Top Breastfeeding Latching Tips

AndieM.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200

Read time: 5 minutes

What should you know about getting a good latch while breastfeeding

  • Understand what type of breast pain is normal and what is not
  • Learn how to get a good breastfeeding latch with your baby
  • Learn the signs of a good latch

Even though breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally at first. Like any new experience, learning how to get your little one to latch well can take time. A good latch is important for many reasons, including preventing nipple and breast damage as well as helping ensure your baby gets enough milk.1,2

Don’t be disappointed or discouraged if you find breastfeeding difficult at first (you’re certainly not alone!). With the right technique and some practice, breastfeeding will get easier.

While every mom and baby will have their own journey to a comfortable latch, there are some breastfeeding basics that can help everyone.

Understand when breastfeeding pain is normal or not

It’s fairly typical to experience some soreness in the first week or so of breastfeeding as you and your baby get the hang of things.2,3 You may experience a bit of pain when baby first latches, but this should go away as baby gets into the feed and is consistently suckling.4 This generally common dull pain and tenderness should go away with practice and time.

A poor latch will result in a sharp pain that does not get better. If you feel sharp pain that is not going away during a feed, unlatch your baby by putting a clean finger in the corner of baby’s mouth to break the seal (do not just pull baby off), then try again.4 Re-latching gives you and your baby an opportunity to readjust and get more comfortable.

If you experience long-lasting pain or damage to your skin or nipple, reach out to a local lactation consultant for in-person guidance, or to our team of registered dietitians and lactation counselors for free! They’re here to help on our free live chat from Monday through Friday, from 8am–6pm ET, and Saturday and Sunday, from 8am–2pm ET. Chat Now!

Read more: What to do about Sore Nipples While Breastfeeding

Preparing to latch: Skin-to-skin and hunger cues

Skin to skin contact with your baby (no blankets or clothing between you, and baby only wearing a diaper) will not only encourage effective latching and breastfeeding, it will also help you more easily recognize when your baby is ready to feed.1,8 Hold your baby against your chest between your breasts and simply relax together for a bit before a feed – or anytime!

Start to notice and learn your baby’s hunger cues:

  • Rooting; baby bobbing their head and mouth against your skin in search of the nipple
  • Opening and closing their mouth
  • Head turning toward the breast
  • Sucking on their lip, tongue, finger, or fist.7

Recognizing your baby’s cues will help start the feed early, when baby is calmer and less frantic, which can help with latching. 1,3,6

Read more: Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues: Responsive Feeding

Steps to latch your baby

Positioning

Line up baby’s nose with your nipple. This position is important for getting baby to open wide enough for a nice deep latch.5

If in cross-cradle, cradle, or football holds, support your baby’s head and neck with your fingers while your palm is firmly between baby’s shoulders. Try not to hold the back of baby’s head, this may make your baby push backward rather than latch.1

Your goal is to bring baby to the breast, not bring the breast to baby. Leaning forward too much may eventually cause back pain.

Holding the breast

To help your baby get more of your breast into their mouth, try cupping your breast, fingers underneath and thumb on top (holding your hand in the shape of a “C”) to compress the breast just a bit.1,4 Similar to how you would compress a big sandwich to get more of it into your mouth.

In some breastfeeding positions, you may be holding your breast from underneath, in a “U” shape, to help compress it.1

Opening wide

Use your nipple to ‘tickle’ baby’s nose, or run your nipple down from the nose to the mouth to help get your baby to open wide.1 As baby opens at the widest point and their head is tilted back, direct your nipple toward the top back of baby’s mouth, pulling your little one onto the breast.4

Baby’s lower jaw will come onto the breast first.4,5 You’ll want baby to take in more of the bottom part of the areola, where their lower jaw is, and some of the top part as well.1 This is considered an appropriate ‘asymmetric’ latch.

If your baby is only latched onto the nipple, gently detach your little one and try again.5 

Signs of a good latch

Once you are situated and your baby is latched, the following will indicate that all is going 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 lips are sealed and flanged (turned out so you can see them)
  • The latch is asymmetric (off-center) to your nipple. Your nipple should be aiming towards the roof of your baby’s mouth, resulting in more of the bottom of your areola being covered by your baby’s mouth
  • Your baby’s nose is close to your breast and your baby’s chin is against your 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
  • You are enjoying a comfortable and pain-free nursing experience
  • When finished, your 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 tone1,3,4,5,6,8

Still need help with baby’s latch? Reach out to our team of lactation consultants for free on our live chat. They are here Monday – Friday 8am-8pm (EST), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-4pm (EST). Chat Now!

Tips on how to get a great latch

Find the best breastfeeding position(s) for you

Being comfortable will help your baby latch and feed, while also helping you relax, which is important for your let-down reflex (the process of milk starting to flow).9 There are several different breastfeeding positions you can try, so experiment to see which ones works best.

Breastfeeding positions and holds:

  • Cradle hold
  • Cross cradle or transitional hold
  • Laid back or straddle hold
  • Football or clutch hold
  • Side-lying position1,8,10

Find a position you’ll be able to relax in, so that none of your muscles are straining to hold yourself or your baby and so that your breasts and nipples aren’t being excessively pulled.

If you’re sitting in a chair, consider a footrest, a pillow behind your back, and another pillow for under your baby.10 If you’re lying on your side, consider a pillow between your knees, against your back and under your head.

Read more: Breastfeeding positioning

Limit unnecessary introduction of bottles

Babies suck differently on artificial bottle nipples than they do on the breast. This is due to both a difference in sucking mechanisms between the breast and bottle, as well as due to a difference in the flow rate.12

Milk flows from a bottle much easier, plus babies don’t have to wait for the let-down reflex as they would when breastfeeding. In some babies, this difference may result in nipple confusion or a faster flow preference.12

If you need to or choose to use a bottle, consider trying the paced bottle feeding method.11

Read more: What Is Paced Bottle Feeding?

Learn about: Choosing the Right Bottles and Nipples

Don’t wait to ask for help

If you’re having difficulty getting your baby to latch or you are struggling to get a comfortable latch, don’t wait to get help, reach out to a local lactation consultant or see if your birthing center or hospital offers breastfeeding consults and/or support groups.

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday through Friday, from 8am–6pm ET, and Saturday and Sunday, from 8am–2pm ET. Chat Now!

Read more about the experts that help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

Supporting Adequate Milk Production

What Can I Do to Prepare to Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding on Demand versus on a Schedule

Breastfeeding Challenges 101: Managing gas in breastfed babies

Breastfeeding Basics 101: Managing Leaking

Breastfeeding Basics 101: Positioning

Breastfeeding Challenges 101: Sore Nipples

Breastfeeding Challenges 101: Mastitis