can pass the virus to your baby via your milk. At the same time, if you are taking antiretroviral medications such as against HIV and AIDS and those taking cancer chemotherapy medications, breastfeeding is also not advised.

Mothers with untreated or active tuberculosis infections. If you completed your treatment program, this is the time you can already offer your breastmilk to your little one.

Conclusion

Breastfeeding is indeed a wonderful process and a great bonding moment between you and your bundle of joy. However, there is no reason to give up on nursing just yet – if it’s for the benefit of your baby – I know, as a mom, you will find great reasons to continue and just have fun.

Know and understand the breastfeeding cues your baby is giving you – it’s more important than setting a specific time limit when nursing your baby. Ultimately, your baby’s comfort and safety are your priority – when encountering breastfeeding issues, checking your baby’s comfort must be your immediate action.

Don’t be shy to talk to your friends or family members who have experienced or, when necessary, seek the guidance of breastfeeding experts to help you go through the journey.

Lastly, be proactive, be patient, and enjoy every moment – the struggles are all part of a beautiful motherhood journey called breastfeeding. Remember, you and your baby are both adjusting and doing just okay.

Nina is a licensed nurse and a mother of one son, Aidan. She is currently working as a nurse in a mineral processing plant in Mindanao, Philippines. She loves reading, research, and can't say no to camping - all types. If given a chance, she would love to learn horseback riding and martial arts.

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