You've found a comfortable place to nurse. You know there's plenty of milk, and you know baby is hungry. You finally get your little one comfortably latched, and settle in relief when suddenly — nah, no thanks, Mom. Why oh why does baby unlatch? And then re-latch? And then latch again? Are they hoping a different, tastier beverage will come out the next time? They're like, Alright...maybe this time it will be Yoo-hoo. Nope. OK, let's try again. Raspberry Icee this time? Nope. Alright one more go... Not only is this little hop-on-hop-off routine frustrating, it can be painful. There is no ouch quite like the ouch of when your baby suddenly jerks their head, seeming to forget that your nipple is in fact still in their mouth.
I reached out to Jada Shapiro for some insights on what can be a baffling aspect of breastfeeding: the ol' repeated unlatch. Shapiro is a maternal health expert and founder of boober, a platform that connects expectant and new parents with in-person expert pregnancy, birth, and postpartum care providers. She reassured me that the unlatch and re-latch isn't just a baby's way of playing weird head games with you, and that there are actually many reasons a baby might suddenly hit pause when nursing.
1. A Better Grip
Sometimes they just didn't get it right on the first attempt: "They're trying to readjust and get a deeper and more efficient latch," says Shapiro. "If the baby didn't latch on correctly, they may unlatch and relatch to adjust their mouth position and get better milk flow."
2. You're Fire-Hosing Them With Milk
"If your milk flow is too fast, your baby might unlatch to control how much milk is flying into their mouth," Shapiro says. Easy ways to tell if your flow is a bit too much at the moment? "If your baby is sputtering, or a copious amount of milk is shooting out of your breast every time the baby unlatches."
3. Distractions Abound
"Older babies are notorious for the delatch and relatch! They are often so excited and engaged by the world around them, that every little noise or motion piques their curiosity, which results in a quick unlatch to check out what's going on," Shapiro suggests. She says that if baby is distractible, it's a good idea to try nursing in a quiet, darkened room.
If that isn't possible, you can always very literally turn your back to the action around you so your baby has less visual distraction. Shapiro also suggests physically shielding a baby's eyes via your hand or a shawl.
4. No One Likes To Eat When They're Uncomfortable
Sometimes the cause of a de-latch is very straightforward: "Baby is uncomfortable. Sometimes the baby has gas, or needs a diaper change, etc." Shapiro recommends trying to suss out the source of the discomfort, via a quick change or burping session.
5. Physical Issues
"If baby is new (a few weeks old or less) and baby cannot keep a consistent latch, there may be a latching problem due to baby's oral anatomy, nursing parent's nipple or breast shape, or some combination." If this is the case, Shapiro recommends seeking out a lactation consultant for help.
A few other quick Shapiro tips to try and cut down on the unlatching biz:
· Try nursing while wearing baby in a carrier and walking.
· Try nursing more often when baby is sleepy and less excited by their environment.
· Try nursing more frequently around nap times and at night.
There you have it. Here's hoping these suggestions help keep baby focused on the nip and finishing their lunch.
Jada Shapiro, doula, lactation counselor, and founder of boober