Q&A: What should I do for dehydration in a newborn that has trouble latching on?
My baby is 4 days old and still doesn't want to latch on to my breast or a bottle. She has a mild case of dehydration so I need to get more fluids in her. What can I do to get the needed fluids in her?
Newborns have a very few but well-defined jobs: to eat (drink), to pee and poop, to sleep, and to gain weight. If and when they don’t get enough to drink for any reason—including because they have difficulty latching on and/or sucking—it can definitely make them sleepier, cause them to pee less (one of the signs of dehydration), poop less (making jaundice more likely), and not have the energy needed to grow. I therefore always make it a point to teach parents to watch closely for signs of dehydration and bring any and all breastfeeding concerns to their pediatricians—especially in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding. Not only can newborns become more quickly dehydrated, jaundiced and get into trouble, but establishing a good latch is absolutely key for successful breastfeeding.
Given the challenge you’ve described regarding your baby’s disinterest, you are right on the mark in recognizing the time-sensitive need to make sure she gets enough fluids—whether that is able to be accomplished with a quick fix for your latching concerns, supplemental feedings, or even in the form of fluids given by vein if necessary. Let me also say that this is not something that parents need to figure out on their own. There are many reasons why a baby may not latch on correctly that can range from a baby who is slow to get the hang of things or is too sleepy to do so, for example, to those with a weak/ineffective suck, or who are challenged by the size/shape of their mothers’ breast. Given the importance of identifying and addressing the underlying cause of feeding problems as soon as possible, you should absolutely seek the advice of your pediatrician, a qualified health professional and/or a lactation consultant—all of whom can help figure out the cause and hopefully get you and your baby on the right track for long-term breastfeeding success.