By Gabi Falanga
Breastfeeding is an activity that both mom and baby have to learn for the first time. Getting this journey off to a good start is crucial for a long and pain-free breastfeeding relationship. Many women complain about painful or damaged nipples. Breastfeeding shouldn’t cause pain, and making sure that your baby learns how to latch deeply will prevent this from happening. Here are some steps to ensure that your baby gets a deep latch.
Positioning: Before getting your baby to latch, it’s vital that you’re comfortable while breastfeeding. Take a look at our article on breastfeeding positions for various ways in which you can hold your baby while nursing. If you’re not comfortable in one of the positions, try another. Use pillows to make sure your baby is at the height of your breast. If you are really struggling to get baby to nurse correctly, try the laid-back (biological nursing) position to stimulate baby’s natural rooting reflexes. Make sure baby isn’t swaddled during feeds – ideally their arms should be on either side of your breast, as though they’re hugging it.
Tummy to mummy: Make sure that the front of your baby’s body is pressed up against yours. They won’t be able to latch properly if their body is twisted to face a different direction to their head. Hold your baby firmly, so that they don’t feel like they’re falling. You can support the baby’s head by placing the thumb of your open hand behind one ear and your forefinger behind the other. Tip the baby’s head slightly backwards and place the rest of your hand firmly on their upper back – this helps them to latch correctly, but also keeps their airway open.
Hamburger: If your baby is especially small or your breasts are very large or engorged, your baby might struggle to latch on properly. Use the hand that isn’t supporting your baby to gently flatten your breast into a “hamburger” to make it easier for your baby to latch on to. Once your baby has latched on and created suction, you can remove that hand. Don’t squeeze your breast too hard, as you could block ducts this way.
Baby to breast: When breastfeeding for the first time it’s tempting to move forwards to put your breast in your baby’s mouth. Rather, sit back comfortably, and bring your baby to your breast for a more comfortable feed and latch.
Nipple to nose: Once you’ve done all of the above, put your baby’s nose at your nipple. This should prompt them to open their mouth wide.
Mouth open wide: Wait until your baby’s opened their mouth fully and then put your breast in quickly. Your nipple should be right at the back of the baby’s mouth and pointed slightly upwards. A good portion of your areola should also be in baby’s mouth. If your baby is correctly latched, you should be able to see them sucking and swallowing when you watch their jawline.
Breastfeeding is a new experience for mom and baby and it’s normal for it to take a while to get right. If your baby has latched on incorrectly, immediately unlatch them and try again. To do this, stick your finger into the corner or baby’s mouth to break the suction and then pull them away.
An incorrect latch may result in a baby that’s prone to cramps - because they take in more air, and fussy if they’re not able to nurse effectively. It can also cause significant nipple pain and damage, negatively effect your milk supply, or even cause mastitis - because your breasts aren’t being emptied properly.
If you continue to struggle, find a certified lactation consultant who can assist you.