Ask Our Experts: Screaming When Trying to Latch Baby Onto the Breast

Cathy and Libby

Lactation consultants and midwives, Cathy McCormick from HolisticBaby (L) and Libby Cain from Libby & Co (R) offer their advice.

Q: My baby screams and gets frustrated when I try to latch them onto the breast, how can I resolve it?

Cathy: In my experience, if your baby is screaming or refusing to go to the breast it’s often because:

  1. They aren’t ready to feed. The action plan is to remove them, take three deep breaths and talk to your baby – you could say something like ‘Oh you aren’t happy to feed yet?’ Depending on the age of the baby, particularly a newborn, they might be trying to burp or fart or poo, they can’t do too many things at once. So, if we relax, when they seem calmer just try again. Or, if you are getting stressed you might be able to pass them to a partner, support person, or family member who is calmer to soothe them.
  2. Is your breast too full and they can’t latch themselves? Again, especially common with a newborn. Try some reverse pressure to soften the areola and then retry. Or sometimes, if it’s a frequent problem, some breastfeeding people try a nipple shield as a tool, then wean off this over days, weeks, or months.
  3. Are you are trying to get them into a position they aren’t comfortable in? Babies will often fight or get upset if they haven’t got a clear airway or do not feel like they’re in a stable position. One thing to try is letting your baby control their own head, lean back so they snuggle their whole body into you – putting pressure or support on their shoulder blades can help too.
  4. Something may have happened that has frightened them, like fast flow milk they can’t control as they aren’t in the correct position. Again, ensure they can control their own head, relax, and reassure them, otherwise they can get into an aversion screaming loop.


Follow Cathy on Instagram @holisticbaby. To book a consultation with Cathy, contact her via the details on her website.

For answers to other breastfeeding issues, read our article on troubleshooting common problems here.

Libby: I just want to firstly say good on you for persevering with breastfeeding with what sounds like a very fussy baby. I am unsure how old your baby is but there are several reasons why babies cry and resist the breast.

When a newborn baby has had a difficult journey into this world, with maybe being in the posterior position and/or it has been a long labour and ended in assistance to turn them to be able to be born (i.e. via a ventouse or forceps delivery or an emergency caesarean), we sometimes need to keep be mindful that they might be in pain – with either a wee headache, or they may have a slight tightness in their neck or the muscles around their neck and shoulders. This can make a newborn uncomfortable to feed in certain positions. This is often made more manageable with a change in the breastfeeding position. If you or your LMC feel this may be the cause, then we would suggest the baby gets checked by a chiropractor or a cranial osteopath – they can often release the cause of the tension with one or several sessions.

If we are talking about an older baby, fussiness may be due to a too fast or too slow let-down of milk. Breast milk is hormone-driven and does not come out like a tap, it is more like waves – too fast and they might choke and splutter with the first let-down. We know they get about 35-45% of their total feed in this first release of milk, so that can be overwhelming physically for them. This can also be helped by a change in the breastfeeding person’s positioning i.e. lying back and letting the baby control the flow more.

As mentioned before about the hormones controlling your flow of milk, your emotions control the release of these hormones. If you are about to feed and visitors arrive, or your phone is not next to you, or you are anticipating pain or a struggle feeding, you don’t release the hormone oxytocin as quickly so the let-down is slower and the baby can get frustrated and pull away. This often leads to an upset baby and it can upset you too. In this situation, I would suggest just putting your baby on your chest, stroke them, and talk to them gently until they calm down, before slowly trying again. I hope this helps but you can always email me for a conversation if you need.


Follow Libby on Instagram @libbyandco_nz. To book a consultation with Libby, contact her via the details on her website.