Breastfeeding may be the most natural way to feed your baby, but it can take time and practice for you both to get the hang of it. Understanding how a good breastfeeding latch (also known as breastfeeding attachment) should look and feel can be a huge help in getting feeding established.
It’s a good idea to get as much support as possible in the first few days and weeks after the birth. Have your newborn’s latch checked, ideally by a healthcare professional trained in breastfeeding support, or by a qualified lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist. Getting things right now will help avoid problems later.
As well as being frustrating and distressing for your baby, a poor breastfeeding latch can give you sore nipples. It may also mean your baby can’t drain your breast effectively, leading to poor weight gain, reducing your milk supply, and putting you at increased risk of blocked milk ducts and mastitis.
An expert will also check whether your baby has a tongue-tie or any other conditions that could make the latch-on process more difficult.
Sophie, mum of one, UK, says: “My top tip is to check your baby’s latch with a breastfeeding expert before leaving hospital. I didn’t know until five days in that my baby wasn’t latching properly. She was just sucking on the end of my nipples, which wasn’t giving her enough milk and made me sore.”
Camilla, mum of one, Australia, also found that asking for breastfeeding latching tips helped: “I asked every midwife I saw on my first two days in hospital to show me ways to help my baby latch,” she says. “Most of them had slightly different techniques or advice, and that way I could work out what was best for Frankie and me.”
If you’re not able to speak to a healthcare professional, lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist straight away, or your baby won’t latch all of a sudden, we’ve broken the latch-on process into six simple steps that should help you get on track.
How to help your baby latch on the breast
1: Check your latching position
Before you start, and whichever breastfeeding position you choose, make sure your baby’s head, neck and spine are aligned, not twisted. His chin should be up, not dropped towards his chest. Make sure you feel comfortable too – you could use pillows or cushions to support your back, arms or baby.1
2: Encourage your baby to open his mouth
Hold your baby close, your nipple level with his nose. Touch your nipple gently against his upper lip to encourage him to open his mouth wide. The wider his mouth is, the easier it will be to get a good latch on.1
3: Bring your baby to your breast
Once your baby has opened his mouth wide and has brought his tongue over his bottom gum, bring him on to your breast, aiming your nipple towards the top of his mouth. Your baby’s chin should be the first thing that touches your breast. He should take a large portion of your areola into his mouth, with his bottom lip and jaw covering more of the underneath of the areola.1 It’s OK if you see part of your areola isn’t inside his mouth – we all have different-sized areolae and different-sized babies! Some mums find that gently shaping their breast at the same time as bringing their baby on to feed helps. Experiment and see what works.
4: Keep your baby close during latch on
Remember mums all have different breast shapes and nipple positions, so you may not always have that ‘textbook’ latch. Whenever possible, keep your baby close to you, with his chin in contact with your breast. Newborn baby’s noses are turned up so they can breathe easily while attached to the breast, and can learn to coordinate sucking and breathing with ease.1,2
5: Look and listen
As your baby feeds, your nipple will be against the roof of his mouth, cupped gently by his tongue underneath. The latch should not feel uncomfortable – it should be more of a tugging sensation. Watch your baby – at first he’ll do short, rapid sucks to stimulate your milk flow (let-down reflex). Once milk starts flowing, he’ll suck more slowly and deeply with some pauses, which may indicate he’s taking in milk – a good sign! You should see his jaw moving, and may also hear sucking and swallowing as he feeds. These are all good signs, but it’s also important to check your baby is producing plenty of wet and dirty nappies and gaining weight as expected.2,3
6: How to break your baby’s latch on the breast
If your baby’s latch is shallow or painful, or he starts chomping on your nipple or brushing the end of it with his tongue, remove him from your breast and try again. Ease your clean finger gently inside the corner of his mouth to break his suction if you need to.
Signs of a good latch
Every time you breastfeed your baby check that:
- his chin is touching your breast and he can breathe through his nose
- his mouth is open wide and he has a mouthful of your areola (not just your nipple)
- his latch doesn’t hurt
- he starts with short sucks before sucking more slowly and deeply2,3
If you have flat or inverted nipples your baby may find latching more difficult – read our article on different types of nipples for advice.
Remember, if breastfeeding is painful, your baby seems hungry after feeding, or doesn’t put on weight, a poor breastfeeding latch may be the culprit. Get advice from a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist as quickly as possible.