Lactation 102: The Latch On
Notice that the latching isn’t the first part that we talk about. Latching is actually the second part. Read part 1 here. So, remember: The very best positioning helps to get the very best latch. The best latch protects the nipples. The best latch also helps the baby to get more milk!
The story for latching is similar to how we take a bite on a hamburger. Think about it! When holding a tall, full hamburger, do we go straight forward and get a good bite? No! We have to squish it first. Do we then tip it like a taco? No! We keep our fingers matching the same direction as our lips.What about when we end up with a lot of bun on the top and only a little bun on the bottom? Well, we almost always take an off center, or asymmetrical bite by landing it on our lower teeth then rolling it in our mouths before biting down. That’s why that happens.
Babies are the same!
Your breast/chest tissue is like that tall hamburger. You’ll hold your hand like a hamburger to your baby, not a hamburger to you! Your thumb will be directly across from their nose, fingers near their chin, but definitely not blocking the areola, which is the darker skin around the nipple, because this is where their gums will be.
Aim your baby’s nose at the nipple. When they open their mouth really wide, pull them in gently. Their chin lands first, burying into the breast/chest, then you’ll flip your nipple into the top of their mouth, aiming it for the roof of their mouth, where there is a lot of space.
From the outside, it looks like the areola is off center: more seen at the upper lip, little to none seen at the chin. The baby’s nose can either gently touch the breast/chest or not at all. Try not to pull your skin away from your baby’s nose. Often this pulls your nipple shallow and changes from a deep to a shallow latch.
From the inside, it should feel like pulling, tugging, pressure. If it feels pinchy or painful at all, then it needs to change. It’s not a good latch if it looks beautiful on the outside but painful on the inside.
Troubleshooting:If the nipple is aimed at the baby’s mouth, then the baby doesn’t have to open their mouth very wide. Then the nipple lands shallow, at the baby’s gums, and gets mashed and chomped on, which causes a lot of pain.
To fix the shallow latch, first break the seal of your baby’s mouth by putting a finger to the corner of their mouth and pull toward their cheek. This releases your nipple from their mouth. BUT, move quickly so they don’t slurp your nipple back in.
It’s better to try 25 times for that good latch rather than sit in pain and call it worth it. So many times, I see parents say they’ll just “deal with the pain because the baby is finally on.” Please avoid falling into this mental trap. When the parent is in pain, then the milk is held back. Plus, each press of the baby’s mouth closes off the milk duct tubes, so the parent is in pain AND the baby has to work harder. The baby may tire out before taking a full feeding, which then means both parent and baby are tired and frustrated.
Bottom line: good latching prevents sore nipples; good feeling nipples means your baby gets more milk. Always aim for a win-win situation.
You got this!!
Hi! I'm Holly, and I consider it a privilege to help you with your sweet baby. I've been a registered nurse since 2005 and an internationally board certified lactation consultant since 2017. I was already working as a postpartum nurse when I had my first baby, so I thought I was prepared and knew all about breastfeeding. Boy was I wrong! Instead of the natural delivery I had planned, I had an emergent cesarean delivery 2 days after her due date. We both felt miserable and like we went through all the challenges and concerns: she lost > 10% in the hospital, had difficulty latching, had to supplement with formula, figure out a nipple shield, and learn to use a pump. When my second baby came, I did feel more prepared for latching. I was able to have a vaginal delivery with her, but then she was in the NICU for a few days. I used the hospital breast pump until she was able to coordinate latching and breathing at the same time. But then she lost too much weight, had high jaundice and was in an incubator, which made it hard to bond with her. Eventually we got the hang of nursing, but not without the ups and downs to get there. I wish I could send the "me of now" back to the "me of then" so I could've helped myself have a better experience. Since I can't do that, I pay it forward to be able to help others.
I often say that my soapbox slogan is "Protect the Nipples All The Time!" When I’m not out and about helping families, I can be found working on a creative project at home, camping, traveling with my husband and kids with a goal of an international trip once a year, or planning our next adventure.
Thank you for letting me be a part of your journey.
April 12, 2023 - Holly Hill BSN, RN, IBCLC
Connect with Holly on Instagram @light_up_lactation
or via Email email@example.com