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Better Breastfeeding: On Latching
By Wendy Wisner

There are two goals of a good latch while breastfeeding: comfort and effectiveness.

Better Breastfeeding: On Latching
Photo © niderlander/Shutterstock

These days, new moms are inundated with information about how to care for their babies. When it comes to breastfeeding, one hot topic is how to attain a good latch. In the past, it was typical for experts to tell you the “rules” of latching. Some of this advice may have been useful, but in many cases it caused nothing but undue anxiety for mothers.

The fact is that moms and babies are biologically hard-wired to breastfeed. After a normal, non-medicated birth, a baby who is placed on his mother’s chest will crawl to the breast and latch on all by himself! But as we all know, not all births are non-medicated, and moms and babies are often separated soon after birth. Even apart from these roadblocks, it is normal for moms and babies to need a little help figuring out the best way for their bodies to fit together. In these cases, it’s good to know a bit about latching, and when to seek in-person help.

There are two goals of a good latch while breastfeeding: comfort and effectiveness. Some tenderness is normal in the first few days of nursing, but past this point nursing should be comfortable, and a good latch helps accomplish this. A good latch also means that your baby is getting enough milk. Once your milk increases or “comes in” (three to four days after your baby is born), your baby’s weight should start to increase. If nursing is comfortable and your baby is gaining an appropriate amount of weight, then your latch is perfect, no matter what it looks like! Your baby could be nursing upside down and backwards, but if those two criteria are met, you’re good to go.

If you are having trouble, there are some tried and true tips that can be very helpful. First, the way you sit and hold your baby can make all the difference when it comes to latching. You don’t need any special equipment for this. Find yourself a comfortable chair or couch, and then lean back a bit. When you lean back, you open up your torso, creating extra space for your baby – plus, you reduce the chance of hunched over shoulders. You can put your feet up on a stool or table if that helps.

Once you’re seated comfortably, place your baby tummy-to-tummy with you. Some babies will tuck in their arms – if so, open them up so your baby is “hugging” you. You want that baby as close to you as possible, with no extra spaces. From this position, many babies will latch on themselves, but others will need a little help. You can hold your breast if it feels right. You can support your baby with your other hand. Mothers who are assisting in latching their babies find it helpful to place the baby a little below the nipple, so the baby can tilt her head back, open wide, and get a nice mouthful of breast.

While there are no hard and fast rules for how a good latch should look, there are some things to look for once your baby is latched on to tell you whether something might be amiss. First, it’s important to note that most babies need to take in a good portion of breast tissue while nursing. Babies don’t “nipple-feed” – they “breastfeed.” Most moms find that a good latch means that very little of their areola is visible after their baby latches. You can also look to see how your baby’s lips look on the breast. It is usually most comfortable for a mom when a baby’s lips are flanged out. Once latched, does your baby slip off the breast, or can he sustain the latch? How do your nipples look when they come out of baby’s mouth? If the nipple looks creased, pinched, or like a tube of lipstick, this indicates a possible latching issue.

Moms aren’t meant to solve their nursing issues alone. Since ancient times, women have been helping women birth and breastfeed. If you have tried to adjust your baby’s latch, but it still hurts, or if your baby is having trouble getting enough milk, get help! Call your local volunteer breastfeeding counselor, or schedule a visit with a board certified lactation consultant. Sometimes the latch can look good from the outside, and can still hurt or be ineffective, and in these cases it is especially important that you have a thorough evaluation from a professional. Even in the most complicated cases, there are options for you and your baby. And in a few days, or weeks, you won’t need to think about the ins and out of latching your baby. It will happen as it’s meant to – naturally, instinctually, and with love.

Wendy Wisner is a writer, board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mother. She is the author of two books of poetry, and her poems, book reviews, and articles have appeared widely. Visit her website.

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