There are many things that you may never have heard of, prior to becoming a mama, and 'latching', or more specifically 'a good latch' is probably one of them! When breastfeeding is initially initiated in the hours after birth, you'll likely hear A LOT about 'the latch.' And with good reason; a well latched baby will feed better and do a lot less damage to your nipples than one with a poor latch.
So how do you get a good latch? We've got the basics covered below.
First, let's look at what NOT to do!
A sub-optimal or poor latch will sometimes happen in the early days of breastfeeding. Some babies will pop straight out of the womb and know exactly what they're doing. Others will need a little help (and that's ok!)
A poor latch:
- Will often be painful. Your nipples may become cracked or sometimes even blister. This is because baby is not taking enough breast tissue into their mouth and 'nipple' feeding as opposed to 'breast' feeding.
- Won't effectively drain your breast. When baby isn't latched well, they'll struggle to drain your breast effectively. If you're noticing that your breasts are still full after a feed and bub is having trouble attaching then a poor latch may be the culprit.
- Will sometimes 'sound' noisy. When poorly latched, babies can take in a lot of air which leads to 'slurping' and sometimes an upset, windy tummy.
- Will lead to frustration in both baby and mama. Babies, especially newborns, find feeding really tiring. If they're not attached properly and struggling to get the milk they need, they're likely to lose patience and unlatch but then quickly realise they're still hungry and want to feed again. This is exhausting, frustrating and upsetting for everyone involved.
A good latch will alleviate the majority of the above problems and while breastfeeding will still be tiring, and at times uncomfortable, you shouldn't be in serious amounts of pain or suffering nipple damage.
How to get a good latch
Getting a good latch can sometimes take time, patience and support from a breastfeeding expert. Never be afraid to ask for help from your midwife or lactation consultant. By getting advice from the get go, you can often prevent many problems from occurring.
A good latch should:
- Be comfortable. Some tenderness in the early days can often be expected but you should not be gritting your teeth in agony.
- Take in a lot of breast tissue. Your bub needs a whole mouthful of areola, not just nipple The more the better!
- Leave baby feeding calmly. A well latched baby will settle quite quickly at the breast. They may fuss as they wait for the letdown to happen but once it does, they'll settle relatively quickly into a suck, suck, swallow type of pattern and feeding won't seem stressful or hard for them.
Tips for the latch on
The Australian Breastfeeding Association has the following recommendations for latching baby to the breast:
Steps to attach your baby
- Sit comfortably with your back and feet supported.
- Unwrap your baby and hold them close so that his chest is touching your chest. Do not hold their head.
- Turn them onto his side with their chest towards you, head tilted slightly back, at the same level as your breast. Their nose will be level with your nipple.
- For some positions such as the cross cradle hold, you can support your baby's neck and shoulder blade with your hand. For other positions such as the cradle hold, you can support your baby's head in the crook of your arm.
- Gently brush your baby's mouth with the underside of your areola. Your baby should open his mouth wide when you do this. When your baby opens their mouth wide and his tongue comes forward over their lower gum, bring him quickly to the breast with your nipple aimed at the roof of their mouth. Their first point of contact will be their lower jaw or chin, on your areola well down from the nipple.
- As their mouth closes over the breast they should take in a large mouthful of breast.
- If you are engorged, expressing to soften around the areola may allow them to attach more easily.
To check that baby is attached well, look for these signs:
- Chin is pressed into the breast and nose is clear or only just touching the breast.
- Lower lip flanged (turned out) over the breast. It is normal for the upper lip to rest in a neutral position at the breast.
- Tongue is forward over the lower gum (may be difficult to see — don’t pull them away to check or you might detach them).
- Your baby has much of the areola in their mouth, more so on the 'chin side'.
There is no pain (although it is common for new mums to feel nipple pain in the early weeks as the baby attaches but this pain stops as the milk starts to flow).
- You may notice your baby's whole jaw moving as they suck and even their ears wiggling.
- If your baby is not correctly latched then you can simply reposition by gently placing your little finger in the corner of the baby’s mouth and slowly breaking the seal.
Remember, breastfeeding is a learnt skill and it can time some time to master. Be gentle with yourself as you're learning.
If you are experiencing difficulties, then a lactation consultant can give you personal support and advice in your own home. To find one near you, click HERE