Breastfeeding: Getting A Good Latch

The importance of getting a good latch when breastfeeding (and how to do it!)

There’s a reason it’s called “breastfeeding” and not “nipple-feeding.” When you are feeding your baby at the breast, he needs to get not just the nipple but part of the breast as well in his mouth, to minimize any discomfort for you and to maximize the amount of milk he gets.

A good latch means the baby is positioned at the breast so that the mother is comfortable, and the baby is getting the milk that’s available. If you feel the top of the inside of your own mouth, you’ll notice that at the front of your mouth, you have hard palate, but towards the back there is only soft tissue. Your baby’s mouth is the same.

Your goal is to have the nipple far enough back in the baby’s mouth that when he presses up with his tongue while sucking, the nipple will be pressed against the soft tissue. MUCH more comfortable than being repeatedly pressed against the hard palate!

As well, with the nipple well into his mouth, your baby will be better able to compress the ducts in the breast which have filled up with milk. Without a good latch, your baby may be at the breast for long periods of time but not get the milk you are producing. Over time, this leads to a decrease in milk supply and poor weight gain for the baby.

So how do you get this good latch? Every baby and every breast is a little different, so sometimes there is trial-and-error involved. But here are some tips that can help.

  • Try laid-back breastfeeding. Get into a comfortable semi-reclining position, and have your newborn tummy-down on your bare chest. Support him as needed as he moves towards your breast, finds the nipple and latches on. Yes, he can do this with almost no help from you! (Aren’t babies amazing?)
  • If you are feeding in another position, be sure your hands are not behind the baby’s head. He needs to be able to tip his head back slightly while nursing so that he can get his jaw under the breast.
  • The baby’s tummy should be against your tummy.
  • When you have the baby in position, aim your nipple at the baby’s nose, and move the baby in close so that your breast touches his lips. That gives him the signal to open wide, and as he does so you can press on his shoulders to bring him in even closer.
  • Sometimes, if it is not quite right, you’ll feel an uncomfortable tug as the baby sucks the nipple in further. If it is painless after that, there’s no need to remove the baby and start over. But next time, focus on getting good positioning at the start.
  • If you are feeling pain as the baby starts to suck, try adjusting your position while the baby is still at the breast. Usually, pressing the baby’s shoulders more closely against your body, so he can tip his head back a bit more will help.
  • When the latch is good, you will feel comfortable, and you will see your baby getting milk – his sucking will change from rapid, short sucks to longer sucks with a pause as his mouth is open wide. Sometimes you can hear the baby swallowing.

If you are still experiencing pain or feel your baby is not getting much milk, seek out someone with breastfeeding expertise to help you. There may be issues with the baby’s anatomy that make it difficult for the baby to latch effectively, for example. 

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