6 Tips for Getting Baby Properly Latched

Breastfeeding isn't as easy as it looks. It can be frustrating to get your baby to latch on, but with our expert tips, you'll be feeding in no time.

When you breastfeed or chestfeed, the latch is the moment everything comes together: Your baby takes a big mouthful of your nipple and areola, begins to suck, and draws out your milk. If they've established a good latch, it shouldn't hurt you and your baby will get the nourishment they need. But getting there can be harder than new parents expect.

If things haven't been going as smoothly as you had hoped, have faith in yourself and your baby. After all, they are designed for this, says Emily Pease, R.N., an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) with Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. "They are born with instincts that help them find [the nipple] and latch on, often with very little assistance. And if problems do come up, there are lots of ways to troubleshoot."

Here are six excellent ways to get a good latch right from the start.

1. Do Your Homework

Before your baby arrives, take a breastfeeding class at your local hospital or birthing center, or attend a meeting hosted by La Leche League International (LLLI). In the prenatal stage, instructors will demonstrate latching with videos or dolls, so you can get more comfortable with the process. But it's equally worth going to these classes after you have already had your baby if you need advice.

As a bonus, these classes can also give you a chance to connect with others who are pregnant or who have recently given birth, providing an invaluable community and additional resource if you have questions or problems with feeding.

People who bind their chest or have had top surgery will want to speak to their health care providers or lactation consultants about the emotional or physical challenges that may arise while chestfeeding, and how to navigate them. According to LLLI, you may be able to chestfeed if you've had top surgery, but the amount of milk you produce (if any) will likely be affected. Those who are considering this surgery and plan to get pregnant and chestfeed in the future should ask their provider how to preserve the milk ducts, tissue, and blood supply system so that feeding remains possible.

How to Get a Good Breastfeeding Latch

2. Get Comfortable

Find a relaxed position that you can stay in for a while. Some experts encourage parents to recline while they breastfeed (typically at a 45-degree angle), especially at the beginning. When you're lying back, gravity helps support the baby so you don't have to do all the work.

A reclined position also allows baby to use their hands, lift and turn their head, and nestle their chin into your chest, all helpful things for them to do while they're latching on. If you have someone around to help, ask them to hold the baby while you're getting settled, hand you a pillow or two, and make sure your water bottle is full.

How to Get a Good Breastfeeding Latch

3. Start ASAP

Ideally, breastfeeding would begin right after the baby is born because the earlier you start breastfeeding, the more easily your baby will latch on, making the process less frustrating and keeping your milk supply strong.

"Right from the very beginning, a baby's natural reflex is to crawl up to [your chest on their] own and start nursing," says Agnes Pedicino, an IBCLC with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. "When you put your baby's bare skin on your bare skin, you help those reflexes kick in."

That first breastfeeding isn't always possible immediately after birth, but that doesn't mean that all hope is lost. If you had to be separated from your baby for a bit after their birth, you both can still benefit from skin-to-skin contact (along with your smell and touch), which can bring your baby right back to nuzzling and rooting around looking for your nipple.

How to Get a Good Breastfeeding Latch

4. Set Baby Up for Success

Begin by placing your baby on your bare torso in little more than a diaper, with their cheeks and chin touching your chest. Put your hand on their upper back and neck to steady them. If this is your first time breastfeeding, encourage their interest in your nipple by expressing a little colostrum (your first milk): Rub your thumb across the nipple, and gently compress your areola to make some come out. Ideally, your baby's bottom lip will be right around the base of the areola; their nose should be opposite the nipple. When they smell the colostrum, they will likely bury their chin into you, open their mouth, and latch on.

"Your mammary glands are located behind the areola," explains Pedicino. "You want your baby's mouth covering most of the bottom of your areola and some of the top—not just your nipple—so that those glands are stimulated when they suck, and produce milk."

If your breast is large or your baby's mouth is small, try compressing your breast into a sort of nipple sandwich: Cup it in a U-hold so your fingers are parallel to your baby's lips and gently squeeze, as you would if you were pressing down on a sandwich you're about to bite into. This makes your breast into a smaller "bite" for baby.

How to Get a Good Breastfeeding Latch

5. Know the Signs of a Good Latch

You can rest assured that your baby is latching well if you feel a pulling or tugging sensation on your breast and they are getting milk. How to tell if your baby is swallowing? Their temple and lower jaw move rhythmically and you hear a breathy aah occasionally, which is the sound of your baby exhaling after they swallow. (Keep in mind that your baby won't swallow that much when you're producing colostrum, as there's not much fluid.) Ideally, your baby's lips will be flanged out like a fish or an open flower around your nipple and areola; if their lips are tucked under, it can make your nipples sore.

How to Get a Good Breastfeeding Latch

6. Don't Ignore Problems

It's common for new parents to feel a little soreness or tenderness with breastfeeding and chestfeeding, especially at first. "But you shouldn't feel pinching or biting, and any soreness shouldn't last the entire feeding," says Pease. "If it does, it means there's something going on that we need to explore."

Pay attention to how your nipple looks when your baby detaches. "If it's compressed, cracked, or bleeding, that's not normal," says Pedicino. If you notice those things or feel a lot of pain—or if something just seems off for your baby—contact your lactation consultant, health care provider, or support group.

After all, sometimes there are physical issues that can interfere with a baby's ability to feed, and an expert can help. "Maybe your baby is biting or has a tight jaw, or perhaps you have flat or inverted nipples," says Pease. "There are things we can do to help. If there's a problem, let's figure out how to fix it!"

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