How to Get an Effective Breastfeeding Latch

Achieving a proper breastfeeding latch can be challenging at first, but it's important to effective breastfeeding. Here's how to get an ideal latch and overcome common early challenges.

mom holding and smiling at nursing baby

Latching before beginning a breastfeeding session is how your baby securely attaches to your breast, allowing them to most effectively feed and take in your milk. Ensuring your little one is latching properly is key to effective (and pain-free!) breastfeeding while helping him or her get all the milk they need. If your baby’s latch isn’t quite right, milk flow may be reduced and you’ll likely feel discomfort. In fact, improper latching can often lead to cracked and sore nipples, milk duct blockages, pain while breastfeeding, and even reduced milk production over time.

If you’re new to breastfeeding, helping your baby master latching can be challenging – But doing so early on can help you and your baby have a more seamless breastfeeding experience through the course of your journey together.

How to Ensure a Proper Latch

A good latch is all about positioning. This means that how your baby is positioned with you and how your breast is positioned near your baby’s mouth can help you both learn how to breastfeed together and find ways to nurse that are most comfortable.

To encourage your baby to latch, be sure you’re sitting in a comfortable position and have a breastfeeding support pillow nearby if needed:

  • Turn your little one to face you. Your baby should be tummy to tummy with you.
  • Baby’s head should not be turned to the side. Their ear and shoulder should be aligned, and their nose should be opposite your nipple.
  • Grasp your breast and gently touch your nipple toward your baby’s upper lip. Rub your nipple against their upper lip to encourage them to open their mouth and take hold your nipple.
  • Your baby’s chin should rest against your breast beneath the nipple and their head should be tilted back slightly. This position will encourage them to open their mouth wide with their tongue down to help them latch properly. 

What Does a Good Latch Look Like?

How do you know when you’ve achieved a proper latch? Here are a few important things to look for:

  • Feeding your baby is comfortable and painless. Nursing shouldn’t hurt – If you experience pain while breastfeeding, your baby is likely not latched correctly and their suckling is causing nipple pain or trauma.
  • Your baby’s chin touches your breast.
  • You can see and hear your baby swallowing.
  • Your baby’s mouth is latched onto both your nipple and surrounding areola. If only your nipple is in his or her mouth, then the latch is probably too shallow.
  • Your baby’s lips turn outwards like a fish and their tongue is positioned under your nipple.

Latching Challenges and Solutions

Remember, breastfeeding is a new experience for you both! Whether this is your first baby or it’s been a while since you’ve nursed a newborn, it’s not unusual to experience latching challenges. Though breastfeeding your little one is incredibly natural, it’s also a learned behavior that can require patience and focus at times.

Don’t stress too much if you experience difficulties in those early days – It’ll get better as you and your baby learn how to navigate feeding together. Working alongside a lactation consultant and your little one’s pediatrician can help you address and overcome early challenges while ensuring that your baby is eating enough.

See three of the most common early latching challenges and how you can work through them:

Painful Breastfeeding

It’s not uncommon to feel some discomfort when you first begin breastfeeding, but it shouldn’t be unbearable or excessive. However, if your nipples hurt or are cracking, your baby may be only sucking on your nipple – rather than having both your nipple and surrounding areola in their mouth.

To adjust, carefully break your baby’s suction by gently placing your finger in the corner of his or her mouth. If he or she is not latching properly, your nipple will look flat rather than round and long. To try again, gently rub your nipple against your baby’s upper lip. When they open their mouth wide with their tongue low in their mouth, they should be able to achieve a more effective latch.

Flat or Inverted Nipples

Flat or inverted nipples can cause unique challenges when breastfeeding. Working through these challenges with a lactation consultant can make a world of difference and help you continue your breastfeeding journey for as long as you choose. Fortunately, there are solutions that can provide a little extra help:

  • Try using a breast shell inside your bra for about a half-hour before feeding, as these help draw out flat or inverted nipples.
  • You can also try using a breast pump for a short time right before feeding to help stimulate your nipples.
  • Finally, ask your lactation consultant about using a nipple shield. These hold your nipple in an extended position and keep your little one at your breast while addressing common issues like latching difficulties or flat or inverted nipples, but should only be introduced under the guidance of a lactation professional.

Tongue Tie

Some babies are born with ankyloglossia, more commonly known as a tongue tie. This condition occurs when the tissue underneath your baby’s tongue is shorter, thicker, or tighter than usual. This tethers more of your baby’s tongue to the floor of their mouth, restricts their tongue’s range of motion, and can make nursing difficult. Speak to your pediatrician if you believe your baby could have a tongue tie.

Experiment with Different Breastfeeding Positions

Oftentimes, adjusting your breastfeeding position can make it easier for your baby to latch. Work with your healthcare team and try some of the following positions to find the one that is most comfortable and works best for you and your little one:

Football Hold

Hold your baby on the same side as the breast you’ll be nursing from. Make sure they’re facing you with their legs tucked under your arm – much like a football. This is a great hold to try if you’re recovering from a C-section because there’s very little weight or pressure on your abdomen as it heals.

Cradle Hold

Cradle your baby so their head is resting on your forearm and their back is supported by your inner arm and hand. Let him or her latch on the same side as your arm supporting them. This is a cozy position for both you and your baby, though you may find it helpful to have a pillow on your lap or supporting the arm holding your little one for extra comfort.

Straddle Hold

Lying back on a pillow, gently lay your baby against your body. Their head should be placed just above and between your breasts. As you carefully support your baby’s head and neck, gently guide them toward your breast.

Side-Lying Position

This is another helpful position to try if you’ve had a C-section. Lie on your side with baby facing you, offer your breast with your free hand, and cuddle him or her close while they nurse. 

We get it, mama – It can be frustrating and dispiriting if nursing doesn’t go smoothly. It’s totally normal for you both to feel stressed if your little one is showing hunger cues but isn’t latching properly or your milk doesn’t seem to be letting down. It’s always worth reminding yourself that millions of moms just like you go through these same challenges every year. Take a few minutes to soothe your baby and relax yourself. Try encouraging as much skin to skin contact as possible while holding him or her close and try again in a few minutes. 

Remember, with plenty of practice and a bit of time, you and your little one will adjust, learn how to nurse together, and enjoy those close bonding moments. As always, if you’re struggling with latching or nursing, don’t hesitate to ask for help from your doctor or a lactation consultant. We know you’ve got this!

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