Proper Latch On
A good latch feels like your baby is sucking on your breast, not on the nipple and swallowing. Your nipple should be pulled in, deep into the mouth. If you can see part of your areola, or even the edge of your nipple, your baby’s mouth may not be deep enough. Babies are born with a natural instinct to find and latch onto the nipple, but if they don’t get it right away, you can help them by holding your breast in a way that makes it easier for them to latch deeply onto the areola (the darker part of your nipple).
Why is proper latching important?
Proper latching is important for many reasons. When your newborn latches properly, he receives milk directly from the breast instead of just drinking from the air next to your nipple. He will also get more milk at one time, which can help reduce his frustration level and encourage him to continue feeding. A better latch also helps prevent nipple soreness and damage that can come from improper latching (or not latching at all).
Prolonged incorrect latch-on may lead:
– to cracked nipples, and then perhaps
– to a breast infection, and worst-case-scenario,
– to an abscess.
How do you hold your breast to latch on?
When holding your breast for a successful latch:
– Make sure it’s positioned comfortably in front of you so it’s easy for your baby to reach with his mouth.
– Make sure there isn’t too much skin covering the areola (the dark area around the nipple) so that your baby doesn’t have trouble finding it with his mouth. You can always use one hand to pull back the skin around the areola. – Make sure your nipple is at the same level as your baby’s mouth to make it easier for him to latch on properly.
To facilitate a good start, tell the attending nurse at the hospital that:
- you want the baby to room-in with you. This will allow you to breastfeed your baby as much as possible,
- you do not want your baby to have a pacifier. A pacifier will satisfy Baby’s need to suck, so he may not want to suck when it is time to nurse,
- you do not want your baby to be supplemented with a bottle. Formula from a bottle will fill-up Baby so that he may not want to drink from your breast.
The nipples on a bottle & pacifiers are different from your breasts. Babies who get used to sucking on bottle-nipples and pacifiers may have a hard time latching onto your breast because they are experiencing nipple confusion.
How to Get a Proper Latch On
There are many “rules” to follow to ensure a proper latch on. You may not need to follow all of them, but try your best and if you do encounter problems, read this list again and see if you are forgetting anything. If you are still having trouble getting a proper latch on, then speak to a knowledgeable nurse, a lactation consultant, or get help at your local La Leche League group.
- Prepare your breast by massaging them a little: just rub them in a circular motion. Remember to massage under your breast, over your chest, and even up towards your armpits. This is especially important if you are having trouble with let-down.
- Bring your baby towards your breast using one of the holds described. Babies have a natural instinct to suck called the sucking reflex. This reflex is very strong 20 to 30 minutes right after birth. Indeed, a baby can suck his thumb while in your belly.
- Use your nipple to tickle your baby’s lower lip. Babies will naturally turn towards the stimulus: this is called the rooting reflex.
- Wait for Baby to open his mouth wide. If he opens a little, tickle more until his mouth is open wide.
- Push your breast into his wide-open mouth. The key is to put the nipple and as much of the areola as you can into his mouth. Don’t worry, he won’t suffocate or gag.
- When a baby nurses, it is not like sucking on a straw. He needs to suck and move his tongue up and down. This tongue action serves to pump the milk out from the milk pools. Thus, to be effective, you need to position Baby such that his mouth is around the areola and his tongue is under the areola (milk pools are in the breast beneath the areola). If you only place your nipples into Baby’s mouth,
- he won’t be able to use his tongue to pump the milk out and
- you will get sore nipples.
Remember: the key is to get a wide open mouth, and then push in as much of the breast as possible.
Other Important Tips
There are other important tips and clues to ensure that Baby is latched-on properly. In addition to lifting Baby up towards your breast, you may also try leaning forward towards him. You may also need to hold (or lightly squeeze) your breast with one hand and hold Baby’s head with the other hand to position the two parts together. Use the cross-cradle hold or have someone lend a helping hand (husband, nurse, or lactation specialist).
Baby’s body and face should be pointed towards your chest. He should not be looking up at the sky or positioned such that his body is turned towards the sky and his head turned towards your chest. It is hard to swallow if his head, neck and body are not aligned.
If you are engorged and your breasts are hard & round, it will be hard to put the areola into Baby’s mouth. You may wish to express some milk so that Baby can get a proper latch on.
With a good latch, Baby’s nose should be just grazing your breast. There will be a small triangle of space (below the nostrils, above the lips) which is not touching your breast, he can breath through this space.
When a baby has a proper latch on, his lips should be flared out against your breast (like when you are getting ready to kiss someone). If the lips are curled in, then he is not latched-on properly and you should remove him from your breast and try again.
How to Release a Latch-On
If your baby is not latched on properly, don’t hesitate to remove him from your breast and try again. It’s far better to get it right than to sit and suffer for 20+ minutes.
To do this:
- stick your little finger into the side of his mouth. This will break the suction so that you can take Baby off your breast without pulling and stretching your nipple.
- press your breast near the corner of his mouth. Dimpling your breast will break the seal and allow your breast to slip out painlessly.