Getting the best latch right from the start can keep you from developing breastfeeding problems that may result in early weaning. You’ll be more comfortable, your baby will grow well, and breastfeeding will be a smooth and enjoyable experience for you if you and your baby latch well from the very first feeding.
Here are 7 breastfeeding problems you can avoid with a good latch:
#1: Cracked Nipples and/or Blisters
This can happen as early as the first day post birth – even with just one poor latch. Mothers who have gone through this will tell you – it hurts!
While some mild discomfort is normal in the first week, any lasting pain – especially when it’s accompanied by broken or blistered skin – is a sign that something is wrong with your baby’s latch. As you’re working on getting a better latch, you may want to use some purified lanolin or other natural oil (virgin coconut oil for example, which is also anti fungal and anti bacterial) to help heal your nipples. If the damage is severe, you might need to pump until it heals – though this isn’t necessary in most cases.
#2: Nipple Pain Without Broken Skin
If you hear clicking noises as your baby nurses, it may be that your baby isn’t latched deeply enough. You can try shifting his position a bit to see if he takes the nipple deeper into his mouth, or you can unlatch and try again. If the clicking persists, it may be that your baby has a tongue tie or bubble palate, both of which can cause nipple soreness. If your nipple pain is from your baby slipping down on nipple as the feeding progresses, try pulling his body in closer to yours and keeping it there throughout a feeding.
#3: Prolonged Engorgement
When your milk comes in (usually 2-5 days after the birth), some swelling is normal. With frequent feedings, this engorgement typically subsides after a couple of days. If your baby isn’t able to get milk from the breast, however, you may experience lasting engorgement or painfully full breasts. Expressing milk – either with a pump or by hand – can alleviate some of the pressure, but getting a better latch so that your baby can move the milk is the most lasting solution.
#4: Blocked / Plugged Duct or Mastitis
If milk isn’t being moved because your baby isn’t correctly latched, your chances of a plugged duct or breast infection are increased. Watch for signs such as a small tender spot on the breast, redness, heat, or even flu-like symptoms. If you do develop any of these symptoms, treat the issue while at the same time working to get baby to latch more deeply and transfer more milk.
#5: Thrush or Bacterial Infection
Any broken skin on the nipple is susceptible to infection – bacterial, viral or fungal. Differentiating between the types of infection can be done by your healthcare provider, but you may want to work with a lactation consultant to get to the root of the problem and to be sure you’re getting the best possible latch so you don’t experience recurrent infections.
Something important to realise is that thrush (no matter where you get it) always begins in the gut. When your gut is out of balance, it spreads to other areas, resulting in outbreaks if not brought under control. To help prevent or beat thrush at the root cause, read our helpful information on treating and beating thrush — for good.
#6: Low Milk Supply
If your baby falls asleep quickly at the breast and you don’t hear any swallows, or if your baby seems to stay at the breast forever but is fussy and hungry again right after you unlatch him, it could be that he isn’t getting the milk that’s there, and this is usually due to a poor latch. If this continues, your body will receive messages that it doesn’t need to make as much milk, and your supply will suffer. Doing breast compressions to keep your baby interested will improve your supply and get more milk into your baby as you work on getting the best possible latch at every feeding.
Check out our other articles on low milk supply, including 10 Tips For Increasing Milk Supply.
#7: Poor Weight Gain
A baby who isn’t gaining well is not getting enough nourishment. Babies will typically nurse 8-12 times per day, with some babies needing to nurse more and some less. If your baby isn’t gaining weight, make sure you are nursing often enough and make sure you optimise every feeding so that your baby gets the most milk possible. This starts with getting a deep asymmetric latch.
So, How Do I Get The Best Possible Latch?
You want to be sure you have your baby’s body turned toward yours (tummy-to-mummy), with his head at breast level. If you need pillows under your baby to achieve this, use them. If not, don’t feel you have to have them. Pull your baby’s body in tight against yours – with no space between the two of you. Now with your nipple next to your baby’s nose, tickle his top lip to elicit some rooting. When his mouth is open wide, bring him toward the breast and allow him to latch. He may need to tip his head back slightly to do this. Your nipple will be pointing toward the roof of his mouth, his chin may be buried in breast tissue and his nose may be just touching your breast.
How Will I Be Able To Tell The Latch Is Good?
First of all, it shouldn’t hurt. If it does, try to get a deeper latch at the next feeding. Sometimes just the first few sucks are uncomfortable, and once the baby gets the nipple deeper in his mouth, the discomfort subsides. If it’s so uncomfortable you can’t continue the feeding, break the suction and try again.
You should see some quick flutter sucking at the beginning of a feeding, followed by some deeper sucks followed by swallows as he gets more milk. Then your baby will pause for a short time, and start the process again. You should hear lots of swallowing while your baby is actively nursing – sometimes you’ll hear them as gulping, but sometimes they’ll be a soft ‘kah’ sound. You can see swallows as a brief pause mid-suck. If you aren’t seeing or hearing swallows, your baby isn’t transferring milk, and may need a deeper latch to do so.
Your breasts should feel softer after a feeding, and your nipple should be a normal shape and colour when your baby lets go. If your nipple is creased, or looks like a new tube of lipstick, your baby is not latched well.
What Do I Do If I Just Can’t Get A Comfortable Latch?
Consider spending time skin to skin. Often this awakens baby’s breastfeeding reflexes, and baby searches for the breast and self-attaches.
If you cannot get a comfortable latch on your own, work with a lactation consultant or peer counsellor in person. Sometimes just small adjustments in the way you are holding your baby are enough to make a huge difference. An experienced lactation professional can also examine your baby’s oral anatomy to be sure that isn’t the source of your problems. In some cases, a nipple shield can be used to preserve breastfeeding and milk supply while you and your baby work on perfecting latching.
Occasionally, a baby’s mouth may be out of proportion to a mother’s breast or nipple size, and the only way to get a comfortable latch is with time and infant growth. In this case, sometimes a nipple shield is useful and sometimes pumping and feeding expressed milk until baby grows a little is needed.
If you are experiencing pain with nursing, hang in there but get help – breastfeeding is worth the effort to get the best latch possible.