Suck Problems during Breastfeeding


Is Baby not sucking properly?

Baby's anatomy needed, for the best suck and swallow

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

Baby’s lips help to make an air tight seal while breastfeeding, and the cheeks have fatty pads in the beginning (as a newborn), that help Baby hold the nipple, inside the mouth. Preemie babies may have less of this fatty deposit in the cheeks, which can make it more difficult for them to breastfeed.

The tongue is extremely important during breastfeeding:

1. The tongue draws the nipple into the mouth,

2. The tongue shapes the nipple and areola into a teat,

3. It compresses the teat in a wavelike motion (allowing for milk to flow),

4. It funnels the milk to the back of the throat.

The hard palate helps to position the nipple and areola and this holds the breast in place. The soft palate is towards the back of your baby’s mouth, and this is the area in which the nipple should be. If the nipple is not far enough in the mouth, and is touching the hard palate, Mom 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.

There are also 6 cranial nerves that help control these actions. Problems with a baby’s muscles or nerves, will therefore have an impact on how well a baby can breastfeed.

Here, below, are some breastfeeding tips, on how to deal with various suck problems during breastfeeding. 

cleft lip and breastfeeding, cleft lip and palate


Suck Problems
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Oral Problems that can Interfere with Breastfeeding

* Cleft palate or a cleft lip palate: Baby is not able to create a seal whilst breastfeeding, so as to suck properly.

* A retracted jaw or retracted tongue: Baby’s cheeks are usually dimpled and when Baby breastfeeds, he/she usually makes some clicking sounds. You will need to make sure 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.

* U-shaped cleft palate: Also called “Pierre-Robin malformation sequence” or “Microngnathia” This is when the tongue is positioned too far back in the mouth, and on the outside the chin looks recessed.

* Tongue tie: Also called “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 his/her tongue far enough to grasp the underside of Mom’s nipple.

* Baby has oral thrush: This can cause discomfort whilst breastfeeding.


Other Contributing Factors

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.

Baby keeps rooting for the breast, but does not attach himself/herself: Neurologically impaired babies often have this breastfeeding problem. Try to firmly support your baby’s body and control the head and jaw.

* A habit that may have developed in the womb, is when a baby sucks his/her tongue. This can then, in turn, also affect the breastfeeding relationship and cause some suck problems.

Baby bites down on your nipple instead of sucking: Try to increase Baby’s awareness of the mouth, by playing with the inside of 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.

Make sure that your baby is latched on correctly and try to support your baby’s head and jaw. This breastfeeding issue, is often due to large breasts or nipples.

* Baby is uncomfortable during breastfeeding: Try the different breastfeeding positions.

* Infant 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 will need to train her baby’s tongue, so that when her baby breastfeeds, her little one will stop thrusting the tongue. The training usually involves putting a gloved finger into baby’s mouth and pressing down. Babies in this way, are taught to suck correctly.

If your child has tongue thrust, breastfeeding is the best choice, since it helps a baby with the development of teeth and jaw. The sucking during breastfeeding encourages the growth of straight, healthy teeth.

Tongue thrust is more common amongst 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 the age of about 12 years, a child should have grown completely out of tongue thrusting.

* 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 they might not know how to drink from the breast. 

During breastfeeding, babies use their jaw and lips to pump and grip the nipple, which is needed for effective 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.

Read more about nipple confusion here



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 your patience, perseverance and with some professional help.



Other pages on “breastfeeding problems” related to suck problems

- Overactive or under active let down

- Alternative breastfeeding methods

- Latching on problems

- Colic and breastfeeding

- Tongue tie

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Site by BFeeding Mamma, Tracy Behr, Studying through Child birth international (CBC, CBD), Author and Mommy of two.

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