Most new moms agree that the best way to feed the baby, and most will at least start off by trying that method. As far as formula has come, it still doesn’t compare in nutrients to good old-fashioned mother’s milk, and the health benefits to mom and baby are undeniable — not to mention how much money you can save.
But let’s face it. Breastfeeding is hard. It takes commitment and work to establish a routine and keep up your supply. And sometimes it just plain old hurts.
One of the most important factors in being successful at breastfeeding is establishing a good latch. Both you and your baby need to learn the perfect connection that will not only take the pain out of breastfeeding but also help your supply, keep the baby from being frustrated and help you continue breastfeeding longer term and get to your goal, whether it be 6 months, one year or longer.
The perfect latch can make all the difference when it comes to feeding your baby. Without it, those special moments with your baby will make you miserable, and your baby won’t appreciate it either.
There may be a lot of ways to get the baby into position for a feeding, but there is really only one way to latch. It doesn’t always come naturally, so you may have to coach your baby on the finer points of the latch. Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.
Here is all you need to know about achieving the perfect latch.
16 Start Early
You may think that your baby is a newcomer to eating when he or she is born — and that is true — but from the very moment after birth, your baby has a natural instinct that can help you in getting the very best start at breastfeeding.
In fact, you may not be expecting your baby to crawl until they are a few months old, but you might be surprised to find your newborn making its way up your body just moments after birth. Newborns placed on a mother's body immediately after birth with naturally start moving toward the breast, and they will begin breastfeeding all by themselves. It's true. That is the natural instinct at birth.
Many breastfeeding experts encourage people to start early, when that natural instinct is at its best because if it isn't put into action it could go away. That is why women are encouraged to breastfeed their baby within the first hour of its life, if possible.
Speaking as the mom of a NICU baby who didn't start until a day later, don't think that all is lost if you miss that golden hour. But starting early is a good way to begin your journey if possible.
15 Avoid The Pain
One of the biggest benefits to a proper latch is that it can take the pain out breastfeeding — to a certain extent. If your baby has a good latch, then the sucking should feel natural. Well, it may feel weird at first, a kind of otherworldly, you-can't-believe-this-is-happening sensation, but it shouldn't feel someone is stabbing you or biting you (at least until your little one has teeth).
You may be able to feel the milk coursing through your breasts, but you should not feel excruciating pain. If you do, unlatch and start again.
Let us point out that you are going to be at this breastfeeding thing for a long time, and so you should do all that you can to make sure you aren't in pain. After a week or two or at least before your baby starts cluster feeding, you should consider investing in lanolin, which is a special lotion that you can use on your nipples to keep them from cracking if they get dried out. It's safe for the baby, and it could help in getting you through the first few months.
14 If At First You Don't Succeed
Before we go even further, we thought you should know a bit about unlatching. As as we just mentioned, if you feel pain, you should unlatch and start again. And you will hear that cry again and again. You don't have to struggle through a nursing session with a bad latch. It's OK to start again.
Do you know how to unlatch? It's not like you can just pull the baby off and come away with no scarring. We don't recommend treating your baby like a tick either — no burning flames around an infant.
Instead, find the tiny space at the corner of your baby's mouth. Use your pinkie to break the rest of the seal. Then adjust and try again. You may want to switch positions or put your feet up. Try not to take too long because your baby could get upset. But in general, babies are fine with unlatching and starting again. It helps them to learn the proper latch too.
13 Get Comfortable
You may think that all that matters in breastfeeding is your chest and your baby's mouth, but lactation consultants disagree. They believe that one of the keys to getting a good latch is to make sure that the mama's entire body is comfortable. After all, you can't keep the baby in the right spot if you arm has fallen asleep or your back is killing you.
Pick out your favorite chair. Make sure your feet are comfortable or get a stool. Sit back and relax. And one of the most important accessories may be some pillows. There are lots of options on the market for great breastfeeding pillows, but some of your couch pillows may work just as well.
The important thing is to support your arms and the baby and to be comfortable in a position that you can hold for 20 to 30 minutes. Once you have a comfortable spot, then it's time to get started on your latch.
12 Open Wide
Just think: in no time at all you will be puttering the imaginary airplane spoon through the air to land it into your baby's mouth as they eat their first bites of solid food. "Open wide," you'll say. "The plane is coming in for a landing."
Opening wide is just as important in the first days of breastfeeding as it is in the days that your toddler is eating solids. In fact, it may be even more important because opening wide is the first step in achieving a good latch.
The bigger the opening, the better you can do, so watch out for a big yawn or a big yell. You should take the opportunity to get your breast in your baby's mouth. If your baby isn't opening wide, then try a tickle on the cheek or the neck. Get as much of your nipple comfortably in the baby's mouth as you can, and that can help you get the best latch.
11 The Perfect Position
Is the cat in the cradle? Got the football tucked? There are lots of examples about how to best hold your baby while breastfeeding. There are three basic holds that every lactation consultant will teach you, and it is up to you to decide your favorite. In fact, it may change each session, and that is OK.
First, the cradle hold. This one sounds exactly like you envisioned when you dreamed of holding your baby. It basically calls for supporting your baby with one arm, head in the crook of your elbow, while you hold your breast with your other hand. Once you latch, you can let go and cradle your baby.
Next is the cross-cradle hold, which looks about the same. The biggest difference is that you switch hands. This time you hold the baby across your body with its head in your hand, while you use your other hand for your breast.
Last is the football hold, which is best with a pillow propped underneath. You hold the baby with the closest hand and tuck it along the outside of your body, like a football. This position is awesome for twins, since you can put one baby on each side for a feeding.
10 If All Else Fails, Lie Down
If you aren't comfortable in a chair, feel free to lie down. One of the best breastfeeding positions involves lying on your side and snuggling the baby to your breast there. It's one of the ways that co-sleeping moms feed their baby in the middle of the night, although you have to be careful if you try that.
Some women swear by a position where you lie semi-reclined and just let your baby lay on top of your belly. It's the position that is so natural for the baby to crawl to your breast in the very beginning, like we mentioned about the first hour after birth. It can get harder as baby gets bigger, but if it works for you, go for it.
We want to reiterate that your comfort is important. Your baby has to be comfortable too, so find a position that works for both of you.
9 Can You C It?
So you know what you are doing with one hand (holding the baby, however you feel most comfortable). But do you know what to do with the other hand?
At the beginning, at least, the C-hold may be your savior. Cup your breast with your four fingers on the bottom and the thumb on the top. That way you have a good grip and you can give yourself a bit of a pinch to get the nipple out and on its way into baby's mouth.
Some lactation consultants swear by the C-hold, saying it gives you control without constricting the duct flow. Do you best to keep the position and instead of bringing your breast to the baby, bring the baby to your breast. This should help you get started on getting the perfect latch.
8 It’s All About The Ears
You might think that the mouth is the key to figure out if your baby has a good latch. But the secret spot to watch while your baby is eating is the ears.
You see, a good latch opens the entire mouth and jaw into the perfect alignment to eat. If it were just the mouth, you would be able to see it in the chin, but instead the entire jaw should be moving. You can see it in the cheekbones — you don't want any dimples during this time. And you ought to be able to follow that line all the way up to the ears.
If the ears are wriggling along with the mouth, then you know that the entire jaw is working to bring your baby the best. That may be the best indication of all that the latch is perfect.
7 Super Hero Shield
Those first few days of nursing can be pretty rough. And if it is your first time, your body may not be quite prepared for the role. Luckily for everybody, there are some things that could help out.
One of my favorites is a nipple shield. The shield, which you place over your nipple before your baby latches, helps create the shape that is optimal for the baby to latch. If it doesn't look like it fits, don't worry; it conforms to the right shape when the baby starts nursing.
Some lactation consultants are quick to offer up a nipple shield to help you settle into your new role. Others think that you should work hard to avoid it and worry that it could be a crutch and would hinder you from getting a good latch without a supplement. But if you are struggling, it may be just what you need to establish a good breastfeeding relationship.
6 Give Him A Taste
Nothing can make it harder to breastfeed than a squalling baby. And while you know your little bundle of joy needs to eat, sometimes, the baby doesn't realize that he or she would get just what they wanted if only they would calm down for a minute.
A crying baby can't latch very well. And the hungrier they get, the more likely it is for the crying to become uncontrollable. It can be a vicious cycle.
Your first plan should be to try to begin your nursing session at the first signs of hunger. For a newborn, that can include rooting, where the baby moves toward the breast or brings its hands to its mouth. But if you are a little late, try to give your baby a little taste to remind him that dinner is on the way.
You can give a little squeeze to your breasts to get your milk flowing and get a little milk on the end of the nipple. The smell could be enough to get him interested, or you could put a little on your baby's lips and give them a taste. Eventually, your baby will settle in and latch on.
5 Noisy Eater
Sometimes the noises that your baby makes while nursing can help you figure out if they have a good latch. A noisy eater isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is the kind of noise that matters.
You don't want to hear a clicking sound. That can mean that the baby's tongue is hitting the roof of his mouth, which isn't good because the tongue should be below the breast.
Instead, you would like to hear more of a pattern to your baby's sound. For breastfeeding, babies need to have a pattern of suck, swallow, breath. You can usually hear the gulps coming in a rhythm.
If it sounds like your baby is getting too much milk, that is possible if you have an oversupply, although that doesn't usually happen within the first few weeks. You can probably fix this by prepositioning the baby. You could also expel a little bit of your milk and try again.
4 Tongue Tied
For some babies, an anomaly in their mouth can make a latch harder to come by. The babies are born with a lingual frenulum, known as a tongue tie, which can interfere. Basically, some tissue attaches the tongue closer to the floor of the mouth.
Doctors and lactation consultants worry that tongue ties restrict the movement of the tongue. They think it could impact breastfeeding and, later in life, speech. The tongue can help a baby to position the nipple correctly, and so it could be a problem in achieving a good latch.
There are plenty of babies that still have success at breastfeeding with a tongue tie. If it's a problem, though, then doctors can perform a simple procedure that snips the frenulum and allows for freer movement. It may be just what you need to help establish breastfeeding better.
3 Paci Or No Paci?
The debate is still out on whether a pacifier could help or hurt your baby's ability to establish a good latch. Many lactation consultants are reluctant to give your baby a paci because they are concerned about "nipple confusion." That is, they think your baby should get used to one shape and size — the real one — before they ever receive a hint of another.
Other doctors and consultants acknowledge the value allowing your baby to comfort himself by sucking. It gives a new mom a needed break and reserves your nipples for the times when they are most useful: for nutritive feedings.
We've heard debates about which style or brand of nipple might be best too, and it all seems to be a matter of personal preference.
Using a pacifier is decision for the parents, although if you don't want to use one, you should probably let the hospital know or you could find one in your baby's mouth before you know it. It may not interfere with your feedings, but it's best to let your preferences know right away.
2 Weight Gain
While there are lots of signals that could indicate whether your baby has the perfect latch or not, the No. 1 way to know whether you are successfully breastfeeding is whether or not your baby is gaining weight.
At the very beginning, you can weigh your baby before you breastfeed and then immediately after and see the difference in a matter of ounces. That is how much milk your baby just nursed. It's a pretty amazing thing for a new mother to experience — to physically see the impact that her body is having on her baby.
If your baby is steadily gaining weight, then you can be assured that they are getting the nutrition that they need. That may be the last measure to know if you have a proper latch, but it is definitely the most important.
1 Get Help
The first few days after a baby's birth can be one of the most amazing and most overwhelming times in a woman's life. And amidst all of the beautiful moments welcoming your new bundle of joy into the family, it can be hard to figure out if you are doing things right.
No woman wants to hear that her baby isn't gaining weight or thriving, and the idea that you may be failing at breastfeeding can be devastating. But before you give up, know that you can get help.
Many doctors have some training in lactation and most nurses do too. Many hospitals have specialized lactation consultants you can talk to, and most major cities have chapters of the La Leche League, a breastfeeding support group whose members are usually more than willing to give some advice to a new mom.
There are lots of options for support, and plenty of products that could also boost your chances. Whether your baby needs to have a tongue tie snipped or a nursing pillow would help you get more comfortable, do not be afraid to try something new if things aren't going well.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for the first year of their life, and the World Health Organization recommends continuing for 2 years or more. That is a long commitment, especially when a bad latch can make it difficult to imagine getting through the day.
We hope that these facts help you achieve a great latch and help you to establish a pain-free, healthy and amazing breastfeeding journey.