8 Keys to Getting a Good Breastfeeding Latch

Pregnancy, Birth & Babies

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Breastfeeding can be one of the most rewarding ways to bond with your baby; I’ve loved nursing every one of my 10 little ones! But it can also be maddeningly tough to get a good latch and to deal with sore nipples. I’m excited to share some of my 17 years of successful breastfeeding experience with you to help you find joy in your journey!

Breastfeeding is often tricky

First of all, I think it’s important to realize that while breastfeeding is very natural, it’s not necessarily easy to do well. It takes time and effort AND very often some professional help to figure out the different positions that will be the best for you and your baby. Don’t get overwhelmed and don’t give up! Sometimes there are issues at play that might take a little time and effort to troubleshoot.

Side note: lots of skin-to-skin contact for mom and baby can create a healthy and happy breastfeeding relationship right from the start.

It’s all about the angle

It’s important to bring your baby’s head to the breast at the correct angle. Essentially, your baby’s chin will be closer to your breast than baby’s nose, and your nipple will point towards the roof of her mouth. If she doesn’t initally open her mouth wide, tickle her top lip or nose with your nipple which will cause her to open wider. Be sure you’re bringing baby to your breast and not the breast to baby. Bad posture while nursing can cause fatigue and lead to a poor latch.

Think “bite”, not “sip”

When adults suck a straw, we purse our lips and get only the very tip of the straw into our mouths. This is NOT how you want your baby to nurse! A good latch means that baby’s mouth will attach to a large portion of the areola (dark circle around the nipple) and create a seal with baby’s lips. If you look at baby’s jaw during a good latch, it will be mostly open, not closed. It’s a good sign if baby’s mouth looks like he’s coming in for a big bite instead of a tiny sip.

Breastfeeding might be painful, but it shouldn’t be unbearable

Don’t believe anyone who says breastfeeding will never be painful; nipples are tender and it takes a few days for them to get accustomed to a baby suckling all hours of the night! However, the pain should not be unbearable and should lessen as the feed goes on. If you find yourself crying out in pain, gritting your teeth through intense nipple pain or really dreading a feed, then something is probably off. A professional lactation consultant can help you try different holds, diagnose physiological problems (i.e. a tongue tie) and/or suggest a nipple shield, if necessary.

If something feels off, try again

It’s not unusual for babies (especially newborns) to have a hard time opening wide enough to get a large portion of the nipple and areola into their mouths. If that happens, just break the latch and try again. Babies will continue to suck until they’re satiated or fall asleep, so in order to break the latch, insert your index finger in between baby’s lips and the breast and gently pry them off. It’s OK to try over and over again until baby latches correctly. Don’t suffer through a bad latch; an ounce of prevention in this case is definitely worth a pound of cure.

Try a different hold

The media rarely shows new moms using anything other than a basic cradle hold to breastfeed but there are so many other options!

• The cradle hold is great for babies of all ages: Hold baby in your arms with her head in the crook of your right arm (for example) while nursing on your right side (and vice versa)

• The cross-cradle position is perfect for newborns and smaller babies that lack neck control: Similar to the cradle hold but your left hand holds the back of your baby’s head while nursing on the right (opposite) side

• The football hold is a good position for C-section mamas, smaller babies, two babies at once or any other time you want more control over baby’s latch: lay baby on his back and tuck his body under one arm while holding the back of his head with that same arm.

• Side lying position is fantastic for when you’re exhausted and want to nurse in bed, or recovering from a C-section: Lie on one side and lay baby next to you on her back to nurse from the breast closest to her (if necessary, use your free hand to help her latch)

• Variations: There are several more options you can try while lying flat or in a semi-reclining position including having baby lie on their belly below your breast or over your shoulder.

They sometimes look silly but give them a try if you’re having trouble with baby’s latch.

Don’t forget to surround yourself with lots and lots of pillows for extra support so you don’t have to worry about getting fatigued. New babies especially need lots of help staying in position to maintain a great latch.

It’s rare to not make enough milk

So many moms wonder and worry whether or not their milk production is sufficient and if their baby is getting enough. Especially if you’re used to strictly measuring how much milk a baby consumes (like when bottle feeding), it can be so hard to let go of that control. But trust that your body and your baby are working together just the way they’re designed to. A few things to look for that might mean baby is not eating enough: he doesn’t have lots of wet diapers each day, he doesn’t seem satiated (i.e. keeps crying) after feeding on both breasts, he only sleeps for short periods of time, or he isn’t gaining weight according to expectations.

Even if your baby shows some of these concerns, I would highly recommend meeting with a certified lactation consultant before supplementing with formula or more breast milk. The latch should be such that baby’s tongue stimulates the breast as she suckles and causes the milk to flow, so a poor latch can definitely adversely affect milk supply. Tongue or lip ties and other factors can also contribute to a baby not getting enough milk.

FYI, neither the size of your breasts (large breasts don’t necessarily make large amounts of milk and vice versa) nor the amount of milk you can pump is indicative of how much your baby is getting. The only way to accurately tell how much baby eats is to use an infant scale and weigh baby immediately before and after a feed.

Watch out for mastitis

One of the most miserable illnesses I’ve ever experienced is mastitis (and I’ve had it at least 4 times!). It’s an infection inside the breast, often caused by blocked milk ducts. It feels like the flu (achy body, chils and fever) accompanied with a red, sore spot on the affected breast(s). The best way to avoid mastitis is to vary the holds you use for nursing your baby and to ensure that baby empties each breast as much as possible. Women who overproduce milk are often more likely to contract mastitis.

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