Breastfeeding: How to Latch

It's true that a deep latch is important to breastfeeding because it helps ensure that your baby is drinking effectively from the breast and that you are not in pain. Just so you know, not every new mom adapts naturally and easily to breastfeeding right from the start. Since you and your baby are both beginners, it will take some time and practice to learn how to get a good latch.

There are two things you should learn about while you're pregnant to get ready for breastfeeding:

1. How to latch: Understanding how to achieve a proper latch will help you visualize where the milk is coming from, how your baby accesses that milk and how she should be positioned to most easily access it.
2. How milk flows from your breast: Think of it this way, your milk ducts come together into about 9 to 15 nipple pores per breast, so when the milk comes out, it flows more like water from a showerhead than that from a hose or from a bottle's nipple with only one hole. This means drinking from a bottle and drinking from a breast don't work the same way, so understanding how your breasts work and how a latch works is crucial.

Here's what you need to know about latching

Before you start, make sure you're sitting comfortably, you're holding your baby in your preferred breastfeeding hold and you have your breast and your baby's head and body in a comfortable position. Then follow these steps:

  1. Put your breast in a "U" hold, with your fingers just behind the border of the areola and your thumb next to your nipple. You're compressing your breast in the direction your baby's mouth opens so it'll fit into his mouth. Think of how you press down a large sandwich to fit into your mouth—it's the same idea.
  2. Push your thumb into your breast so the nipple points outward, away from your baby's mouth. It will almost look like your offering your baby a "folded" breast. Remember the nose-to-nipple rule: your baby's nose should be aligned with your nipple, as opposed to his mouth being at your nipple, so his lower lip is positioned below your nipple.
  3. As he begins to root and open wide, pull him onto your breast in one smooth motion, using your breast tissue as a "tool" to keep his lower lip pinned open. During this process, use your thumb to gently push your nipple into his mouth, clearing his top lip and planting his lower lip about an inch from the nipple toward the border of your areola. It might take some practice to learn when he's about to open his mouth, but soon it'll become second nature.
  4. After you've pulled him on, there will be a split second where your thumb will almost be in his mouth. This can be a tricky part. Once you've gently pushed or folded your nipple into his mouth with your thumb, release your thumb to get it out of the way quickly.
  5. Make sure your baby's lower lip and jaw, not his upper lip and jaw, are the areas that are deeply on your breast, taking in as much of the areola as his wide-open mouth can. This is important for two reasons: for your baby to access a good supply of milk and for you to be comfortable and free of pain.
  6. Now your baby is latched onto your breast correctly. Well done! Take a look at his lips. If he's sucking them in, gently correct them with your finger. If he's on your breast but doesn't have a good, deep latch (for example, his mouth wasn't open very wide when you gently pushed your nipple into his mouth, or because his lips were sucked in and you weren't able to correct them with your finger), release him from your breast (the next point describes how to do this comfortably) and try latching again.
  7. Once your baby is done feeding at the first breast, there's a trick to releasing him so it's comfortable for you. Because his mouth and lips have essentially formed a seal around your nipple, pulling him off can hurt. Here's what you should do: Take your finger from the hand that isn't supporting your baby and pull a corner of his lip away from your nipple to release that seal, then take him fully away from your breast. Doing this can help prevent discomfort for you.

Speaking of nipple pain, the most common cause is an improper latch. Although some nipple discomfort is common, especially in the beginning, if yours is ongoing, try to adjust your latch or seek guidance. Often a simple fix can make a world of difference.

After you have a good latch, breastfeeding should be a comfortable, relaxed and enjoyable experience for both you and your baby. If you're not sure if your latch is correct or you're having some trouble, check out some of our other articles:

What is a Latch?
How Latch Feels
How to Know if you Have a Good Latch
What to do if your Baby isn't Latching on

Tips for success

  • Think of your baby opening his mouth wide and latching onto a large amount of breast tissue rather than just the nipple.
  • Watch another mom breastfeed a newborn baby.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help from a friend who has breastfed, a mom's group or a professional.

Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council. Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.

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Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
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