After 15 hours of labor, and an epidural that soothed me, Cairo Aria came into the world after six minutes of pushing. Labor had been virtually uncomplicated with the exception of a few seconds before she came when her heartbeat dropped slightly. Nevertheless, after the pediatrician checked her over and placed her on my chest, she was perfect.
Then something we could not have expected happened, I fainted from an elevated heart rate and had to be rushed from the maternity ward. Two days went by without me seeing her before doctors determined that whatever was causing me to be sick likely wouldn’t pass to her and let me see her again. By that time I had been given so much medication and away from her for so long that breastfeeding wasn’t an option. We weren’t able to try again for two more weeks and by that point, my baby girl was attached to the swift flow of the nipple from a bottle.
I would put her to the breast and she would scream in frustration. Her tiny face would turn beat red as she yelled and her little fists would pound against my hard boobs hurting my nipples and wounding my pride. I sought out two more lactation specialists none offering any more help than the previous one. I remember one saying “well she just won’t latch” as if that ended the conversation. I was devastated.
I was even more depressed when a well-meaning and beloved family member suggested that I just stop and give her the bottle. “Some babies just don’t like breasts,” she said, “stop trying and give her a bottle.” Her comments were as bad as another family member who had breastfed for two years and called every day to ask “has she latched yet? Is it going better?” I know that they were both trying to help but because I’d internalized every blog that said “breast is best” all it did was make me feel like a failure.
I’d been pumping all along and giving her bottles of breast milk so she was still getting the nutrients and antibodies people swore would protect her but not being able to feed her directly from my breast was weighing on me.
I was determined to make it happen though and finally at three months, Cairo latched! We went on to breastfeed together for a year. The miracle finally happened with the constant support of my husband and some amazing breastfeeding moms who encouraged me. Here is what I did and 5 steps you can take to get a baby to breastfeed who won’t latch:
1. Always put your baby to the breast even if they don’t suck.
I put Cairo to the breast every time I was about to pump. She didn’t latch often but the presence of her mouth on my boobs helped with milk flow and got her use to the idea that this was a place she should naturally be. If you are going to do this, be sure to not do it while the baby is hungry.
2. Feed baby post pumping
I would try feeding Cairo after I pumped. At this point, the nipple is elongated and has some milk on it. This made it easier for her to understand that this is where she should get milk from and took away the hard work of pulling the milk down on her own, it was almost instant like sucking from a bottle.
3. Use a nipple shield
Nipple shields are plastic coverings with holes that go over a nipple. The plastic texture allows a baby to believe they are drinking from a bottle. The posture helps them to be familiar with feeding that close to their mother and eventually for me and Cairo I was eventually able to put the nipple shield away because she got used to being in that position. If you do use this method you might need to try several nipple shields to find the best fit for you physically and for baby’s comfort.
4. If you can – latch your newborn immediately after delivery
All of the steps above were done after Cairo was already here but if you are reading this before you deliver, I want to encourage you to have your baby latch as soon as you deliver. Discuss this with your doctor, midwife, and partner beforehand so they know this is your intention. Unless the doctor is concerned about the baby’s weight, insist that they do not give the baby a bottle of any kind until you’ve perfected the latch. I want to emphasize that the doctor has to be ok with this. Ultimately a fed baby is a healthy baby so do not insist to the detriment of your little one.
5. Be kind to yourself.
Many women have struggled with nipple confusion and babies who don’t latch but many of us have been able to make it work. Affirm yourself often and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. Remember that your baby is not rejecting you. No matter how personal it may feel they are simply learning and you can shape that learning by using the methods above.
You’ve got this mama!