If you have made the decision to breastfeed your baby, you have most likely done your research on the subject. While breastfeeding is a natural process and a wonderful gift to both your newborn and yourself, it is very common for women to experience some challenges along the way, especially when it comes to a proper breastfeeding latch.
Not every baby is able to latch on properly and successfully right away. This is perhaps one of the most perpetuated myths associated with new motherhood. In fact, for most new mothers, breastfeeding latch takes time, practice, patience, and a little trial and error.
This can be frustrating for you and your baby and make breastfeeding painful and uncomfortable for a new mother. A good latch is responsible for making sure your baby is getting enough breastmilk and for stimulating adequate milk production in your breasts. If your breastfeeding latch is incorrect, you may experience painful cracking on your nipples, painful nipple infections, and clogged milk ducts, or mastitis.
A good latch is easily the most important aspect of a successful breastfeeding experience. Read on to discover how you can help your baby latch properly and start enjoying the many benefits of breastfeeding.
Good Latch vs Bad Latch
A proper breastfeeding latch can make all the difference in the success and comfort of your breastfeeding experience. Because it is such an important part of breastfeeding, it is important to know what to look for and how to tell the difference between a good latch and a bad one.
Signs Of A Good Breastfeeding Latch
You may think that your newborn is supposed to latch only to the nipple of your breast. After all, that is where your milk is released. However, a good latch is when your baby is latching not only to your nipple but to the areola as well.
Both nipple and areola size are as unique as mother’s themselves, but a good rule of thumb for a proper latch is for the baby’s latch to incorporate the entire nipple and at least an inch of the diameter of your areola.
When latched properly, you will notice that your baby’s lips are turned out. This is commonly referred to as “fish lips” and they should press flat against your breast. This positioning will result in your baby’s chin and nose also touching your breast.
You should be able to see and hear your baby sucking and swallowing and it should not feel painful. It is normal for your nipples to feel slightly tender while latching, but pain should never be part of the breastfeeding experience.
Signs Of A Bad Breastfeeding Latch
Most new mothers aren’t even aware that their baby isn’t latching properly while breastfeeding. An improper breastfeeding latch is often not even considered until you are looking for answers to some of the common problems associated with a bad latch.
Here are some signs that your baby isn’t latching on to your breast properly during feedings:
- Your baby is only latching onto your nipple.
- You can not hear or see your baby swallowing.
- You can hear clicking or smacking noises as your baby tries to suck.
- While your baby is sucking, their cheeks are being pulled in.
- Your baby isn’t gaining the expected amount of healthy weight.
- Your baby is losing weight.
- Your milk supply is low.
- Your baby doesn’t seem satisfied after feedings and you are having to feed them sooner than should be expected.
- Your nipples are cracked, bleeding, and very painful.
- You are struggling with nipple infections and painful engorgement in your breasts.
Ultimately the causes of a bad latch are easily addressed and are most often due to a lack of information or lactation education for new breastfeeding mothers. If you are having difficulty breastfeeding, consulting a lactation specialist can be a lifesaver.
You can also download the Kinedu app to watch live and on-demand classes about breastfeeding, nutrition and other important topics for parents.
How To Achieve A Good Breastfeeding Latch
The first step to successful breastfeeding and a good breastfeeding latch is to find a breastfeeding position that is comfortable for you and your baby. The right position can not only make you more relaxed, which is so important for a positive breastfeeding experience, but it can also help facilitate a good latch. Make sure you try out a few different positions to discover which ones make breastfeeding the most comfortable for you and your baby.
Some of the best positions for helping your baby achieve a proper breastfeeding latch include:
- The Football Hold: This position has your baby placed at your side. Your baby should be facing you with their legs tucked under your arm and toward your back, just like you would hold a football. You can even try this position using a nursing pillow for added support.
- Side-Lying Position: This position is not only great for getting a good latch, but side-lying is the perfect position for late-night feedings or to allow yourself time to lie down and rest while feeding your baby. You and your baby will both lie facing each other, tummy to tummy.
- Dangle Feeding: This position may not be the most comfortable in the long term, but it is a great one to try when you need help with latching or are experiencing painful or engorged breasts. Lie your baby on their backs and position yourself so that your nipple dangles in their mouth. You can do this by sitting, lying on your side propped up, or kneeling over your baby.
There are a number of breastfeeding positions for you to try. Once you are settled into a comfortable position with your baby, it is time to help them latch on.
Steps For A Good Latch
Here are the steps for a good breastfeeding latch:
- Make sure your baby is completely facing your breast.
- Do not bring your breast to the baby. Bring your baby to your breast.
- With your free hand, place your thumb above your areola and your forefinger underneath it. (This finger placement also correlates to when your baby’s nose and chin should touch your breast.)
- Gently squeeze or “sandwich” your breast. This allows for easier latching and a shape that resembles your baby’s mouth.
- Gently stroke your baby’s cheek to activate their rooting reflex. Your baby will turn their head to face your breast.
- Use your nipple to stimulate their lips until your baby opens their mouth fully.
- Bring your baby into the breast quickly making sure your nipple is far enough in to touch their soft palate.
- Check your baby’s lips to make sure they are forced outward like a fish.
- Listen and look for proper sucking and swallowing sounds.
Remember that it may take a few tries for you and your baby to master a good breastfeeding latch. Most of the time, the difference between a good latch vs a bad latch comes down to the proper positioning and knowing what to look for.
If breastfeeding is painful, uncomfortable, or you are concerned about your baby’s latch, you can always contact a lactation consultant. Lactation specialists are dedicated to healthy and successful breastfeeding for babies and new mothers and can provide you with help latching your baby.
For more information about breastfeeding and how to get a good latch, download the Kinedu app to get 1:1 support with experts.