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Getting a Proper Breastfeeding Latch: What to do

You're ready to start talking about the infamous breastfeeding latch. Trying out different breastfeeding holds to find the right one for you (and the baby) is a good start, but getting your little one ready to latch on can take some practice (sigh).

The question you’ll ask yourself is, “why does this hungry baby not want to play ball (boob)?” There is no right way to start breastfeeding. If your baby is “attached to the latch,” you’re successful.

One approach is allowing your baby to search the breast and take some pressure off you. This approach is called biological nurturing and allows your baby to lead with their instincts to suck. This can create a calming effect to keep your baby (and you) relaxed.

To help everyone feel as relaxed as possible, try creating an environment that encourages breastfeeding success. Once you both get some practice together, things will become easier and require less prep work. In the beginning you may want to try these tips:

Finding a calm environment: Find a good quiet place where you can relax and feel calm. Have good support for your back or side (pillows), and designed to support your breastfeeding hold. Talking gently to your baby to support their latching can also help keep your baby relaxed and engaged. Call it, “Nipple Talk.”

Get skin-to-skin contact: Have your baby only in a diaper against your bare chest. Holding the baby upright between your breasts – enjoy your baby for a while without forcing breastfeeding. Build a connection of closeness and connectedness.

Don’t force the latch: Support your baby’s head and shoulders as they search for your breast. Limit aiding them with the latch. As they get older, you should always be cautious about baby biting.

If the baby-led approach isn’t working, consider the following:

  • Tickle your baby’s lips with your nipple to encourage them to open wide.
  • Have your baby’s chin on your breast.
  • Observe your baby’s lower lip and try to get it as far as possible from the base of your nipple. This will ensure your baby takes the largest mouthful of breast.

Let your breasts hang naturally: When your baby’s chin hits your breast, the pressure will make your baby open its mouth wide. As your baby’s chin presses into your breast, they should be able to get a deep latch.

Your baby can breathe from this position! You’ll notice nostrils flare open to let air in.

Try to recognize your baby’s hunger cues: It may sound obvious, but making sure you recognize your baby’s hunger cues can lead to successful latching. Your baby may show hunger by:

  • Opening their mouth
  • Moving their head side-to-side
  • Fidgeting and fussing
  • Crying (might be too late as a cue but often an indicator of appetite)

What are the signs of a good breastfeeding latch?

Oh, mama, you’ll wish it to come easy. Finding a good latch (and keeping one) can really vary day-to-day. One day your baby is latched on and giving you a small thumbs up. The next day, they suddenly forgot how to latch on. Always remember, the latch should feel comfortable to you. It should not hurt or pinch.

Ways of knowing you have a good latch include:

  • Your baby is resting on your chest and doesn’t need to turn their head for drinking.
  • You don’t see your areola (or little of it).
  • In your baby’s position, their mouth is filled with breast.
  • Your baby’s tongue is cupped under the breast. You may not be able to see it.
  • You can hear your baby swallow (it may sound like loud gulps). Some babies are a little quieter in their feedings, so pausing in breathing could indicate that they’re swallowing.
  • Your baby’s ears wiggle.
  • Your baby will have fish lips as the lips turn outwardly. The bottom lip may not be visible.
  • Your baby’s chin is touching your breast.

What are the signs of breastfeeding latch problems?

Your baby may be tongue-tied: Babies with tight (or short) lingual frenulums are described as tongue-tied. A lingual frenulum is a fold of mucous membrane found underneath the tongue. The condition will present itself at birth and restrict your baby’s range of motion for their tongue.

Tongue-tie can improve on its own by two or three years old. Severe cases will be treated by cutting the tissue under the tongue.  

Your baby has a weak suck: Don’t consider it a health issue (as it rarely is), and think of the baby not having a deep enough latch. Try gently breaking your baby’s latch by placing a clean finger in the corner of their mouth. Try to reattach to improve baby’s suck.

Your baby is frustrated: Your baby is signaling that they may feel frustrated and need a break. Break the hold and sit your baby upright. You can take this time to talk to your baby a bit – ask them about life, dreams, or just how little sleep you both will get tonight. After the break, try to breastfeed again.

Always give yourself credit for progress! Every breastfeeding journey is unique and comes with its own challenges.

You’re doing a great job. Keep in mind that a good latch should keep discomfort at a minimum. You shouldn’t feel pain while getting the latch or breastfeeding. A bad latch can lead to cracked nipples or general soreness. Both of which contribute to more improper latches long-term.

Once you find your perfect positioning (breastfeeding holds) and get your baby to latch – breastfeeding will be a wonderful experience for you and your baby.

If you still need more help, seek a lactation expert to help with nursing. Often they can recognize issues and correct them on the spot. You and your baby are both tired – it helps to get a fresh pair of eyes. Keep it up! You got this.

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We recommend our Total Lactation Probiotic and Smooth Vanilla Lactation Tea for your nursing journey. For DHA support, consider our DHA or Total Postnatal + DHA.