Suck Problems During Breastfeeding

Latching Issues Jan 5, 2021

Is Baby not Sucking Properly?

A baby sucks, swallows, and breathes all at the same time while breastfeeding.

The baby’s lips help to make an airtight seal while breastfeeding, and the cheeks have fat pads in the beginning (as a newborn) that help a baby hold the nipple inside the mouth.

Preemie babies may have fewer fatty deposits in the cheeks, making it more difficult to breastfeed.

The Tongue Is Extremely Important During Breastfeeding:

  • The tongue draws the nipple into the mouth.
  • The tongue shapes the nipple and areola into a teat.
  • It compresses the teat in a wavelike motion (allowing milk to flow).
  • It funnels the milk to the back of the throat.

The hard palate helps position the nipple and areola, which holds the breast in place. The soft palate is towards the back of your baby’s mouth, which is where the nipple should be. If the nipple is not far enough in the mouth and is touching the hard palate, the mother might experience bad nipple pain.

The baby has more than 40 muscles controlling the lips, tongue, jaw, cheeks, and soft palate to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing.

Six cranial nerves help control these actions. Problems with a baby’s muscles or nerves will, therefore, affect how well a baby can breastfeed.

Below are some breastfeeding tips on how to deal with various suck problems during breastfeeding.

suck problems


Oral Problems That Can Interfere With Breastfeeding

  • A retracted jaw or tongue: The baby’s cheeks are usually dimpled, and they often make clicking sounds when they breastfeed. You must ensure that your baby’s head and neck are positioned correctly. Short-term use of a nipple shield can help a baby with a retracted jaw breastfeed.
  • Cleft palate or a cleft lip palate: The baby cannot create a seal while breastfeeding to suck efficiently.
  • U-shaped cleft palate: Also called “Pierre-Robin malformation sequence" or “Micrognathia," This is when the tongue is positioned too far back in the mouth, and on the outside, the chin looks recessed.
  • Tongue tie: “short tongue" or “short frenulum." This is when the frenulum, the membrane that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth, is unusually short, making it difficult for the baby to pull out their tongue far enough to grasp the underside of the mother’s nipple.
  • The baby has oral thrush: This can cause discomfort while breastfeeding.

The Following Issues Can Also Cause Suck Problems

  • Your baby is sleepy most of the time: Your baby is premature, or your baby might have some medical issues.
  • Your baby keeps rooting for the breast but does not attach themself: Neurologically impaired babies often have this breastfeeding problem. Try firmly supporting your baby’s body and controlling the head and jaw.
  • A habit that may have developed in the womb is when a baby sucks their tongue. This can then, in turn, also affect the breastfeeding relationship and cause some suck problems.
  • Your baby bites down on your nipple instead of sucking it: Try to increase your baby’s awareness of the mouth by playing with the inside of your baby's mouth.
  • Your baby may have a weak suck, usually due to sleepiness: This is when your breast keeps popping out of your baby’s mouth.
  • Ensure that your baby is latched on correctly, and support your baby’s head and jaw. This breastfeeding issue is often due to large breasts or nipples.
  • Your baby is uncomfortable during breastfeeding: Try the different breastfeeding positions.
  • Tongue thrust and breastfeeding: Tongue thrusting is when you put your tongue between your teeth before swallowing. Babies have a tongue thrust reflex that protects them against choking. When a foreign substance is placed in their mouths, they will immediately push it back out. Breastfeeding a baby with chronic tongue thrust can cause breastfeeding problems. A mother must train her baby’s tongue so that her little one will stop thrusting the tongue during feeds. The training usually involves putting a gloved finger into the baby’s mouth and pressing down. Babies, in this way, are taught to suck correctly. Breastfeeding is the best choice if your child has tongue thrust since it helps a baby develop teeth and jaw. Sucking during breastfeeding encourages the growth of straight, healthy teeth. Tongue thrust is common among bottle-fed babies. Doctors have found that forward tongue thrusting in infants may result in breathing from the mouth, lip biting, gum disease, and strange facial features. Some mothers might notice that their babies only show tongue thrusting problems when they try to feed their babies purity or other solids. Usually, by the age of 6 years, any normal thrusting of the tongue should lessen. 97% of all newborns have tongue thrust when they swallow. By about 12 years, a child should have grown entirely out of tongue-thrusting.
  • Your baby doesn’t want to open his mouth for the breast: This usually happens because of a clenching jaw. Try to trigger the rooting reflex, by putting your nipple near the top of your baby’s mouth, just under the nose. You might need to help your baby to open their mouth. This sometimes happens when a baby is not fully alert or awake.
  • Nipple Confusion. What is nipple confusion? When breastfed babies are given an artificial nipple to drink from, they might become confused and not know how to drink from the breast. During breastfeeding, babies use their jaw and lips to pump and grip the nipple, which is required for adequate breast drainage. The suction needed during breastfeeding improves oral development in babies. Not all babies will develop nipple confusion! Some babies have no problem going back and forth between the bottle and the breast. It also usually only occurs in the first few weeks of a baby’s life.
  • An overactive let-down, AKA the low of milk, may cause a baby to choke at the breast.

If your baby has any of these suck problems, it will be best to get help from a lactation consultant. Most babies with these breastfeeding problems can overcome them with patience, perseverance, and with some professional help.

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Tracy Behr

Mom of two, breastfeeding helper, and lover of all things natural! Studying a breastfeeding counselor course via Childbirth int. & plant-based nutrition via the Nutrition Inst.

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