Learning to Latch: A Key To Breastfeeding Success

Learning to Latch: A Key To Breastfeeding Success

You’re not alone if you thought that once your baby was born, breastfeeding would be a simple matter.

You would simply put her to your breast, she’d work out what to do, and off you’d go. Easy, right?

Unfortunately, however, breastfeeding isn’t always so easy for every mother and baby.

Two common reasons why mothers cease breastfeeding before they want to, are painful nipples and a perceived low milk supply.

A major cause of painful nipples is an incorrect latch (or attachment to the breast).

An incorrect latch can cause nipple pain and damage. It can also result in a baby not getting enough milk, being fussy with feeds, and being generally unsettled.

Why Learning to Latch Is A Key To Breastfeeding Success

The good news is that an incorrect latch can be corrected; this article describes how.

It’s Not Real Estate, But Positioning Is Everything!

Regardless of what breastfeeding hold or position you use, here are some tips to help optimise your baby’s positioning and latch during breastfeeds:

  • It’s important to bring your baby to your breast, and not your breast to your baby. It can be tempting to bring your breast to your baby to see where your nipple is in relation to your baby’s mouth, especially if you have large breasts. Placing a rolled up face washer or small towel under your breast will lift your breast so you can more easily see where your nipple is, and then be able to bring your baby to your breast (and not the other way around).
  • Your baby’s head needs to be at your breast level, with her nose and mouth at your nipple level.
  • Her body needs to be well supported (e.g. along your forearm). Some mothers feel more comfortable using a pillow to support the baby. If you use a pillow, it’s important to ensure your baby isn’t positioned too high.
  • She should be right in close to you. You shouldn’t be able to see any space between your baby’s body and yours.
  • Her body should be well aligned, meaning her head, neck and back should be in line with each other.
  • It’s important for your baby’s head to be tipped back so that her chin and lower lip are the first points to make contact with your breast (with her top gum and lip coming down next). You might find that the best way to do this is to position the baby so that your nipple rests on her top lip as you bring her to the breast. This helps encourage a deep latch. Not touching her head and having her in close (including hugging her hips and bottom in close) will help her tip her head back far enough.
  • When she opens her mouth wide, ensure your nipple is pointing towards the roof of her mouth, or her nose, and swiftly hug her onto your breast. This will ensure a deep latch is achieved. Sometimes, it can take a few goes to get the timing right.
  • Once she has latched on, her chin should be buried into your breast, with her nose free, or only just touching your breast. You should also be able to see more of your areola above her top lip than below her lower lip.

A baby who is latched on correctly can coordinate her sucking, swallowing and breathing better, and remove milk more efficiently and effectively.

At the start of the feed, you will probably see lots of flutter sucks, followed by longer and deeper sucks, with swallows as your milk starts flowing. Most babies will take a number of swallows in a row before pausing for a few seconds to catch their breath. The rest periods are a normal part of breastfeeding and get longer as your baby reaches satiety. Soft ‘cuh’ sounds, or momentary pauses in her jaw movements, signify swallows.

Here are 5 further tips to optimise your baby’s latch:

#1: Recline Back

Does your baby frequently come off your breast? Do you lean more and more forward and put pressure on the back of your baby’s head when she does this? If you do these things, you’re not alone. Unfortunately though, this tend to make the problem of a baby coming off the breast even worse.

You see, when you lean forward, gravity pulls the baby off your breast. On the other hand, if you recline back, gravity helps your baby to stay on your breast. Reclining back also makes it easier for larger breasted women to increase the space between their breast and lap, which means more room for the baby; it also makes it easier to see where the nipple is.

While it can be tempting to put pressure on the back of your baby’s head if she keeps coming off, this also makes the problem worse. Pressure on the back of a baby’s head just makes her push back into that pressure! Not touching the back of your baby’s head, and allowing her head to tip back, are important in helping her latch and stay latched.

#2: Breast Sandwich

Consider what you might do when eating a big sandwich. You might squash it down so it fits into your mouth more easily. Similarly, shaping your breast can give your baby something more tangible to grasp when latching, and can help get more breast into her mouth and achieve a deeper latch.

Be sure to flatten your breast in the right direction to fit into your baby’s mouth. For example, in the cradle hold you will probably need to sandwich your breast tissue vertically rather than horizontally.

Once she is latched and suckling well, you can release the hold.

#3: Nipple Flip

Some mothers find it helpful to ‘flip’ their nipple into their baby’s mouth when the mouth is wide open.

To do this, press down on your areola, near your baby’s top lip, so that your nipple moves away from the baby’s mouth. Then, when your baby opens her mouth wide and her lower jaw contacts your breast, release the pressure on your areola and use your thumb or finger to flip your nipple into her mouth.

#4: Let Go Of Control

Breastfeeding is instinctive for babies. Allowing your baby to follow her instincts and latch on by herself, might allow her to do it beautifully! This is known as baby-led attachment and you can read all about it here.

When your baby wakes from a sleep, or is showing early feeding cues (e.g. turning her head from side to side with her mouth open, or sticking her tongue in and out), get comfortable in a semi-reclined position, and place your baby on your chest, so she is facing you with her head just above your breasts. Being in skin-to-skin contact with your baby helps baby-led attachment work best. Then enjoy, and be amazed at, what your baby can do!

#5: Nipple Shield

As a last resort, you can use a nipple shield. If you have a non-latching baby or very painful nipples, a nipple shield can help preserve the breastfeeding relationship while you get more help with achieving a comfortable latch. If you are considering trying a nipple shield, ask for help from a lactation consultant so you can ensure you get the right sized nipple shield, you use the nipple shield correctly, and all other options have been explored first.

If you and your baby are having trouble latching, working with a lactation consultant can make all the difference. It might be that just one tiny adjustment will help get things working well. A lactation consultant can also assess your feeding history, your breastfeeding technique, and baby’s oral anatomy and sucking, to see if there is a tongue-tie or another condition that could be making latching difficult.

In many ways, a good latch is the foundation for a long, successful breastfeeding experience and is worth working at, to get it right.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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