Why Does My Baby Keep Unlatching? 21 Potential Reasons

why does my baby keep unlatching

My firstborn left me asking the question, “Why does my baby keep unlatching?” It took months and lots of weight checks to determine why. Spoiler alert: he wasn’t latching on properly.

It was an incredibly stressful time because my son kept losing weight, regardless of how much I nursed. New moms are exhausted; adding a baby who won’t feed is stale icing on the cake.

I asked my friend, a Labor and Delivery Nurse at Cedars-Sinai who’s helped hundreds of new mothers with nursing, about the most common reasons behind unlatching.

This article explores 21 potential reasons your baby may be unlatching during breastfeeding (and what you can do about it).

Here’s what she told me.


It’s Normal for Babies to Unlatch While Feeding

While it’s not ideal for a baby to keep unlatching while feeding, it’s not out of the norm.

However, it’s important to understand the cause ensuring they receive enough food and nutrients while feeding. It can be frustrating to have your baby unlatch several times during a feeding, but helping find the root cause will lead you to a happy baby.

I highly recommend seeing a lactation consultant if you continue to have issues since they can observe a feeding session, provide tips on improving your baby’s latch, and offer personalized guidance.

Understanding the potential causes can help you address the issue and make breastfeeding more comfortable for you and your baby.


21 Reasons Your Baby Keeps Unlatching 

1. Fast Letdown

While having plenty of milk is positive, a fast letdown may cause your baby to unlatch. If your letdown mimics Niagara Falls, your baby might not enjoy the downpour and pull away to avoid choking.

It’s important to know that the first letdown is usually the strongest, so you can pump for a few minutes before nursing or hand express. Once the first letdown is over, latch your baby onto the breast.

Signs you have a fast letdown include your baby pushing away, gagging, or choking in the first minute or two after they begin nursing.

Unfortunately, your baby may clamp down on your nipple to slow or stop the flow of milk, leading to additional problems.

If you usually have a fast letdown, ensure you empty your breast before switching to the other. Finally, remember not to miss a feeding, which can lead to a fast letdown.

2. Slow Letdown

Alternatively, your baby might get frustrated and pull away if you have a slow letdown, especially if they prefer a faster flow.

Here are a few tips if you suspect you have a low milk supply:

  • Don’t miss feedings
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Empty your breasts at every feeding
  • Pump in between feedings
  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin

If your baby takes a bottle during the day while you’re at work, you need to pump for every feeding you miss.

It can be overwhelming to think about increasing your milk supply, but remember, our bodies naturally make enough milk for our babies.

If you are concerned that your baby isn’t eating enough, check with your pediatrician, who will monitor their weight gain, and ask if they are having regular wet and dirty diapers.

3. Bad/Shallow Latch

If your baby has a shallow latch, visiting a lactation consultant or pediatrician is best. They can better assess whether your baby has a tongue or lip tie, preventing a strong latch.

Some moms use nipple shields if their baby’s mouth or tongue affects their latch. Also, if you have inverted nipples, shields can help your baby nurse more efficiently.

If there isn’t a tongue or lip tie, you’ll just need to keep practicing to ensure your baby gets a deeper latch. As a baby develops, this becomes more of an acquired skill.

In addition, you may want to reconsider the position you nurse your child in and ensure your baby’s mouth is wide open and covers as much of the areola as possible.

I found the football hold helpful when my baby was having difficulty latching. Common signs of a poor latch include pinched or flat nipples after you nurse.

4. Gas/Colic

A baby with trapped gas will frequently unlatch, and you should take your baby off your breast and try to burp them before nursing again. I always felt terrible when my babies had gas because it was pretty apparent how uncomfortable they were.

It’s always best to burp your baby regularly during feedings and address any potential digestive issues. Performing bicycle kicks with your baby’s legs is also helpful in relieving gas.

Your pediatrician may suggest giving your baby gas drops to help relieve gas and pressure, causing discomfort.

5. Distractions

As your baby gets older, there’s a greater chance they will get distracted, especially if you have other children. Babies are naturally curious, and it’s easy to get distracted by environmental stimuli during breastfeeding.

If this is the case, it’s a good idea to go to another room and try nursing there to limit distractions.

how long does teething fussiness last

6. Teething

While newborns won’t have teething issues, once your baby is a few months old, they may refuse nursing because they are teething.

Luckily, teething is short-lived, and you will get through this. In the meantime, you can try natural remedies like Camilia Drops or any cold teether to provide relief.

7. Nipple Confusion

There is a lot of debate on whether nipple confusion is real. Some hospitals highly discourage giving newborns pacifiers as they get used to breastfeeding. In addition, if a baby is going back and forth between breast and bottle, they may develop a preference for bottles.

Breastfeeding experts disagree about the degree to which babies have difficulty with nipple preference for confusion. However, as a mom, I could see my babies sometimes preferred the bottle because of the flow.

To prevent your baby from preferring bottles, use a newborn nipple size to slow the flow.

8. Tiredness

An overtired baby is frequently a recipe for disaster. While my babies often fell asleep at the breast, they became fidgety and restless if they were too tired.

If your baby is too tired to eat, take it as a cue to lay them down. They’ll let you know if they’re hungry later. (Trust me!)

9. Your Baby Has a Favorite Side

It might seem crazy to think your baby prefers one breast to the other, but one side may produce milk at a different speed, and that’s their preference. I always said my right side was my stud, and the left was my dud.

Unfortunately, if your baby prefers one side, you’ll still want to empty the other breast, which may involve pumping once your baby is done feeding.

10. Silent Reflux

My middle son had horrible reflux as an infant, which made breastfeeding uncomfortable sometimes. In addition, after nursing, he spit up like Niagra Falls.

To help, I’d stop several times while nursing to let him burp. He also ended up on medication because the reflux was so severe. If you are concerned about your baby’s reflux, it’s best to talk to your doctor.

11. Growth Spurts

Growth spurts are unpredictable in a baby’s life and can affect how they breastfeed. During growth spurts, cluster feeding is more common, and your baby will continually latch and unlatch if they don’t like the milk flow.

Common growth spurts include:

  • 2-3 weeks
  • Six weeks
  • Three months
  • 6 months

12. Illnesses

If your baby is sick, particularly with a stuffy nose, it can make it difficult to nurse and cause them to unlatch frequently.

You can use saline drops to help clear up your baby’s nose and help them breathe easier. The Frida Baby Nasal Aspirator is popular among parents, even if the idea behind it is pretty gross.

You can also prop your baby’s head up while nursing, ensuring they aren’t laying flat.

13. Uncomfortable Position

If your baby isn’t comfortable, they’ll unlatch as they try to get into a more comfortable position. It’s best to keep your baby’s body and head aligned, ensuring their neck isn’t turned awkwardly.

Once you find a position your baby prefers, remember to use it at feedings. Popular nursing holds include:

  • Cradle hold
  • Cross-cradle hold
  • Football hold
  • Side-lying position
  • Laid-back position

14. Comfort Nursing

If your baby is comfort nursing, they are easily distracted and frequently unlatch before returning. As long as comfort nursing isn’t interfering with their feeding schedule, it’s up to you whether to continue.

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than a cuddly, nursing baby; those days don’t last.

15. Hunger

When babies are hungry, they may latch and unlatch if they aren’t satisfied with the milk flow. While it sounds counterproductive, a hungry baby can get easily frustrated, making it difficult to nurse efficiently.

In this situation, it’s best to continue offering your breasts until they feed consistently. To prevent this issue in the future, be mindful of the following feeding cues:

  • Putting hands to mouth
  • Rooting
  • Puckers, smacks, or lips
  • Head turning towards breast

16. Developmental Milestones

A baby’s brain is constantly growing and going through various developmental milestones. During these times, your baby can become squirmer and more distracted, preventing them from nursing effectively.

It’s important to remember interruptions like this will pass and continue to make your baby comfortable while feeding.

17. Nipple Pain or Sensitivity

If you are experiencing nipple pain or sensitivity, your baby may sense this and pull away. It’s important for your baby to latch correctly, minimizing pain and discomfort.

I highly recommend Lansinoh Lanolin Nipple Cream to help soothe and protect sore nipples. The cream is 100% natural and safe for you and your baby.

18. Food Sensitivity/Allergies

If your baby is hungry but quickly pulls away from the breast, they could have a food sensitivity to something you are eating. Typically, you’ll also find additional symptoms, including excess gas, diarrhea, bloody stool, and colicky behavior.

If you suspect your baby has food sensitivity, talk to your pediatrician about the next steps. Your doctor may suggest an elimination diet to help identify a specific reaction.

My middle son had horrible reflux, and I tried an elimination diet to see if that helped. Once I eliminated gluten, his condition improved, so I continued until he stopped breastfeeding.

19. Menstruation

Occasionally, menstruation can cause a decrease in milk production, affecting the flow for your baby. Your estrogen and progesterone levels rise, and calcium levels fall after ovulation, decreasing milk production for some women.

It’s best to remember the issue is temporary and to continue to nurse as usual, ensuring you keep your supply up. You may notice your baby is nursing more frequently after ovulation, and it’s okay to continue to nurse on demand.

20. Thrush

Thrush is an oral infection in babies caused by excess yeast in their mouths. Unfortunately, thrush can cause fussiness in babies and refusal to nurse.

It’s important to know that both baby and mom can develop thrush.

Additional symptoms of thrush in babies include:

  • White sores on the tongue and mouth
  • Diaper rash
  • Mouth redness
  • Bleeding when wiping the sores

Symptoms of thrush in mothers:

  • Pain and tenderness during and after breastfeeding
  • Sore, cracked, and deep-pink nipples

Thrush frequently goes away on its own; however, your healthcare professional may prescribe medicine for treatment.

21. Pregnancy

I saved this one for last since it’s likely not the first reason your baby is unlatching. However, pregnancy can affect milk flow, causing your baby to unlatch because they aren’t getting enough.

While your milk won’t dry up completely, pregnancy hormones will lead to a decreased supply.


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