Breastfeeding is the earliest, most precious gift that you can give to your baby- most mothers assume it will come very naturally. In actual fact though, getting the correct breastfeeding latch can take time and can be incredibly challenging.
No matter how long you spent learning about the benefits of breastfeeding, breastfeeding positions and the importance of baby skin to skin, breastfeeding is a skill that both you and your baby will need to learn together. You know you need to get a good latch, but sometimes that is easier said than done.
And it’s okay, and perfectly normal, for new moms struggle with it at times.
If you’d like some more general tips about breastfeeding as a new mom, check out our post Breastfeeding Tips For First Time Mothers.
When Breastfeeding Causes Pain
In those early weeks, it can really feel like you are breastfeeding constantly. If baby isn’t properly latched, if you have flat or inverted nipples, or purely because your body is adjusting, you can be left with sore nipples.
Many moms feel uncomfortable in those first few weeks, but if you continue to feel pain or are suffering from cracked nipples, it’s time to get some help. A lactation consultant can be an invaluable resource, but here we will cover some tips to help you get a good deep latch at home.
What Is Latch?
Latch refers to the attachment your baby has to your breast when they are breastfeeding. Good milk transfer relies on your baby latching properly, so this is absolutely essential for a successful breastfeeding journey.
While your baby is born with reflexes to help baby to latch from the moment of birth, they are still tiny and new, with poor head control so your baby will rely on you to hold them in a good position .
Correct Breastfeeding Latch Step by Step
Are baby’s head and body in a straight line?
If baby’s head is twisted, this can prevent them swallowing and feeding efficiently. You also want to hold them close to you so they can comfortably feed.
Make Sure baby’s mouth opens wide
Use your free hand to hold your breast. Tickle baby’s lip with your nipple- this should encourage them to open wide!
Ensure baby’s chin is untucked
If you hold the nipple briefly over your baby’s top lip, that should prevent them from tucking their chin to their chest- which can get in the way of a good latch
With your nipple above the top lip, ensure your baby latches well by gently pushing downwards in to their mouth
This ensures that your baby gets a good mouthful of breast- if your baby is correctly latched, you should see more of the darker skin around the nipple above their lip than below.
Why is a Good Breastfeeding Latch Important?
Successful human lactation relies on a good latch; your baby is unlikely to get enough milk without out it.
However, do remember that it’s normal for your baby to take a few weeks to learn, and that if you do continue to have issues with baby’s latch, health professionals are available to help you resolve the issue. Let’s look at the reasons why a good latch is so crucial:
Without a good attachment to the breast, your baby won’t be able to effectively remove milk. You want to see a deep latch with baby’s lips splayed out, much like fish lips- remember, it’s called breastfeeding, not nipple feeding!
The positioning of baby’s lip and chin help to stimulate let down.
Establishing a Good Milk Supply
This point relates to the one above- if your baby can get a good latch, they will be able to remove more milk and ultimately drain the breast. Breastfeeding relies on supply and demand, so when your baby drains the breast, your breasts get the message to produce more breast milk.
Prevents Breast and Nipple Pain
If baby is latched incorrectly, you are much more likely to experience nipple pain and/or cracked nipples when you breastfeed. A shallow latch will cause chaffing as well as preventing your baby from effectively removing breast milk- leaving them suckling endlessly.
While most moms find that some discomfort can be expected in the early weeks, pain should always be evaluated. You can get further assistance from lactation consultants or your pediatrician.
A deep latch is essential to help your breasts and nipples stay healthy.
What is a Shallow Breastfeeding Latch?
If your baby has a shallow latch, you will likely feel it before you see it!
A shallow latch means that your baby takes only the nipple in their mouth, as opposed to the breast tissue around the nipple. This is going to cause poor milk transfer, as well as lots of pain and possibly cracked nipples for mom.
How to Tell a Good Latch From A Bad Latch?
There are several tell tale signs that can help you recognise a good latch from a bad one.
Signs of a Bad Latch:
Baby latches on to your nipple only, and not to the areola around the nipple
Baby sucks in his cheeks as he nurses
You can’t see signs of swallowing as your baby tries to breastfeed.
Baby’s lips curl inward rather than outward- pay close attention to baby’s bottom lip.
Baby’s chin is tucked to their chest- this is going to get in the way of a good latch.
Your baby shows signs of not getting enough milk, eg poor weight gain or not enough wet diapers
Baby’s lip make a smacking sound while nursing. Note: we have an article on baby slurping while breastfeeding to help you assess this
You are experiencing pain when you breastfeed. This pain can be toe curling!
Signs of a Good Latch
baby is latching deeply, with a good amount of breast tissue in the mouth
Both baby’s lower lip and upper are curled outwards
Baby’s cheeks are full during a feed and you can hear swallowing. Other signs of swallowing are gentle movement of your baby’s ears.
Your baby’s chin touches the breast and baby’s nose should be clear
Baby’s tongue is on the underside of the breast, stimulating milk flow
With baby latched correctly, you shouldn’t experience pain
Baby is gaining weight well
How to Correct a Shallow Latch
If those signs of shallow latch sound familiar, it’s time to make some changes! Here are a few things to consider to improve baby latch, making breastfeeding easier for both you and baby.
Get Some Advice
It’s a good idea to speak to a professional to rule out issues like tongue tie. Tongue tie can prevent your baby’s ability to open his mouth wide or restrict baby’s tongue movement, preventing effective milk transfer.
Relatch and try again
Even a baby with a normally strong latch can occasionally have a lazy or shallow latch. Using a clean finger, break the latch and start again, following our latch guide above.
The Flipple Latch Technique
The Flipple, also known as the exaggerated latch, is particularly good for babies with lip or tongue tie. Here are the key steps:
As you get ready to get baby to latch, make sure their head is tilted upwards and bring your nipple to their nose. This motivates them to open their mouth very wide. Hold baby close and ensure that baby’s head, baby’s neck and body are in a straight line.
When baby’s mouth opens wide, try to get as much of the bottom part of your areola into baby’s mouth via their lower jaw
When they latch on, use your index finger or thumb to flip their top lip up against your breast
All moms and babies are different, and you might find that a simple change in position helps your baby get a good latch.
Biological Nurturing or Laid back breastfeeding
This technique involves letting baby lead the way when it comes to feeding. Simply lie back in a semi reclined position in a comfortable chair or bed.
This can be particularly handy if you have had a cesarean birth- you can lay you baby sideways across, away from your incision scar. This technique is also great if you have large breasts or a milk oversupply, as it prevents baby from being overwhelmed. Your baby should be laying tummy to tummy.
Cradle Hold is probably the most popular breastfeeding position, especially for newborns. Lie your baby across your lap, facing you.
Place your baby’s head on your forearm – nose towards your nipple. Your hand should support the length of their body. You will be feeding baby on the same side that you have used to prop her up.
Place your baby’s lower arm under yours.
Check to make sure your baby’s ear, shoulder and hip are in a straight line.
Your baby will lay along your side under your arm, with your hand supporting the back of the baby’s neck. The baby’s bottom should bump up against whatever you are sitting in (back of the chair, couch, etc.) Make sure to bend the baby’s legs at the hip, so that he does not push his feet against whatever you’re leaning against, as this will affect how he will be able to latch. This hold is really great for a mom who had a cesarean birth and for women with large breasts.
side lying position
This position is perfect for nursing in bed or for moms who want to keep pressure off their c-section scar
Start by getting comfy lying on your side. Your baby lies facing you , so you are tummy to tummy. Check to make sure your baby’s ear, shoulder and hip are in a straight line – not twisted.
Put some cushions or pillows behind you for support. A rolled up baby blanket placed behind your baby will help support them – remember to remove it after you have finished feeding. If you’ve got a pillow under your head, make sure it’s not too close to your baby’s head or face.
Tuck the arm you’re lying on under your head or pillow (ensuring your baby’s position isn’t altered by the pillow) and use your free arm to support and guide your baby’s head to your breast.
Breastfeeding Latch FAQS
I can’t get my baby to latch at all- what can I do?
This depends on the reason for baby’s refusal to latch. Gas can prevent baby from wanting to nurse, so you could try helping them bring up any wind before offering the breast again
A common reason for difficulty in getting babies to latch is actually that the early cues for hunger have been missed, and so by the time a breastfeed is offered, baby is hungry and frustrated. Remember, crying is a late hunger cue. Try to learn how to recognise early cues.
My baby keeps coming on and off the breast, what does this mean?
This can happen for a wide range of reasons. We’ve written a really helpful post about what to do with about a baby latching and unlatching repeatedly that should help!
I’m struggling to get baby’s mouth wide open- How do I fix this?
If you baby truly can’t open their mouth wide, you should consider having them evaluated for lip and tongue ties. Alternatively, try the Flipple technique mentioned above.