One of the trickiest parts about breastfeeding for many new mamas is ensuring your baby gets a good latch.
Latching refers to the seal between your baby’s mouth and the breast, allowing them to drain the breast of milk properly and ideally with minimal discomfort for the mom. A good latch ensures your baby doesn’t have to work hard to feed, and your nipples won’t suffer as much. However, a good latch can be tricky to master, and if the latch isn’t good it can be painful and frustrating for new mamas.
So how do you get your baby to latch better?
There are a range of different techniques that can be used to encourage a better latch during feeding time. We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite methods that we have experienced good results with. Read on to find out more!
Understand Hunger Cues
First and foremost, you need to understand and recognize your baby’s hunger cues.
Every baby will have different specific hunger cues they display when it’s time to start feeding. Common signs that your baby is ready for a feed include sucking on their fists, tongue or lips as a way to imitate sucking on a nipple. If you notice your little one is fidgeting and making a fuss, that is another reliable indicator that it’s feeding time.
Crying is actually a fairly late stage hunger cue and can make latching even more difficult. If you found it difficult to make a latch when your baby is relatively calm, it’s made infinitely more difficult when your little one is super upset! Learning your baby’s hunger cues can help you avoid an upset baby and ensure a better latch. Don’t worry mama – it takes a while to learn those cues. You won’t know what they are at first, and that’s normal. It will come with time, we promise.
Now that you know your baby is hungry, it’s time to get into a good latching position.
This is probably the most important tip in getting a good latch during breastfeeding. Finding the right position for your baby to instinctually find your nipple and latch on properly is key in a successful breastfeeding journey, and is the thing that many new mamas can struggle with. With that in mind, here are a few tried and tested breastfeeding positions that can help achieve a good latch.
This position works best for new mamas with smaller newborns. This can be a little awkward at first, but once you master it it can have fantastic results.
Here’s an example of how this would work if you are planning to feed from the right breast. Hold and guide your baby to the breast with your left, supporting the baby’s head and neck with your left hand. Use your on the right side to manoeuvre and support your breast, and potentially even tip your nipple up a bit so that it is pointing towards your baby’s nose. This may help your baby to find your nipple and latch on. Make sure the baby has a lot of breast in the mouth and not just the tip of the nipple. If the baby doesn’t have what we call a “deep latch”, pop your finger into their mouth to break the suction, and try again. Once your baby has successfully latched and is feeding, you can shift your arm into the more comfortable cradle hold.
The cross-cradle hold should truly only be used in the beginning when learning to nurse, as it’s not overly ergonomically friendly in the long-run with bigger babies.
Once you’ve mastered the cross-cradle hold, you can move onto the cradle hold. This one is a good long-term nursing solution for most mamas, as once you get the hang of it, it’s easy and comfortable.
Just like the cross-cradle hold but in reverse, the cradle hold involves using the feeding side arm to hold your baby, and then the opposite hand to guide the breast to their mouths. This technique is a little more comfortable than the cross-cradle hold, and can help to improve feeding time when used correctly.
This technique is ideal for any mamas who have had a cesarean section and need to avoid pressure on their scar, for mamas of multiples, or for those who have particularly large breasts, which may make other methods more challenging.
Hold your baby under your arm on the breastfeeding side, as though you are holding a football in that arm, supporting the head and neck with your hand. The baby’s body would normally be supported in this position by either a breastfeeding pillow (we love the “My Brest Friend” pillow) or by a couch cushion or something else that is easily accessible to you. Ensure that your baby’s feet are not pushing against the support, as this can disrupt a good latch.
Because this position works with gravity and your baby under the breast, this might not be ideal for those of you with a strong letdown. If your baby appears to be under niagara falls of breast milk and is sputtering while trying to nurse, this position might not be for you.
Deep Latch Technique
Another popular technique for encouraging good latching is known as the deep latch technique.
This method involves holding your breast tissue between on either side of the areola in either a “C” (football hold) or a “U” (cross-cradle/cradle hold). Apply light pressure to pinch the breast tissue into a half “sandwich”, creating an easier surface for your baby to latch on to. You can also use your thumb in this position to tilt your nipple up a bit to encourage a better latch. Supporting your baby’s head with your hand, tilt their head slightly backwards by using the heel of your hand to push up on their shoulder blades.
The nipple should rest just above your baby’s upper lip, parallel with their nose, and your baby’s lips – upper AND lower – should be flared out when latched. Lift your baby up to the nipple and allow the lower jaw to reach it first – wait for a nice, big open mouth. Next, tilt the head up slightly to allow the upper jaw to make contact with the breast, ideally well behind the nipple. Continue to squeeze your nipple while the baby latches. Once they have latched, they will have taken in more of the areola, known as a “deep” latch, which allows them to draw out milk easier. You can stop squeezing your breast once they have successfully latched, but you may want to continue with compressions while they are nursing, in order to fully drain the breast.
Signs Of A Good Latch
Understanding the signs of a good latch can help you distinguish when your baby is getting enough milk and when they might be struggling. Some common signs of a good latch include:
- You can see the tongue when you pull down the bottom lip
- Their jaws move in circles as opposed to a rapid back and forth movement
- Their cheeks are full and rounded
- No slurping, clicking, or smacking noises
- You should be able to see your baby swallowing. The pattern should be suck-suck-suck-suck-swallow. (However many sucks your baby takes before each swallow will vary, of course)
- Chin is touching your breast
- Once feeding is over, your nipple is not flattened, red, white, or damaged in any way
- Any discomfort ends quickly after getting the baby latched on
- Your baby ends the feeding with signs of satiety/satisfaction. These signs include: the baby looks relaxed, “falls” off the breast, has open hands, and/or falls asleep
Breastfeeding should not hurt when done correctly, and there should be minimal discomfort for both the baby and mom. When the baby has latched incorrectly, painful symptoms can arise like cracked or dry nipples, blocked ducts, and even mastitis. This is not normal, and is a sign that the breastfeeding technique may need to be adjusted. Remember, each mama and her baby will be different, so experiment with different techniques to find which one works best for you and your breastfeeding journey will go swimmingly.
If you are struggling to find the right rhythm with your new bundle of joy, a breastfeeding support specialist can help get you back on track. West End Mamas offers a range of informative and supporting breastfeeding classes and consultations with our breastfeeding experts. Whatever questions or concerns you might have, they will be able to answer them and help develop a personalised breastfeeding plan that works for you. Contact us today to find out more!