When I became pregnant with my first child, I was determined to breastfeed. I had strong ideas and opinions on how to nurture and raise my child, and I was looking forward to using my body to feed my baby, as nature had intended. I read numerous books about birthing and parenting and attended birthing classes to feel fully prepared for the journey ahead.
Unfortunately, my birth plan flew out of the window due to some unexpected complications. I was also shocked to discover that breastfeeding wasn’t quite as straightforward as I had thought. Three more babies later, I have learned that each mother and baby’s breastfeeding journey is vastly different, but getting a good latch from the beginning is crucial for long-term success.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children initiate breastfeeding within the 1st hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their life. While this is not possible for all women, there is now greater support and more information available to help you have the smoothest possible start to your breastfeeding journey and successfully breastfeed for as long as you and your baby desire.
What is a breastfeeding latch?
Latching refers to the way your baby takes your nipple and areola into his mouth to feed. When it comes to effective breastfeeding, latching properly is the single most important aspect for ensuring breastfeeding success.
If your baby hasn’t latched properly, he will not get the amount of milk he needs. Moreover, your breasts won’t be stimulated to produce more milk, resulting in a poor milk supply. Additionally, a poor latch can cause a mother considerable pain and discomfort and is often the reason she will stop breastfeeding.
Contrary to popular belief, babies aren’t born knowing how to latch and breastfeed correctly, and mothers can’t rely on their natural instincts. A proper latch often takes time to achieve, and the support of a lactation consultant can be invaluable.
Signs of a good latch
Each and every time you breastfeed your baby, there are a few things to check to ensure that you have a good latch.
- Your baby’s chin is touching your breast, and he can breathe through his nose.
- Your baby’s mouth is open wide, and he has a full mouthful of your areola, not just the nipple.
- Your baby begins feeding with short sucks before sucking more deeply and slowly in a rhythmic pattern.
Signs of a poor latch
One of the clearest signs of an issue with your baby’s latch is your feeling pain while nursing. Pain is an indicator that your baby might be chewing on your nipple rather than gumming the areola.
I remember this pain only too well, and the soreness can progress into cracked and bleeding nipples that make feeding even harder. If you are experiencing pain as your baby latches, break the suction by putting your finger in the corner of his mouth and then try latching again.
If you notice that your baby is making clicking sounds as he feeds, he is likely not latched properly. A baby not latched well will probably not be getting enough milk, so a fussy baby that is chewing, rooting, or turning red indicates that there might be an issue. If you find this happening, unlatch your baby and try again.
It really is a trial-and-error process as both you and your baby learn how this breastfeeding thing works.
Common baby latching issues
Why won’t my baby latch? If you are having trouble breastfeeding, it could be an issue with how your baby is latching.
Here are the most common latching problems that women experience:
- Poor positioning of the mother. If you’re not sitting in a good position, your baby might find it harder to latch properly.
- Poor positioning of the baby. If your baby’s head and body aren’t positioned correctly, it will be difficult for him to latch.
- Flat or inverted nipples. This can make breastfeeding more difficult but not impossible.
- Tongue tie. This can occur when a baby’s tongue is restricted by a thin membrane that can make it hard for them to attach properly to the breast. Tongue tie occurs in 4-11% of newborns. and this can be diagnosed by a doctor.
Breastfeeding positions for a good latch
When learning to breastfeed, positioning can make a major difference in achieving a good latch. Firstly, it’s important to feel comfortable and relaxed, so a supportive chair and a glass of water nearby are a great idea for starters.
Knowing a range of positions for feeding can also help reduce pain or discomfort, so here are the 4 most popular positions for nursing a newborn:
Position 1: Cross-cradle hold
Many mothers prefer this position with their newborn. Make sure you are seated in a comfortable chair and hold your baby in the crook of your arm, resting his tummy against yours. Support your baby’s head while tilting him towards the breast until he latches on. You can then continue to cradle his head while he suckles.
Position 2: Cradle hold
For this hold, your baby is cradled in a similar position to the one above but is instead supported with the arm that is on the same side as the breast you are feeding from.
Some mothers like to use the Boppy breastfeeding pillow for added comfort and support in this position.
Position 3: Football hold
It involves holding your baby at your side and turning him to face you with his legs tucked under your arm on the same side as the breast you are feeding from. This position is often preferred by mothers who have had a C-section and those with large breasts. It’s also a preferred position for mothers of twins.
Position 4: Side-lying hold
This position involves lying down and is therefore good for feeding during the night. Lie on your side with your baby’s tummy against yours. For safety reasons, make sure there is no loose bedding around your baby that could pose a suffocation risk.
These 4 positions are demonstrated clearly in the following video clip:
How to get baby to latch correctly
No matter what breastfeeding position you find the most comfortable, there are a few strategies that can ensure your baby latches correctly.
- Firstly, tickle your baby’s lips with your nipple to encourage them to open their mouth wide. The wider they open their mouth, the better because they can take in much of the areola and not just the nipple.
- Make sure that your baby’s chin isn’t tucked into their chest; they should lean into the breast with their chin first and then latch.
- As your baby takes the breast into their mouth, their tongue should be extended and their lips turned outwards.
- If your baby only latches onto the tip of your nipple, gently place a clean finger in the corner of their mouth to break the suction and then try again.
Where to get help
As with most things in life, early intervention is key. Seeking advice from a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding specialist will help you work through any issues you might be having.
Some hospitals have lactation consultants available in their postnatal wards, but if yours doesn’t, speak to your midwife or doctor about finding a lactation consultant in your area. With a bit of time, persistence, and support, your breastfeeding journey can become a positive experience that you will remember fondly long after your child has been weaned.
Finding a certified lactation consultant in your area is just a mouse click away.