Some babies may suck incorrectly or struggle with a weaker suck than others. A weak suck can lead to nipple pain and a low milk intake.
A weak suck may also result in a lower milk supply, which contributes to less interest in the breast, and therefore, the baby spends less time at the breast to practice the art of breastfeeding.
Problems that may Cause a Weak Suck
• A sleepy baby: A baby may be sleepy due to medication given during labor, illness, or Jaundice. Some babies are overstimulated during certain times of the day, leading to lethargy during feeding times. How to keep a baby awake while breastfeeding.
• Nipple confusion: If your baby is given an artificial nipple too early, it can lead to your baby not knowing how to breastfeed.
• Preemies: Premature babies may have immature nervous systems, leading to a weak suck.
• Neurological impairment: This can cause a weak suck. Any illness can do the same. Symptoms of neurological impairment include arching the body and biting or clenching while feeding.
• Tongue problems: A range of tongue problems can cause sucking problems. For example, poor latching technique, Tongue thrust, Tongue tie, short or long tongue, retracted tongue, and tongue curling or sucking.
• Jaw clenching: Clenching of the jaw can also cause problems. Often called gum-biting or clamping.
• Sensory integration problems; this can cause “sensory overload" and makes it difficult for a baby to concentrate on feeding alone. See our section on sensory integration issues.
• Anatomical problems: May include a cleft lip/palate or high-arched palate.
• Oral aversion: Oral aversion is when a baby resists anything that touches the inside of their mouth. This is usually the result of procedures done during and after labor, such as forceful suctioning.
• Floppy baby: A floppy baby may have low muscle tone or may have suffered from a lack of oxygen during birth. These babies struggle to move at all and usually have a weak suck.
• Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome: Babies exposed to drugs in the womb may have problems sucking. These drugs may include alcohol, marijuana, antidepressants, methadone, and many others.
Signs and Symptoms of a Sucking Problem
• The mother has sore nipples that result from the hard palate rubbing on the nipple because the nipple is distorted after feeding.
• The mother has engorged breasts for longer than one week after birth; this means that her baby is not removing enough milk from the breasts.
• The baby cries excessively because they are hungry.
• Baby has a low output of urine and stools.
• The baby is gaining weight too slowly or not gaining weight at all.
• The baby may sleep on the breast but cry if taken away from the breast.
• Make sure that the baby is latched on correctly. Latching techniques are discussed below.
• Use breast compression to increase milk transfer. Also discussed below.
• Using an SNS (supplementary nursing system) can help the mother continue breastfeeding while giving her baby supplements of pumped/donated breast milk or formula.
• Extra stimulation may help. For example, pat the baby on the outer edges of their lips before feeding, and make the nipple firm and cold (with a cold compress) just before nursing.
• Nipple shields can sometimes help a baby latch on, especially if the baby has low muscle tone.
How can you Prevent a Sucking Problem?
Not all sucking problems can be prevented, but some can:
• The mother should avoid elective Cesareans. Prematurity can cause poor sucking reflexes and neurological issues.
• The mother should avoid giving her baby artificial nipples and pacifiers that can cause bad latching and sucking.
• The mother can ensure that her latching technique is efficient and that she and her baby are comfortable while breastfeeding.
- Ensure your baby is awake and alert before latching them on.
- Hold your baby close to your body and bring them to your breast rather than leaning over them.
- Gently tickle your baby's lower lip with your nipple to encourage them to open their mouth wide.
- Aim your nipple towards the roof of your baby's mouth and wait for them to latch on.
- As your baby begins to latch on, their mouth should cover both your nipple and most of your areola. You should not feel any pain. If you do, gently insert your finger into the corner of your baby's mouth to break the suction and try again.
- Once your baby is latched on, they should be able to easily move their jaw up and down while nursing.
It's important to remember that it may take some time and practice for you and your baby to get the hang of latching. Don't be discouraged if it takes a few tries – it's completely normal. If you're having a lot of difficulty, consider seeking help from a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider.
Breast compression is a technique that can be used during breastfeeding to help increase milk transfer. When you apply gentle pressure to the breast during breastfeeding, it can help to move more milk out of the breast and into the baby's mouth. This can be especially helpful if your baby is having trouble emptying the breast or if they are getting tired while nursing.
Breast Compression While Breastfeeding
- You can use your thumb and index finger to gently squeeze the breast, starting from the top of the areola and working your way down towards the nipple. This can help to move more milk into the baby's mouth and stimulate the let-down reflex.
- Some breast pumps have a breast compression feature that allows you to apply gentle pressure to the breast while pumping. This can help to increase milk flow and make it easier to express milk.
- Massaging your breast while nursing or pumping can also help increase milk flow. You can use circular motions with your hands or a warm compress to massage the breast.
It's important to be gentle when applying breast compression and to avoid causing any pain or discomfort. If you are having trouble with milk transfer or if you are experiencing pain while breastfeeding, it may be helpful to seek the guidance of a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider.