Updated February 20th 2023
I’ll start by saying there is tons of information online that references “a good latch”.
The hospital staff might have said to you “he has a good latch”. The new parent blog you read said “Be sure to get a good latch”. You see posts on Instagram that say “A good latch shouldn’t hurt”.
Before I tell you how to get a good latch, let’s talk a little about how to know if it’s not a good latch or rather, not an optimal latch.
What if it doesn’t really hurt but you’re still not sure if it’s a good latch? How do you know?
So first, if there’s pain the latch needs to be checked. If you’re tensing up, curling your toes or holding your breath as you latch your baby because of pain, it’s not a good latch. You should get help for that, asap.
If breastfeeding is comfortable and you’re pretty sure your baby is drinking milk but your nipples are coming out flat or misshapen (meaning they are not round anymore) there’s room for improvement.
When your nipples come out of your baby’s mouth as a different shape, this means the nipple is not reaching to where it should. The nipple is being compressed against the hard palate.
If your baby’s chin is not touching your breast or if their nose is ending up buried in breast tissue and the only way for them to breathe is for you to hold down your breast tissue with your finger for the whole time…it’s not a good latch. That one is usually a quick position adjustment.
Lastly, if milk is leaking out of the sides of your baby’s mouth while they are drinking or if they are making slurping or smacking sounds, it’s a poor latch. There’s an issue with the seal they are creating on the breast and this also means you should get support.
Ok, so how do I get a good latch?
A good latch can mean the difference between a comfortable breastfeeding experience or a painful one. While pain can be common during breastfeeding, it indicates your baby’s latch can be improved as I mentioned above.
There are a few adjustments you can make to help relieve the pain and reposition your baby for a more effective latch. Especially if you’re waiting to see a lactation consultant, hours feel like days when the latch is wrong. I know because I was there too.
So here are 3 things you can do right now to get a better latch.
1. Relax and Get Comfy
Make sure you are relaxed and in a comfortable position. I often work with parents who breastfeed in very uncomfortable positions putting unnecessary tension on their neck, shoulders and back. If you’re doing this you’re not alone!
If you ever feel awkward holding your baby to breastfeed, switch it up and try a new position. Use as many or as little pillows as you need. Sometimes larger breasts need pillows or rolled towels for support. Do whatever works to make yourself comfortable. I often recommend the laid back position for a comfortable latch.
Whatever position you’re in, there’s no real right or wrong if you’re comfortable and your baby is able to drink well. Our bodies are different shapes and sizes so are our chests, adjustments are what tailor a position to you and your baby.
2. Watch Your Baby
It’s easy (especially in the very early days) to want to scroll through your phone, place a few online orders or watch a movie when you are breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has a learning curve for both you and your baby. While you’re working to perfect your latch, tune into the feed and watch your baby.
Your baby’s tummy should be facing yours and their ears, shoulders and hips should be in alignment. An easy way to remember this is “nose and toes” should be pointing in the same direction. They should also be very close to your body, touching actually. Any gaps can make getting a comfortable latch more difficult.
You also want to watch them so you can latch your baby when they open wide like a yawn. This will ensure the entire nipple gets into their mouth and all the way back to the soft palate. You can always tickle their lip with your nipple to encourage the wide gape.
When your baby gets ready to take in the nipple, they should lead with their chin. More of their bottom lip should be covering the areola than the top. This is known as an asymmetrical latch. It encourages the nipple to point to the roof of the mouth which assists with getting a deep, pain free latch.
3. Bring Your Baby to The Breast
Bring your baby to the breast, NOT the other way around! Please, do not stretch and pull your breasts towards your baby. Bring your baby to your breast. If you’ve followed tips 1 and 2, you should already be in a position where your baby is at your breast. If you are still finding yourself stretching or pulling yourself towards your baby, adjust your body again, and then attempt latching.
I hope this provides you with some more clarity.
If you’re still struggling with latching, join my community of other breastfeeding parents, going through the same things you are.
This is a safe space to ask questions and support each other. We talk about all things postpartum, breastfeeding and babies!
La Leche League International. (n.d). Positioning. La Leche League International. https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/positioning/
Newman, J. & Pitman, T. (2014). Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.