Top latching tips
What to Know
- Learn how to achieve a good latch to support successful breastfeeding, even before your baby is born
- Practice and patience makes perfect, remember this is new for baby and new for you
- Learn the difference between soreness and pain so you can ease the first and get help for the second
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 her immune system, helps build her 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. You’ll 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 you find things difficult at first (you’re certainly not alone!). With the right technique and some practice, things will get easier. Persistence really pays off: once you and your baby accomplish an effective latch, not only are you giving your baby the best possible nutrition, breastfeeding can become a wonderful bonding experience for you both.
Don’t fret if initially you feel some discomfort while breastfeeding, it’s typical, especially if you are 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. Notice the difference between the sharp pain of a poor latch and the duller pain or tenderness that will dissipate with practice. If you feel sharp pain for more than a few seconds, unhook your baby and try the latch again (keep reading below for specific latch details and instructions). If you experience long-lasting pain or damage to your skin or nipple, ask a Happy Family Coach for support (we have lactation consultants on our team!). You can also seek an in-person evaluation from a professional lactation consultant.
Indications of a good latch
Get comfortable! Experiment to find a position that works for you (see the below What to Do section for specific positioning recommendations). Once you are situated and your 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 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 tone
If you are not sure, or are not experiencing the above indications, contact a Happy Family Coach for additional support and instruction. You and baby both deserve it!
What to Do
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
Support can include in-person lactation counselors or consultants or the Happy Family Milk Mentors available via live chat from 8a-8p M-F EST. 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! In addition to relying on a Happy Family lactation counselor, 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 your baby
Hold your baby so that her shoulders, hips, and ears are aligned. Her arms and hands can be around your breast. Place your baby’s nose directly opposite your breast. The smell of your colostrum or breast milk will likely cause her mouth to open. Move your baby back away from your breast an inch or two, and your baby’s mouth should briefly open even wider. Then as you draw your baby closer to your breast, her head should tilt back (do not place your hand on the back of her head, or else she will not be able to tilt back). Your baby’s bottom lip and tongue should reach the breast first, with your nipple filling the upper half of the roof of her mouth and the lower part of your breast more covered by her mouth.
Find the best position(s) for you: being comfortable will only help your baby latch and feed
Don’t forget about your comfort, too! There are a number of different positions you can try, so experiment to see what works best. Try to start with the cross cradle or cradle positions (where your baby lays across your front at breast level with her tummy towards your chest). In this position, your baby’s head should be resting in the crook of your elbow, on the same side as the breast you are feeding from.
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. If you’re lying on your side, consider a pillow between your knees, against your back and under your head.
If your baby’s latch does not seem optimal or you are experiencing prolonged pain, place a clean finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth to release the seal of the latch and try again. If you have to do this more than twice, try changing your position to find something else that might work better.
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 – speak to one of our Happy Family Lactation Consultants. 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.
For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
- 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
What are the benefits of breastfeeding? US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health.