Updated September 21st 2021
How are you supposed to know if your baby has a good latch when the most common thing you hear about breastfeeding is that it can hurt? While it’s common to hear this because yes, some people do have painful experiences, breastfeeding should not hurt. There should never be a time where you’re tightening up your body, bringing your shoulders to your ears or holding your breath in anticipation of the latch.
More importantly than what a latch looks like is how it feels. I ask every parent I work with how the latch feels. The latch could look pretty good from the outside and meet some of the below criteria but if you’re in pain, or uncomfortable or it’s causing damage to your nipples, then it’s not a good latch and something needs to be adjusted.
A good latch should feel comfortable. You should feel a gentle tugging/pulling/stretching sensation. If you’re feeling anything other than that, the latch should be assessed by a professional. This includes compressing (nipple comes out squished) pinching or pain.
So, what can you look for to know whether or not your baby has a good latch?
1. You are not in any pain
Breastfeeding should not hurt. While it’s quite common to experience pain or hear horror stories of painful nursing, it means the latch could have been improved. Some slight discomfort and tenderness (similar to when you were pregnant) can be normal and temporary in the first week or two but pain should always be addressed. You should never feel like you need to tough it out or suck it up.
Breastfeeding can and should be a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Sometimes, it might hurt just on one side. In that case, it’s likely just how your body or your baby is positioned. Some simple adjustments such as reclining your body and turning your baby’s body completely towards yours can help.
2. You baby’s chin is touching your breast
Your baby’s chin should be touching your breast to help get a deep latch. While their chin is against the breast, their nose is free to breathe. This is important to ensure the coordination of “suck-swallow-breathe” and ensures the nipple reaches all the way to the back of the mouth.
Having your baby’s chin touching your breast should also create a pain free latch. When the latch is too shallow, the nipple is compressed against the hard palate making feeding quite uncomfortable. Another giveaway that the nipple is not far enough back into the baby’s mouth is if your nipples are coming out in a different shape than when they went in. Sometimes they look like a tube of lipstick where part of the tip is flattened. Misshapen nipples are one sign you should get breastfeeding support.
3. Their bottom lip flanges outwards
Their bottom lip should flange (or fold outwards) and the top lip is neutral or only slightly flanged. If the top lip or bottom is curling under (folding in on itself) this is a sign to have the latch evaluated by a lactation consultant.
A flanged bottom lip allows your baby to get a deeper latch by fully drawing the nipple all the way back to the soft palate. If the bottom lip does not flange outward, you can gently try and flip it outward while your baby is latched with the pinky finger of your free hand. If this won’t work and the latch is painful or your nipple is being compressed, unlatch your baby and try again. You can unlatch your baby by inserting the tip of your finger into the corner of their mouth to break the seal they have on the breast.
4. You can see or hear swallowing
When a baby has a good latch, they are able to transfer milk from the breast. This means, after sucking, they swallow. If they are latched shallow, your nipple will compress against their hard palate. Not only will this hurt, but it can also reduce the amount of milk they remove. If they are not removing much milk, they wouldn’t swallow as frequently and over time, it can reduce your milk production.
When a baby is drinking milk, their swallows sound like soft “kah” sounds. You can also see the swallows happening. Their jaw moves down and briefly pauses when the milk is being swallowed. Swallowing is also a clear sign they are getting milk.
5. Milk is not spilling from their mouth
If your baby has a good latch, their tongue and lips create a seal around the breast. This seal does not allow any milk to leak or spill from the corners of their mouth. If milk is spilling, it could mean their position needs to be adjusted slightly. Sometimes this could means your baby is having a hard time creating or maintaining a seal meaning the function of their tongue might need to be assessed. Sometimes due to weaker facial muscles milk spilling can also happen. This is why it’s an important sign to ask for help from a lactation consultant. If there’s no milk spilling or leaking, you are comfortable and the criteria above are met, there’s a good chance your baby has a good latch.
As mentioned above, when a baby has a good latch, they are drinking milk. When they drink enough milk each feeding, they feel content afterwards. Noticing your baby is more relaxed after a feeding is another good sign they are content. Falling asleep after a feeding (and after a period of actively swallowing milk) is another sign your baby is content after a feeding.
All that said, if your baby is content after a feeding BUT that feeding was causing you pain or discomfort, then the latch should still be evaluated by a lactation consultant.
A final word
You will always know your baby best. You should never doubt your instincts. If something doesn’t feel like it’s right, reach out for help. You can find a lactation consultant within your community or work with one from anywhere in the world, online. I do offer virtual consults.
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