Breast feeding basics: learning an effective latch
It can take some practice to teach your baby how to latch on when breast feeding. Get tips about latching on here.
Latching on – in which your baby takes a big mouthful of your nipple and starts sucking – is an important part of breast feeding. If it’s not done just right, you may suffer from nipple soreness or even sharp pain. But once you and your baby get the hang of it, breast feeding becomes a beautiful bonding experience for you both.
Signs of a good latch
Here’s what to look for when your baby is breast feeding:
- Your baby has a nice, wide latch (the angle of her mouth should be opened to more than 140 degrees)
- Both your baby’s top and bottom lip are sealed and flanged (turned out)
- The latch is asymmetric (off-center) to your nipple. Your nipple should be aiming towards the roof of your baby’s mouth, resulting in more of the bottom of your areola being covered by your baby’s mouth
- Your baby’s nose is close to your breast and your baby’s chin is against your breast
- The latch should allow your baby to make two sucks to one swallow (2:1) or one suck to one swallow (1:1) in bursts while feeding You enjoy a comfortable and pain-free breast feeding experience
- When finished, your nipple should look similar to its pre-feeding shape (not misshapen or discolored), although some stretching is normal
- Your baby appears satisfied with a relaxed body tone
How to encourage your baby to latch on
To reach this ideal breast feeding state can take practice and patience. You will need to learn how to help your baby to get into the right position, and they will need to learn how to suck effectively.
When it comes to the right position for breast feeding, there’s no golden rule. However, many babies are comfortable being held along the chest, so that their shoulders, hips, and ears are aligned and their arms and hands can hug around your breast.
To encourage her to latch on, place her nose directly opposite your breast so she can smell your colostrum or breast milk. Then, gently move her away from your breast – this should encourage her to open her mouth even wider. As you bring her back to the breast, her head should tilt back so that her bottom lip and tongue reach it first, with your nipple filling the upper half of the roof of her mouth and the lower part of your breast more covered by her mouth.
If your baby doesn’t seem to latch on, or the feeding is painful for you, place a clean finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth to release the seal of the latch and try again. If you have to do this more than twice, try changing your position to find something else that might work better.
Here are some more tips to help with breast feeding:
- Limit the introduction of pacifiers and bottles, as these can encourage babies to suck in a different way
- Enjoy plenty of skin-to-skin contact with your baby, as this helps you to recognise your baby’s pre-feeding behaviour and helps them to latch on more effectively
- Find a comfortable position for you, so that you can relax as well
Don’t be disappointed or discouraged if you find things difficult at first – you’re certainly not alone! And remember, help is always available. Our Careline team includes midwives and lactation consultants who can help you out with any breast feeding questions you may have.