mother breastfeeding her baby to show how to get a baby to latch properly while breastfeeding

A good latch is the foundation of breastfeeding. If your baby is properly attached to your breast, she will have a good feed and a full tummy, your nipples won’t be damaged or painful, and you’ll have enough milk.

A good latch starts with good and comfortable positioning – for both you and your baby

  • Make sure that you are comfortable, that your back is supported, and that you have sufficient pillows to prop yourself up.
  • Remove all blankets around your baby, and preferably feed skin-to-skin, with your baby only wearing a nappy. Keep blankets close by to cover your baby and keep her warm.
  • “Tummy to mummy” is a good starting point – hold your baby with their tummy turned to your body, and support their neck, shoulders and back if necessary. Their body should be relaxed, with head, neck and spine in a straight line. Refrain from placing a hand on your baby’s head, their head should be able to tilt back easily.
  • Bring your baby to your nipple, rather than bringing your nipple to your baby. Move your baby around until their nose is in line with your nipple. Wait for your baby to root and to open their mouth wide, and then hug their entire body close for a deep latch. If your baby does not want to open their mouth you can gently stroke your nipple along his upper lip.
  • To get a deep latch you may want to compress your breast slightly between your thumb and fingers before latching your baby on, almost like a hamburger, to allow your baby to get more breast into his mouth. The nipple flip is another useful technique, in which you roll your nipple into your baby’s mouth as he latches on.
  • There are many different positions, and there’s no correct or incorrect position, unless it feels uncomfortable to you. Try various positions to find what works for you and your baby. The cross-cradle hold is often easier to manage while your baby and you are still learning to breastfeed, although the laidback position may help with self-attachment and a deep latch. The football/rugby hold may be more comfortable for mothers who have had a caesarean section.

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How do you know that your baby has latched on properly while breastfeeding?

  • You’re not feeling any sharp pain, and if you felt any pain/tugging during latch on this should disappear after the first 20-30 seconds.
  • Your baby’s mouth is wide open, with the upper and lower lip flanged outward, almost like the mouth of a fish.
  • Your baby has a good portion of your areola (the dark area around your nipple) in their mouth and is not just sucking on your nipple. Their head should be tilted slightly backward, with their tongue, bottom lip and chin touching your breast, but their nose free to breathe (although it may be gently touching your breast).
  • You can see your baby nursing well, with their jaw moving rhythmically and your baby swallowing approximately once per second. Initial sucks may be short and quick, slowing down once your milk lets down.

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Baby being breastfed by his mother to show how to get a proper latch when breastfeeding

Signs that your baby is not latching properly or is not getting enough breast milk:

  • Your baby is not gaining enough weight, or losing weight beyond the first few days.
  • Your baby feeds frequently and for long periods of time, but still seems irritable and hungry most of the time.
  • Your nipples hurt. A shallow latch is the most common cause of sore nipples. If your baby is only latched onto the front part of your nipple, their gums and tongue will cause you damage. In this case your nipple may look like a new lipstick after a feed, all squished to a point.
  • If after 5 days of age your baby does not have 5-6 full, wet nappies per day.
  • Your baby is very gassy and uncomfortable. Although all babies experience gassiness and crying, it may be a good idea to check the latch, since a poor latch may result in your baby swallowing too much air.

Keep in mind that initially latching takes some practice from both you and your baby. It does, however, get easier with time: both of you learn, and that tiny mouth will grow, making a deeper latch so much easier. Watching the latch will not last forever, soon you’ll be able to do it literally in the dark without even thinking about it!

And if, after trying all of the above, the latch still just doesn’t feel right – remember to get help! Contact a lactation consultant for assistance – you don’t have to suffer through the beautiful journey of breastfeeding!

Lactation dietitian Natascha OlivierNatascha Olivier is a registered dietitian (you can visit her website here), certified lactation consultant, wife, and mother of 2 beautiful girls. She is passionate about evidence-based, practical nutrition in infancy, childhood, pregnancy and maternal health, and the family setting – her special interest is in breastfeeding, childhood nutrition, and family nutrition. Natascha is also a South African Certified Lactation Consultant and supports moms and families on their journey from pregnancy, to breastfeeding, and into the amazing adventure of introducing  little ones to family foods.