It's pretty tough to properly describe a baby's ideal latch on paper. To get a real idea of what to shoot for, it's better to watch breastfeeding in action (with a breastfeeding friend at a local La Leche League International meeting or on video). And if you have trouble with latching, there is no substitute for hands-on assistance from a certified lactation consultant.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
• Get comfy. You'll be more relaxed and better able to help baby onto the breast if you find a breastfeeding position that feels good.
• Line 'er up. Baby's ear, shoulder and hip should be aligned, and her head shouldn't be tilted up or to the side once she's latched on.
• Wrap him. If you're using a cradle hold, it can help to curl baby's body against and around your abdomen. This helps him to relax his jaw.
• Give a tickle. Tickling baby's lips lightly with your nipple can help her open wide.
• Nose to nipple. Aim your nipple at baby's nose (as if you were going to squirt milk up his nostrils) with his head tilted slightly back. This can help motivate him to open wide and lines him up for getting your nipple in the right spot for effective feeding.
• Help her out. Once baby opens wide (like a yawn), help her onto your breast by gently—and quickly—pushing against her back. (Try this with your palm on her back and fingers behind her ears—babies tend to get peeved if you simply shove their heads from behind.)
• Know your aim. For the most comfortable breastfeeding (baby gets maximum milk, your nipples stay pain-free), your nipple needs to reach the area where baby's hard and soft palates meet. Touch the roof of your mouth; this is the spot where it switches from hard to soft.
• Not just nipples. Baby should feed on your areola, not just your nipple. Her lower jaw should take a nice chunk of breast, and her lips should curl outwards.
• Breathing room. If baby's nose is blocked by your breast, give him some space by pulling his bottom in closer to your body. (Don't press on your breast to create breathing room. Reposition baby instead.)
• Space to move. Baby should have freedom to angle her head back and away from your breast.
• Skin-to-skin. Stripping baby down to his skivvies and laying him against the skin of your chest can help calm him, keep him awake, and get him in the mood to nurse. (Drape a light blanket over the two of you if you're worried that he'll get chilly.)
• Sandwich. You may need to help baby latch by squishing your areola and nipple outwards. Use your thumb and forefinger to press your breast into a "sandwich" that is in line with baby's mouth (imagine biting into a huge burger), helping baby latch more deeply.