If your baby is having difficulty nursing, there are steps you can take to help him
If breastfeeding has become a bit of a struggle, there’s usually a reason behind it, and there are things you can do to help you do it successfully. ‘I get a lot of mums coming to me and saying they can’t breastfeed, and they feel like they’re to blame,’ says Geraldine Miskin, a breastfeeding specialist and founder of The Miskin Method. ‘In reality, it’s not that they can’t breastfeed, it’s that their baby needs to be guided and shown how to breastfeed effectively.’ That’s why we’ve highlighted the key issues that may be causing your baby to struggle.
Getting the correct latch is key for helping your baby to breastfeed well and ensuring it’s comfortable for you. ‘When placing your baby on the breast, his lower lip needs to be on the outer edge of your areola – the coloured area of your nipple,’ says Geraldine. ‘His mouth should be wide open, so he fits as much of the areola in as possible, and so the nipple is hitting the back of your baby’s mouth.’ If he doesn’t do this, it can create a shallow latch, which can be painful on your nipples.
"His mouth should be wide open, so he fits as much of the areola in as possible"
Sometimes your baby can have tightness and stiffness in his neck and jaw, which prevents him from latching onto your breast correctly. ‘This can be caused by the delivery, especially if it was an assisted delivery using forceps or ventouse,’ says Geraldine. ‘The tension in the jaw means he can’t open his mouth wide enough to get a decent latch. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that cranial osteopathy can help to release the tightness in the jaw. And the more he sucks and uses the muscles in the jaw, the looser they’ll become.’
Sometimes if you have a very small baby and very large nipples, he may struggle to get all of the areola into his mouth, which can make feeding difficult. ‘If your baby’s mouth is too small, use your fingers to pinch the breast together so he can fit it into his mouth before he latches on,’ says Geraldine. It can be a bit fiddly at first, but as your baby grows, it will get easier for him.
When your milk comes in a couple of days after birth, it can mean your breasts are engorged and hard. ‘If the breast isn’t soft enough, it can make it more difficult for your baby to scoop enough of it into his mouth,’ says Geraldine. ‘You can gently massage and push the milk back into the breast and away from the nipple area to relieve the pressure and make it easier for your baby to latch on.’
"If the breast isn’t soft enough, it can make it more difficult for your baby to scoop enough of it into his mouth"
If your baby is either too low or too high when he approaches your breast to feed, it can mean he makes an incorrect latch. ‘Support your baby’s head with your hand and guide him to your breast, making sure his body is resting closely against yours,’ says Geraldine.
If you’re using a cushion, make sure it compliments breastfeeding. ‘If you have small breasts, you may find a cushion will help to raise your baby up high enough so he can reach the nipple, but if you have quite large breasts, they naturally hang slightly lower, so you may only need a rolled up towel for support,’ says Geraldine.
"Support your baby’s head with your hand and guide him to your breast"
It’s important also that when your baby latches on, both of his cheeks are touching the breast. ‘This is so your baby can drain both the upper and lower half of the breast,’ says Geraldine. ‘If you’re not sure if this is happening, gently slide your finger under your breast to check and shift his position so that both cheeks are touching the breast. This will ensure the breast drains evenly and can help prevent mastitis.’
"Gently slide your finger under your breast to check and shift his position so that both cheeks are touching the breast"
This is when a small, tight piece of skin connects the underside of your baby’s tongue with the floor of his mouth. ‘It can cause feeding problems and you can either feel it by running your finger along the underside of his tongue or by the sensation you get when breastfeeding – it can feel like your baby is clamping down on your nipple,’ says Geraldine.
If you’re concerned your baby has tongue-tie, see your GP or a trained breastfeeding counsellor, who will be able to put you in touch with an ear, nose & throat specialist. He will perform a very quick operation, which involves snipping the membrane while your baby is under a local anaesthetic.
"Tongue-tie can feel like your baby is clamping down on your nipple"
What are your breastfeeding tips? Let us know in the comments box below.