Some babies may suck incorrectly or may have a weaker suck than others. A weak suck can lead to nipple pain and/or a low intake of milk. It will also usually result in a lower milk supply, which again results in baby having even less interest in the breast and therefore, baby spends less time at the breast to practice the art of breastfeeding.
Problems that may Cause a Weak Suck Include:
• A sleepy baby:
Baby may be extra 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. Read more on how to keep a baby awake while breastfeeding.
• Nipple confusion: If baby is given an artificial nipple too early, it can lead to baby not knowing how to breastfeed. Read more here on nipple preference.
• Preemies: Premature babies may have immature nervous systems, which can lead to a weak suck. Read more on breastfeeding premature babies here.
• Neurological impairment:
This can cause a weak suck. Any illness can do the same. Symptoms of
neurological impairment include: Arching of the body and biting or
clenching while feeding.
• Low milk supply: A chronic low milk supply can cause baby to become weak and unable to suck sufficiently. Read more on the real causes of low milk supply.
• Tongue problems: There are a range of tongue problems that 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 baby to concentrate on feeding alone. See our section on sensory integration issues.
• Anatomical problems: 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 lack
of oxygen during birth. These babies struggle to move at all, and
usually have a weak suck.
• Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome:
Babies who were 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
Mom has sore nipples that are obviously the result of the hard palate
rubbing on the nipple, because the nipple is distorted after feeding.
• Mom has engorged breasts for longer than one week after birth; this means that baby is not removing enough milk from the breasts.
• Baby cries excessively because he/she is hungry.
• Baby has a low output of urine and stools. Read the recommended output from birth onwards.
• Baby is gaining weight too slowly or not gaining weight at all. Read more here on breastfed infant weight gain.
• Baby may sleep on the breast, but cry if taken away from the breast.
• Make sure that baby is latched on correctly.
• Use breast compression to help baby get in extra milk.
• Using a SNS (supplementary nursing system) can help Mom continue breastfeeding while giving baby supplements of pumped/donated breast milk or formula.
Extra stimulation may help. For example: Pat baby on the outer edges
of his/her lips before feeding, make the nipple firm and cold (with a
cold compress) just before nursing. More suggestions on how to help baby’s with tongue problems here.
• Nipple shields can sometimes help a baby to latch on, especially if baby has low muscle tone.
How can you Prevent a Sucking Problem?
Not all sucking problems can be prevented, but some can:
• Mom should avoid elective caesareans. Prematurity can cause under developed sucking reflexes and neurological problems.
• Mom should avoid giving baby artificial nipples and pacifiers that can cause bad latching and sucking.
• Mom can make sure that her latching technique is efficient and that she and baby are comfortable while breastfeeding.
Tracy Ann Behr, CBC, CLD (CBI)
Breastfeeding counselor course on breastfeeding physiology / breastfeeding problems / sucking problems. www.childbirthinternational.com
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