Latching Tips That Will Make Breastfeeding Parents Lives So Much Easier

ColleenRD, CD, CBS

One of the best decisions you can make during the first 1000 days of your baby’s life is to choose to breastfeed your baby. While the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for at least six months (and even up to two years and beyond!) because of the everlasting benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your baby, know that any duration or inclusion of breastmilk will confer health benefits. Breastmilk uniquely contains all the nutrients your baby needs, improves their immune system, helps build their gut microbiota, and It also may help improve an infant’s cognitive development. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.

While a good latch is the gateway to providing this lasting gift of good health to your baby, like any new experience it can take time. Your partner will need to learn how to help your baby latch on correctly, and your baby will need to learn how to suck effectively. Don’t be disappointed or discouraged if things are difficult at first. With the right technique and some practice, things will get easier. Persistence really pays off.

Getting started

Your partner shouldn’t fret if initially she feels some discomfort while breastfeeding, it’s normal, especially for a first time mom. In general, a good latch will help minimize the soreness that may occur over the first few days as well as allow for successful feedings. Have them focus on the difference between the sharp pain of a poor latch and the duller pain or tenderness that will dissipate with practice. If mom feels a sharp pain for more than a few seconds, she should unhook the baby and try the latch again (keep reading below for specific latch details and instructions). If she is experiencing long-lasting pain or damage to her skin or nipple, ask a Happy Expert (our team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians) for support. She can also seek an in-person evaluation from a professional lactation consultant.

Indications of a good latch

Get your partner comfortable! Help her experiment to find a position that works for her (see the below What to Do section for specific positioning recommendations). Once she is situated and baby is latched, the following will indicate that all is well:

  • Your baby has a nice, wide latch (the angle of his mouth should be opened to more than 140 degrees)
  • Both your baby’s top and bottom lip are sealed and flanged (turned out)
  • The latch is asymmetric (off-center) to the nipple. The nipple should be aiming towards the roof of your baby’s mouth, resulting in more of the bottom of the areola being covered by your baby’s mouth
  • Your baby’s nose is close to the breast and your baby’s chin is against the breast
  • The latch should allow your baby to make two sucks to one swallow (2:1) or one suck to one swallow (1:1) in bursts while feeding
  • Your partner is enjoying a comfortable and pain-free nursing experience
  • When finished, the nipple should look similar to its pre-feeding shape (not misshapen or discolored), although some stretching is normal
  • Your baby appears satisfied with a relaxed body tone

If you are not sure, or your partner is not experiencing the above indications, chat live with the Happy Experts, our team of lactation specialists and registered dietitian nutritionists who can provide support and help you find an in-person LC should you need additional support.

What to Do

Plan ahead

Educate and familiarize yourself with latching (and breastfeeding) before giving birth, so you have one less thing to learn from scratch during all the excitement.

  • Familiarize yourself with your hospital or birth center’s onsite breastfeeding support as well as support you can access once you’re home again

The Happy Experts (our team of lactation specialists, registered dietitian nutritionists and all moms) are available via free live chat from 8a-6p M-F ET, they can help provide support and if you need additional help, they can help you find in-person support. If you are delivering in a hospital, you can also ask whether the hospital supports The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI).

Identify a local lactation consultant in advance of the birth

You may need or simply want additional support, or a home visit. Better to locate these helpful individuals in advance! Talk to your doctor or seek out extra support from an in-person Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

Limit the unnecessary introduction of pacifiers and bottles

Babies suck differently on artificial nipples than they do on the breast because artificial nipples are designed to release milk with ease. Beware that with too much exposure, your baby may start to prefer artificial nipples to yours, undermining easier and more successful breastfeeding

Prepare your baby to latch

Skin to skin contact with your baby (no blankets or clothing between you)will not only encourage effective latching and breastfeeding, it will also help you recognize your baby’s readiness to feed because of the close proximity. Learn to notice your baby’s pre-feeding hunger behavior (rooting, gaping, sealing, sucking on his lip, tongue, finger, or fist). Initiate feedings as soon as possible after noticing signs of hunger as little babies have no practice with patience and can’t withstand hunger the way adults can.

Find the best position(s) for baby

Your partner should hold baby so that her shoulders, hips, and ears are aligned. Your baby’s arms and hands can be around the breast. Place your baby’s nose directly opposite the breast. The smell of colostrum or breast milk will likely cause her mouth to open. They should move baby back away from the breast an inch or two, and the baby’s mouth should briefly open even wider. Then as they draw baby closer to the breast, your baby’s head should tilt back (your partner should refrain from placing their hand on the back of her head, or else she will not be able to tilt back). Baby’s bottom lip and tongue should reach the breast first, with the nipple filling the upper half of the roof of her mouth and the lower part of the breast more covered by her mouth.

Find the best position(s) for your partner: being comfortable will only help baby latch and feed

There are a number of different positions your partner can try, so help them to experiment to see what works best. Try to start with the cross cradle or cradle positions (where baby lays across the front at breast level with her tummy towards your partner’s chest). In this position, baby’s head should be resting in the crook of your partner’s elbow, on the same side as the breast they are feeding from.

Your partner should be relaxed, so none of their muscles are straining to hold themselves or the baby and so that their breasts and nipples aren’t being excessively pulled. If they’re sitting in a chair, offer them a footrest, a pillow behind their back, or another pillow for under the baby. If they’re lying on their side, give them a pillow to put between their knees, against their back and under their head.

If baby’s latch does not seem optimal or your partner is experiencing prolonged pain, they should place a clean finger in the corner of baby’s mouth to release the seal of the latch and try again. If they have to do this more than twice, help them to change their position to find something else that might work better.

Don’t wait to ask for help!

If your partner is having difficulty getting baby to latch or are struggling to get a comfortable latch, don’t wait to get help — chat live with  one of our Happy Experts (our team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists). You can also reach out to a local lactation consultant or see if your birthing center or hospital offers breastfeeding consults and/or support groups.