The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months of life, but sometimes that simply isn't possible. When your baby has a weak suck or poor latch, breastfeeding isn't only ineffective, it can also be extremely painful. Before you give up on the idea of nourishing your baby naturally, work to improve your baby's overall latch and sucking ability. You may find that with some minor tweaks, breastfeeding to 6 months of age is possible and a positive experience for both of you.
Experiment with different breastfeeding holds to ensure that both you and your baby are comfortable during breastfeeding. While the cross-body cradle hold is common, your baby might be able to suck more efficiently from a football hold, where he's held under the armpit to reach the breast. Using pillows and other aids, you can position your baby for optimum latch and sucking.
Stimulate your nipples to initiate milk flow -- also known as letdown -- before your baby begins to eat. An oversupply of milk or a forceful letdown can result in your baby choking and swallowing air before beginning to suck, making breastfeeding an unpleasant experience. By letting down into a milk storage bag or cup before you begin feeding, you help relieve some of the pressure from your breasts so your baby can engage in a consistent sucking rhythm. Use a breast pump to help with this process if you desire and can afford one.
Position your baby's mouth so that her bottom lip touches the area just outside the areola. When your baby latches on, ensure that she takes the entire nipple, areola and some of the breast tissue into her mouth. Sucking on just the nipple can result in inefficient and painful nursing. It may help to compress your breast into a flat "sandwich" parallel to your baby's mouth before allowing your baby to latch on to ensure the best latch possible.
Wear a nipple shield if your baby has issues latching on or breastfeeding is painful for you. A nipple shield is a plastic piece that fits over your breast and creates a thinner nipple, which can be easier for a small infant to suck on. Nipple shields are particularly appropriate for premature infants, who may have smaller mouths or diminished sucking capacity.
Monitor your baby's growth and development for signals of possible problems. So long as your baby is growing properly, he is sucking efficiently. If he's losing weight, your pediatrician should notice a problem at your well-child checkups following birth. Should your baby be losing weight or not eating enough, your doctor may suggest you supplement with formula or pump breast milk and bottle-feed to make it easier for your baby to eat and gain weight.
Discuss your baby's latching and feeding habits with your pediatrician and a lactation consultant, who can provide advice specific to your situation.