Baby Latching and Unlatching Repeatedly (7 Steps to Fix it)

A mother wants nothing more than to have her baby healthy and safe. However, it can be frustrating when babies keep latching and unlatching repeatedly during nursing. Nursing should be a comfortable bonding experience between mother and child and constant latching and unlatching can cause certain issues. Fortunately, many mothers have gone through this and have been able to share numerous steps to fix this problem.

There are several ways to address a baby latching and unlatching repeatedly. Switching nursing positions helps when babies have a preferred nursing position. Other ways to address latching and unlatching are by ensuring a proper latch, removing distractions, improving milk flow, expressing milk beforehand, burping the baby, and offering a pacifier.

This article will discuss possible reasons why your baby keeps latching and unlatching repeatedly, and the respective steps to fix them.

Possible Reasons

A good latch is important to have a pleasant nursing experience. Unfortunately, there are several reasons why a breastfeeding session can be interrupted by the repeated latching and unlatching of your baby.

  1. Improper Nursing Position

mother breastfeeding her baby

One of the primary reasons why your baby might be latching and unlatching is that they are not comfortable. Understandably, babies want to be comfortable while nursing – as should you. Thus, they can be fussy and proceed to latch and unlatch if they are not comfortable.

There are various causes of discomfort. The first cause of discomfort is an improper nursing position. A proper nursing position is the foundation of breastfeeding, and it is something mothers have to develop with their babies.

A mother can choose between several different ways to hold the baby while nursing. These positions include the cradle hold, the cross-cradle hold, the side-lying position, the upright position, the dangling position, and other variations.

The cradle hold is when you support the baby with the arm on the same side as the nursing breast. The baby’s head is supported by the crook of your elbow while the rest of the body is held by the arm. The other hand can also support the baby’s body, or it can help hold the breast toward the nursing baby. This position can be done standing and sitting upright, but it can also be done while reclining.

You can switch the cradle hold to do the cross-cradle hold. In the cross-cradle hold, the baby is supported by the arm opposite the nursing breast. The head of the baby is supported by the hand while the rest of the body is supported by the forearm. This position is recommended for newborns and smaller infants as the hand supporting the head can help position the baby’s head better for latching.

Mothers can also opt to lie side-by-side with the baby while nursing in the side-lying position. The mother lies on her side while the baby lies close to breastfeed. This is an excellent position for mothers who want to rest at the same time.

Older babies can also sit upright on the mother’s thighs to nurse. Also known as a koala hold, the upright position can be significantly convenient for mothers, especially when their babies can already sit upright unassisted. This position allows the baby to have an upright position while tilting their head up to breastfeed.

Babies can also be breastfed while they are lying on their backs. With a baby on their back, a mother can dangle her breast and nipple over the baby’s mouth. This position can be done in a variety of ways. Although proper documentation is lacking, some mothers recommend this position to help with blocked ducts.

When a baby keeps latching and unlatching, it can benefit you to try out other nursing positions. It could be possible that your baby simply has a preference over which position to feed to.

  1. Improper Latch

Another common reason why your baby might be repeatedly latching and unlatching is that they are improperly latching on the breast in the first place. Latching refers to how the baby attaches to the breast while nursing. Understandably, babies will have difficulty feeding when they are not latched on to the mother properly.

Various organizations have detailed steps to educate mothers on how to get their babies to properly latch. The WIC Breastfeeding Support details the steps to a good latch:

  • Begin by tickling the baby’s lips with your nipple, causing the baby to open their mouth wide.
  • Once the baby’s mouth is open, you can then aim your nipple above the baby’s top lip.
  • Make sure the baby’s chin is not tucked into their chest.
  • Aim the baby’s lower lip away from the base of the nipple. The baby’s lips should be turned outward.
  • The baby then leads into the breast chin first.
  • The baby’s tongue should be extended, and the breast should fill the baby’s mouth.

Once all the steps have been followed, you can also check out signs of a good latch. For example, a good latch means that the baby’s chin touches your breast. It also means the baby’s lips are turned out. The baby’s tongue should cup under the breast. You should be able to notice the baby’s ears move slightly or be able to hear or see them swallow.

  1. Distraction

baby looking at something while being breastfed
breastfeeding. mother holding newborn baby in an embrace and breastfeed

A distracted baby can also be difficult to nurse. Not only can a distracted baby be fussy while nursing, but they can also latch and unlatch.

While newborns and younger infants are not as prone to distractions, you might notice that older babies begin to be easily distracted. This can be attributed to cognitive development in your baby. Commonly considered the Wonder Weeks, there will come a time when your baby begins to experience and think about the world around them. While this is an incredibly important milestone for your baby, this can make nursing quite challenging.

  1. Improper Milk Flow

When babies latch onto a mother’s breast, nerves on the mother’s nipples are triggered to initiate milk flow. This is called the let-down reflex. Also known as the milk ejaculation reflex, the let-down reflex is the reason behind milk flow. The let-down reflex is also responsible for accidental milk leaking when something (e.g., fabric) rubs against a mother’s nipples. The let-down reflex can even be initiated by the sound of a crying baby.

Unfortunately, mothers can have significantly varying let-down reflex sensitivity. While some mothers might have a slow let-down reflex, some mothers might have an overactive let-down reflex. These imbalances can lead to improper milk flow, which can subsequently cause a baby to latch and unlatch.

A slow let-down reflex means inadequate milk flow. This can irritate a hungry baby which causes them to latch and unlatch repeatedly, hoping for more milk to arrive. On the other hand, an overactive let-down reflex can cause too much milk to go into a baby’s mouth. Too much milk flowing can be overwhelming and also cause them to latch and unlatch constantly.

Steps to Fix Baby Latching and Unlatching Repeatedly

  1. Change Nursing Positions

If you are having difficulty nursing your baby as they repeatedly latch and unlatch, one quick thing you could try is to simply change nursing positions. Try out different nursing positions because it is possible that your baby has a nursing position preference. For example, if you find your baby latching and unlatching in a cradle hold, you could try using the cross-cradle hold instead. Switching up nursing positions can be a quick and easy way to narrow down

  1. Ensure Proper Latch

As previously mentioned, there are ways to confirm if your baby has a proper latch. Here are the following signs to look out for according to the Office on Women’s Health:

  • The latch feels comfortable to both the baby and the mother.
  • The baby’s mouth will be filled with the breast.
  • Little to no areola should be visible depending on the size of the mother’s areola.
  • The baby’s body rests against the mother’s chest.
  • The baby does not have their head turned to breastfeed.
  • The baby’s tongue is cupped under the breast.
  • You should be able to observe swallowing.
  • The baby’s chin touches the mother’s breast.
  • The baby’s lips should be turned outward.

Having a good latch not only ensures that the baby gets the proper nourishment, but also that the mother has a pleasant experience. Oftentimes, mothers switch from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding due to feeling discomfort while nursing. Though bottle-feeding is perfectly sufficient for babies, breastfeeding can confer additional benefits to the baby.

  1. Reduce Distractions

While it is amazing that your baby is beginning to ponder about the things around them, you still need to make sure that they receive proper nourishment. If your baby gets easily distracted while nursing and repeatedly latches and unlatches because of it, you will need to reduce the distractions.

One way to reduce distractions is to nurse your baby in a quiet room. Sounds can easily disturb and distract a baby from nursing properly. Another good alternative to a quiet room is to be in a room with soft music or white noise. While it may seem counterintuitive to have white noise inside the room you’re nursing in, white noise can actually help your baby maintain concentration because white noise can drown out other sudden noises that may originate from outside the room.

Another way to help reduce distractions is to nurse in a dark room. Turning off the lights and closing the curtains can possibly reduce distractions and thereby help the baby focus on nursing. Heavy fabric curtains are quite recommended in nurseries to be able to effectively block out sunlight from seeping through.

  1. Improve Milk Flow

A slow let-down reflex is a common issue faced by many mothers. Fortunately, there are various ways to overcome a slow let-down reflex and improve milk flow.

The first way to overcome a slow let-down reflex is to nurse comfortably. There are several reasons why mothers can have a slow let-down reflex. A common reason for a slow let-down reflex is anxiety. Mothers with a slow let-down reflex can become anxious when they do not have enough milk for nursing. The concern for their babies can also exacerbate their anxiety.

Thus, remaining calm during nursing can possibly help overcome the anxiety. Some mothers remain calm while nursing by listening to soft music, closing their eyes, and practicing deep breathing.

Another way to help improve milk flow is to massage the breast whilst nursing. While one hand is supporting the baby, the other hand can massage the breast and coax milk production. A warm compress prior to nursing has also been known to help other mothers.

  1. Pump Milk

While a slow let-down reflex can become a hindrance to nursing, an overactive let-down reflex can be just as problematic.

A common way mothers with overactive let-down reflexes compensate is by expressing their milk prior to nursing. Pumping milk beforehand can help slow down their let-down reflex and eventually develop an adequate milk flow for nursing. This practice also helps keep mothers stocked up with breastmilk for bottle-feeding.

  1. Burp

Trapped air can also cause quite the discomfort in babies. It is possible that the baby has swallowed air while nursing. This is a common occurrence when the milk flow is too fast. When the baby has trapped air inside of them, the discomfort caused can make them latch and unlatch repeatedly.

Fortunately, trapped air is quite easy to deal with. This simply entails having to burp the baby. Having the baby upright and gently patting their back can help cause the baby to burp. A positive change in mood and nursing can confirm that trapped air was the cause of the repeated latching and unlatching.

  1. Offer a Pacifier

mom holding a baby with a pacifier

Nursing provides the necessary nourishment to ensure that babies grow up strong and healthy. However, it is possible that your baby is latching and unlatching simply because they are not interested in feeding at the moment. In fact, it is completely possible that they are not hungry in the first place. If your baby is latching and unlatching, a possible option is to simply offer the baby a pacifier.

It is possible that your baby is latching and unlatching because they are already full. However, the repeated latching and unlatching can signify that they still want to suckle. If this is the case, then the baby will constantly unlatch because milk is flowing into their mouths when they only want to suckle. Offering them a pacifier can then help satisfy them of their craving to suckle.

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