Helping baby establish a secure breastfeeding latch is a critical first step when you first start nursing, but it doesn't always come easily to newborns. Sometimes they need a little guidance from Mom—and sometimes Mom needs a little guidance to understand what a good breastfeeding latch actually looks like, and how to get it.
The breastfeeding latch is the moment when baby takes your nipple and areola into their mouth and “latches” on. How your child latches on is key to making sure they get enough milk without hurting your nipples in the process. In fact, when new moms experience pain while nursing, it's often because baby doesn't have a proper breastfeeding latch.
So how do you get baby to latch correctly? To get a clear idea of what to shoot for, it's always helpful to watch a breastfeeding session in action (with a breastfeeding friend at a local La Leche League International meeting or on video), or get hands-on assistance from a certified lactation consultant. That said, there are some helpful breastfeeding latch tips to keep in mind:
• Get comfy. You'll be more relaxed and better able to help baby get a good breastfeeding latch if you find a breastfeeding position that feels good.
• Line baby up. Baby's ear, shoulder and hip should be aligned, and their head shouldn't be tilted up or to the side once they're latched on.
• Go nose to nipple. Aim your nipple at baby's nose (as if you were going to squirt milk up their nostrils). This can help motivate them to open wide and lines your newborn up for getting your nipple in the right spot for effective feeding.
• Give a tickle. Tickling baby's lips lightly with your nipple can help them open wide.
• Offer more than just nipples. Baby should latch onto your areola, not just your nipple. Their lower jaw should take a nice chunk of breast, and their lips should curl outwards.
• Go deep. For breastfeeding to be most comfortable (so baby gets the maximum amount of milk and your nipples stay pain-free), your nipple needs to reach the area in baby's mouth where the hard and soft palates meet. Touch the roof of your mouth; this is the spot where it switches from hard to soft.
• Help baby out. Once baby opens wide (like a yawn), help them onto your breast by gently—and quickly—pushing against their back. (Try this with your palm on their back and fingers behind their ears—babies tend to get peeved if you simply shove their heads from behind.)
• Sandwich your breast. You may need to help baby get a proper breastfeeding latch by squishing your areola and nipple outwards. Use your thumb and forefinger to press your breast into a "sandwich" that's in line with baby's mouth (imagine biting into a huge burger), helping baby latch more deeply.
• Wrap baby around you. If you're using a cradle hold, a helpful trick is to curl baby's body against and around your abdomen. This helps them relax their jaw.
• Give baby breathing room. If baby's nose is blocked by your breast, give them some space by pulling their bottom in closer to your body. (Don't press on your breast to create breathing room. Reposition baby instead.) Baby should have freedom to angle their head back and away from your breast.
• Do skin-to-skin. Stripping baby down to their diaper and laying them against your bare chest can help calm them, keep them awake and get them in the mood to nurse. (Drape a light blanket over the two of you if you're worried your newborn will get chilly.)
If you and baby are struggling to establish a proper breastfeeding latch, reach out to lactation consultant. They'll be able to watch you two in action and make any necessary adjustments to ensure you and baby are comfy and find your groove.
Updated April 2019
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