Babies are born ready to breastfeed and according to the laws of nature, instinctively know exactly what to do. Latching onto its mother’s breast should be the most natural thing in the world for a newborn, but that is often not the case. Only when a baby has established a strong and accurate latch, is breastfeeding a totally comfortable and productive experience for both mother and baby. The baby gets all the nourishment that they need, and nipple soreness is minimized for mom. So, what exactly is a great “latch?” Here is a description that explains in detail the secret of latching a baby to the breast.
There are many explanations for a baby refusing to take the breast and often this involves a combination of reasons. For many mothers in the first few days and weeks, it is just a matter of both baby and mom needing a little practice and patience. Especially if the birth has been long or difficult, breastfeeding may take a little longer to get going. Some mothers will have inverted or large nipples that can need some extra guidance to help baby latch on well at first. Some newborns have abnormalities in their mouth like cleft lip or palate and tongue ties. These can often prevent an effective latch. In these circumstances, a mother should reach out right away to a health practitioner, doctor or pediatrician. For any nursing mother, a lactation consultant can also be an extremely helpful resource in helping establish a proper latch and giving a mother the confidence she needs.
Get Comfortable with Breastfeeding Before Baby Arrives
The more a mom knows about what to expect while breastfeeding, the better. So, it is always a good idea to take a breastfeeding class while pregnant, and be aware of available support resources. At these classes, instructors demonstrate how latching works so that a mom is aware of the most comfortable breastfeeding positions for herself and her baby, and knows how to deal with issues that might arise. Here is an excellent video that demonstrates how latching works.
Start Breastfeeding as Soon as Possible After Birth
The earlier a mother can start breastfeeding, the more likely a baby will naturally latch on to the breast right away. Babies are born with many natural reflexes, all of which are specifically designed to help them find the breast and latch on and feed. The best thing to do with baby is to snuggle up in skin to skin contact as soon as possible after birth which allows both mom and baby to learn the natural and relaxed way to feed, uninterrupted, together. Those first few moments of connection can make all the difference for both the mother’s and baby’s breastfeeding journey.
Get Comfortable and Find the Right Position
It is always easy for others to advise a new mom to “try to relax.” But, by finding a comfortable position in a quiet and private space, she will calm herself and give her baby time to let things happen slowly and surely. Being at ease goes a long way in making a baby tune into what comes naturally. Here are some ideas on the perfect positions to secure a good latch.
Spend Time in Skin to Skin Contact and Try Laid Back Feeding
Spending time relaxing with baby in skin to skin contact is one of the best things to help with breastfeeding. Babies learn best when all their senses are surrounded by mom - smell, touch, sound, and sight. Try leaning back comfortably and placing your baby in between your breasts, take this time to talk and sing to your baby allowing you both to relax. Normally within a few minutes after calming babies start to bob their heads and move their bodies in search of the nipple.
Allowing baby to find the nipple is a natural and relaxing way of feeding. Mom needs to be patient and support baby behind the shoulders and bottom. Once baby finds the nipple they will often bob around for a few more moments and then self-latch on. This is an amazing thing to watch and isn’t only for babies in the first few days after birth, this can be done at any time. Many mothers find this is the most relaxing way to feed their baby, and it most certainly helps latching on for babies who may have been having difficulties before. You can watch a video here all about Laid Back Breastfeeding or Biological Nurturing.
Know the Signs of a Good Latch
A good latch is when both mom and baby are comfortable and baby is able to drink effectively. Good signs to look for include noticing that the baby's mouth covers at least a few centimeters of the underneath part of the areola (the brown skin around the nipple) as well as a little of the top. We call this an asymmetric latch because the baby’s tongue needs to be as far onto the breast as possible. Baby should not be only sucking on the end of the nipple! The baby’s nose should be free to breathe easily because the baby has latched well with the head tilted slightly back and the chin touching the breast first. (The way a baby takes the breast is very like the way we take a large mouthful of a hamburger! We tilt our heads back & open our mouth wide to position our jaw under the hamburger. The further we place our jaw under the hamburger the bigger the mouthful we take.)
If a mother’s breasts are large or a baby's mouth is small, moms are encouraged to place the thumb and fingers in a “V” on either side of the areola (align the thumb with the baby’s top lip) and then gently squeeze and shape the breast, this will help baby to latch deeper. Once baby is latched well and has started drinking, let go slowly of the breast and get comfortable, there is no need to hold the breast the whole way through a feed. If a baby is latching well, mom should be comfortable and the baby should be seen clearly drinking milk and swallowing. The baby’s lips will be opened wide, and the baby’s mouth should be comfortably around your nipple and areola, not tucked under.
Look Out for Soreness
If a little soreness or tenderness occurs, that is perfectly normal, especially in the very beginning. However, there should be absolutely no pinching or biting, and any soreness shouldn't last the entire feeding. If any of these things happen or if there is discomfort, reach out to a lactation consultant, or talk to a doctor or pediatrician. If a mother has inverted nipples, one solution is to wear a nipple shield. Nipple shields will help a mom get past the initial difficulties of healing sore nipples, or helping her baby develop better latch-on behavior.
The most important advice is for a mother to know that she is not alone on her breastfeeding journey, and to reach out for help if there are any questions. Establishing a good latch is essential to a great breastfeeding experience!
Did you have any challenges with your baby not establishing a good latch. What other experiences that would like to share? Please leave comments below or join the conversation at Medela Facebook page.