Chapter 5 Preview: The Breastfeeding Latch

By Carly Hill

The breastfeeding latch is very important because it allows your baby to drink effectively – and to draw enough milk out of the breast. For the mother, a good latch is key to a pleasant breastfeeding experience. A baby who suckles with an improper latch will cause bleeding, raw, chafed nipples.

It is common for mothers to give up hope and throw in the towel saying, “Breastfeeding just isn’t for me.” But, if you can be patient and determined enough to do everything it takes to get your baby to latch, breastfeeding should prove to be a wonderful blessing for you and your child.

Timing is Everything

A baby who is laid on his mother’s chest immediately after birth has a better chance of latching right away. Ybreast.com explains, “Babies are born with the instinctive drive to locate the breast immediately following birth. They have certain involuntary reflexes that encourage them to crawl – yes, crawl, toward their mothers’ breast. Within minutes of being born, babies are stretching and elongating their tongue muscles, rooting their heads and smacking their lips.”

But in some cases, it is impossible to nurse immediately after birth – maybe you had a difficult labor or a C-section or your baby was in distress. If you don’t feed immediately, you can still get it! One important tip is to stimulate your nipples immediately after birth. Apparently, the way our bodies are designed, if the nipples aren’t stimulated after birth, your body will think the baby didn’t make it. Producing milk will be more difficult if you don’t stimulate your nipples – either by hand or breast pump.

So, How Do I Know If My Baby is Latching On Properly?

You will know if he isn’t. It will hurt. Breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt. Here are some signs of a good latch, listed on EveryDayfamily.com:

  • Cheeks are rounded
  • Mom can hear the baby swallowing
  • The ears move
  • Baby falls off the breast after feeding, or is very relaxed after feeding

On the contrary, here are some signs of an improper latch:

  • Baby making a clicking or smacking noise
  • Dimpled cheeks
  • Nipple feeling like it’s rubbing against the roof of the baby’s mouth

You may think (or even be told) that your nipples are just sensitive and that the pain will subside, but if you feel any pain after the first few seconds of breastfeeding, there is probably a problem with how your baby is latched on.

How Can I Help My Baby Latch?

First off, don’t rush your baby. As a new mom, it’s unnerving and stressful to hear your baby crying. A lot of moms get so distressed when their baby cries that they immediately start shifting their baby’s positions and trying things. But, babies need time. If your baby is rooting and clearly hungry, leave her at your breast and let him struggle a bit. It’s hard to watch your child and you just want to fix it, but latching on is a learned skill and you need to give your baby a chance.

That being said, positioning is key. If your baby is latched on correctly, most of your areola should be in your baby’s mouth. Your nipple should go all the way to the back of the baby’s mouth. Dr. Sears recommends the cradle hold. Here are some practical tips on how to get your baby into the proper cradle hold from AskDrSears.com:

  • “Place one or more pillows behind your lower back, and/or shoulders so that you are comfortable and relaxed.
  • If you’re in bed, put pillows under your knees.
  • You’ll need at least one pillow in your lap to bring baby up to the level of your breast, and another under the arm that will support your baby as he breastfeeds.
  • If you are sitting in a chair, use a foot stool or something else to raise your lap so you don’t have to strain or lean over to get your baby closer to your breast.”

Tips from Veteran Breastfeeding Moms

Instructions and even a tutorial from a consultant are invaluable, but some of the most helpful advice comes from other moms who have been there, done that.

Here are just a few tips from regular moms like you. You can read all of them at BabyCenter.com.

“ – Don’t watch the clock to see how often or how long your baby is nursing. Instead, go with your instincts. If your baby is rooting around or crying, then feed him or her – even if you just did. – Gina Locke, Grapevine, Texas 

– I’m a pediatrician mom of a 3-year-old whom I breastfed for eight months. My son was extremely hard to start: Despite making our first attempts (unsuccessful) in the first hour and knowing what to do, it took almost two days to get him latched on. In the interim, we finger-fed with an SNS (supplemental nursing system) and glucose water while I pumped to get my milk supply going. The SNS was a lifesaver. We finally hooked it to my breasts and were able to get him latched on by the third day. – Dara Hogue, Cupertino, California

– I’ve been solely nursing my baby since birth and now, at 9 weeks, she’s a big healthy baby. I had very sore latch-ons at the start, and I found that if I stayed ahead of her intense hunger I was better off. I would check on her around the time I thought she would be waking to eat and watch for tongue sucking and lip-smacking in light sleep. If I put her to the breast when she showed early signs of hunger, she wouldn’t suck as hard as when I waited until she was fully crying and really hungry.” – Kathy Kent-Knurek, Chicago

– When I had my daughter, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Unfortunately, she didn’t latch on right away, so I began supplementing with formula. Hospital staffers tried everything from round-the-clock attempts to pumping and inserting feeding tubes in the baby’s mouth while I tried every nursing position known. The baby knew how to suck, but she just wasn’t getting the knack of it. Finally, we tried the plastic breast shield. My baby was able to suck the large plastic nipple and draw the milk rather than search for my small nipple. I had visions of using the shield from then on, but luckily I lost it and was forced to teach the baby to take my own nipple. I had to use a syringe to “pull” the nipple larger, but in time, thanks to the baby’s suckling, my nipples conformed. The rewards for not giving up have been great! – Alison O’Donnell, Pawtucket, Rhode Island”

Getting your baby to learn the proper latch is sometimes harder than you might anticipate. But, the good news is there are many things you can try – whether it is use of supplies like a nipple shield or syringe, or visits with a lactation consultant.

Those first few days after birth are an easy time to give up, but mothers who stick to it and don’t give up reap the reward of successful, painless nursing. If you are in need of some support, the SmartMom app is full of mothers waiting to cheer you on during your breastfeeding journey. We’re on call 24-7, even during that 4am feeding.

Get more great advice and meet other moms. Download the SmartMom app today.

About Mary @ SmartMom

Mary is the Community Manager of SmartMom. She is a new mom to a bubbly little boy who has fire red hair and loves to smile. She loves to walk her dog, Bob, and watch Chicago sports with her husband. Go Cubs Go!