Breastfeeding: When Your Baby Won't Nurse

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Breast feeding mothers get depressed when nursing a newborn raises challenges. How can swaddling, craniosacral therapy, pacifiers, and family help?

With a very real cloak around nursing in American society, young girls envision their future as breastfeeding mothers being naturally easy. When it's hard to learn breastfeeding, when your baby won't nurse, when you get sore nipples, it's easy to give up.

We have an image in our heads of babies latching onto the nipple perfectly within the first couple of tries, while the new mother smiles down blissfully, relaxed and content in knowing her newborn is well-nourished. However, while nursing is quite natural, it has a steep learning curve for mother and baby.

Experienced lactation consultants will attest to the fact that it is very rare for a first-time mother to experience little or no difficulties while nursing. The mother may have breasts or nipples that are very large, very small, inverted, or imbalanced. One breast may produce a stronger, faster flow than the other side, or the mother may have sensitive skin and take longer to build calluses. The nursing newborn may have craniosacral misalignments that will dictate a non-traditional nursing hold, or the baby may be born tongue-tied or unable to curl her tongue to latch on correctly.

A certified lactation consultant, midwife or doula will be able to help the new nursing mother and her infant overcome these common obstacles. In the meantime, hopefully one of the following tips or tricks will be the key that finally unlocks a happy nursing relationship between you and your child.

How Friends and Family Can Help

A baby will sometimes refuse to nurse if the mother is too tense or stressed. A lack of sleep combined with sore nipples, and a crying baby who won't eat, can put a new mother in a very dark emotional place. She may be feeling deceived about how simple and beautiful motherhood and nursing were going to be. Feelings of inadequacy, fear, and frustration - and more guilt and frustration at herself for having these feelings - can all overwhelm a new mama if she doesn't have enough social and family support. Help a nursing mother minimize stressors in her environment, and she will relax and let down more milk. Do the dishes and make some meals. Fetch water, snacks. movies and books for her while she sits for hours on end. Encourage her to pump a little extra during the day so that she can skip one feeding during the night to get some rest while you bottle-feed the baby. Give her some time to herself each day, and allow her to share her feelings freely with no judgement. Every mom has been where she is.

Finding the Right Position

As a new mother, you may spend half your day just nursing your newborn during his first few months of life. Babies are picky about positioning, and they have a right to be. A feeding can take up to an hour when newborns doze off, fill their diapers, get changed, get burped, and then switch to the other side. We see women nursing older babies in the traditional cradle hold all the time, but some nursing newborns prefer the football hold. Just pretend you are a quarterback cradling a football, and turn the "normal" hold around backwards with baby's body under your armpit and their legs by your side. Leaning backward with the baby on top can help control a faster flow, so milk is shooting up into his mouth and not straight down his throat. Babies love laying down with you, facing against you and snacking while you sleep on your side. Babies with colic, reflux or gas may want to be held upright while they nurse, like they are sitting on your lap, or they may want to be totally flat.


Allowing a baby to flail her little fists at your breasts, stroking them and pinching them, will reinforce a better milk supply for the future. Like little kittens, human babies intuitively know how to knead down more nourishment. If baby's hands are so busy that she is distracted from nursing, then try swaddling. Wrapping a baby up tightly recreates a womblike snugness, helping her to relax and focus on the business of the breast. Many stores that carry baby products will carry swaddlers, or you can experiment with large receiving blanket.

Timing Feedings to Avoid a Frenzy

Waiting until a baby is bawling with starvation will not lead to a successful nursing. Studies show that babies literally experience hunger pains. It hurts them to be hungry, and since infants cannot see more than a few blurry feet in front of them, they cannot know when the source of comfort is coming. If you are determined to put your baby on a feeding schedule, make sure it is one that matches your child's metabolism. Milk can have varing calorie-counts per ounce, and your baby need more or less, sooner or later, depending on how active he's been since the last feeding. You will quickly get a feel for how long your baby can last between feedings, so try to feed him before he becomes frantic.

When Baby's Back is Out

If you have ever had your neck or spine out of joint, you know how painful that can be. It's hard to move and hard to hold certain positions. A spinal misalignment can affect every aspect of your life. Consider the fact that a newborn is one big out-of-place joint. Her cranium bones haven't fused together, and she will have a soft-spot on the top of her skull until she is two years old. An infant has well over 300 bones in her body, while an adult only has 206. All of that un-fused cartilage can get seriously out of kilter during a really fast or really slow birth, or even from nursing in the same position all the time. A qualified craniosacral therapist is like a baby-whisperer-version of a chiropractor. With gentle pressure that is less than the weight of a nickel, a craniosacral therapist will carefully manipulate your baby's entire body. This healing touch often results in a very relaxed and sleepy baby who has a much easier time nursing later.

The Proper Pacifier

If your baby cannot self-soothe, and he craves a pacifier, make sure the pacifier nipple is round, like the Soothie brand. Pacifiers with flat nipples cause confusion since your baby needs to latch onto your round shape to express enough milk. It is quite painful to have your nipple flattened by a baby who has been sucking on a flat pacifier between feedings. One benefit to a "plug" is that it will "pacify" a frantic baby who won't latch on, initiating a sucking pattern. Once he has calmed down, place your own nipple right next to the pacifier before swiftly flicking it out and popping yours into place. If this transition is smooth enough, the exhausted baby will barely notice.

 Every mother and every baby is different. Nursing is a symbiotic relationship in which both parties need each other. If nothing in this article helps, consult a certified professional as soon as possible.