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My newborn has never really gotten the hang of nursing. How can I get him back to the breast?

There can be many reasons why a newborn may be reluctant to nurse (If your baby is past the newborn stage, please see our FAQ on Nursing Strikes). Karen Zeretzke suggests the following types of reluctant nursers:

  • babies who resist the breast
  • babies who belligerently resist the breast
  • babies who cannot latch on
  • babies who do not stay attached
  • babies who will not suckle
  • Getting your baby back to the breast takes patience and persistence. If a newborn is not latching on to the breast, you need to begin expressing colostrum within the first few hours after birth. You may be comfortable using hand-expression or you may prefer to use a pump. Note that colostrum is produced in small amounts but even the smallest quantity should be saved and given to the baby by spoon, dropper, or feeding syringe. As long as the baby is not latching on, it is important to express regularly in order to avoid becoming engorged and to keep up (or build up) your milk supply for when he does begin to nurse effectively. Engorgement will make it even more difficult for the baby to latch on effectively. It is equally important for the baby to be fed. If the baby goes too long without eating, he could become dehydrated or too weak to attempt to latch on. Before the baby has learned to latch on to the breast, artificial nipples should be avoided so the baby does not become accustomed to using incorrect sucking patterns.

    A very helpful article from our member publication, NEW BEGINNINGS, is "When A Baby Won't Nurse," by Carol Brussel. It lists the following tips for getting baby back to the breast:

    • Try nursing when your baby is asleep or very sleepy, such as during the night or, while napping.
    • Vary nursing positions. (see illustrations.) Some babies will refuse to nurse in one position but will take the breast in another.
    • Nurse when in motion.
    • Nurse in a quiet, darkened room or a place that is free from distractions.
    • Give your baby extra attention and skin-to-skin contact, which can be comforting for both of you.
    • When offering the breast, undress to the waist and clothe your baby in just a diaper when ever possible. Use a shawl or blanket around you if the room is chilly.
    • Use a baby sling or a carrier to keep the baby close between attempts to nurse.
    • Take warm baths together to soothe.
    • Sleep together in order to provide closeness and more opportunities to nurse.

    For more detailed information, please read the article "Helping a Mother with a Baby Who Is Reluctant to Nurse" by Karen Zeretzke, which is too lengthy to summarize here, but goes into detail with ideas for encouraging latch on in all these situations. It is very helpful to read over when you have time, or to share with your health care provider. The third edition of THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK, available in our catalogue, also provides additional suggestions.

    THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, NEW 8th Edition, published by La Leche League International, is the most complete resource available for the breastfeeding mother.

    Your local LLL Leader can offer support and more suggestions if these don't seem to be working. Just having someone to talk to can often relieve stress and help you relax, which also will help your baby relax.

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