What to do about latching problems

Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s always easy – just look at childbirth. But if you and Baby are having trouble getting them latched on to breastfeed strongly and comfortably, so that they can get the nourishment they need without causing you any pain, it may be a good idea to talk to a lactation consultant about any problems you might be having.

Every baby is different, which means that every baby has their own unique set of challenges when it comes to figuring out the best way to latch, but there are a few common problems that could be getting in your or Baby’s way. 

Flat or inverted nipples

Flat or inverted nipples aren’t necessarily something that have to get in the way of breastfeeding, but they can make it harder for a baby to get a strong latch to begin with. Screenings for flat or inverted nipples during pregnancy aren’t routine, so many women don’t find out if they have flat or inverted nipples until after delivery. You can check if you have flat or inverted nipples by doing what La Leche League International calls a “pinch test” – gently compress the areola a little ways behind the nipple – about an inch. If the nipple becomes erect, congratulations, you don’t have flat or inverted nipples!

Nipples that do not respond are known as “flat,” and nipples that retract or become concave are known as “inverted.” If flat or inverted nipples are making it harder for your baby to latch on, a doctor or lactation consultant may be able to recommend interventions to make latching easier, but the key thing is to make sure that your baby is latching onto the breast, and not the nipple, so that their gums and mouth pass the nipple entirely, and close around the areola. 

Tongue-tie or lip-tie

A lot of the time, a doctor or healthcare provider will notice a tongue-tie or lip-tie, where the tongue or lip is tethered tighter to the inside of the mouth, getting in the way of movement, early on, before the baby has left the hospital. Some tongue-ties and lip-ties are more subtle, though, and harder to see by looking, and parents may only start to notice them through feeding problems. Babies who are having trouble latching may try to compensate by using their jaws to latch, which can feel or look like the baby is chewing on the breast. If you think your baby may have a tongue tie or a lip tie, you may want to confirm with a lactation consultant, or just go straight to your baby’s pediatrician to check in. 

Something just isn’t clicking

Sometimes, it can feel like you’re doing everything right, like you’ve checked for every possible problem, but something about your and Baby’s latch just isn’t quite right. Maybe it looks perfect, but, for some reason, it still hurts. Maybe you’ve got the hang of latching now, but the cracked or dry nipples that happened along the way as you were figuring it out are still causing you pain. If there’s something about your latch that just doesn’t feel quite right, there are a few different strategies you can try. 

  • Try “laid back breastfeeding”: Especially if your baby bobs their head when getting ready to feed, in a way that might feel like it’s making latching more difficult, one school of thought says that by finding somewhere to lean back, instead of either sitting upright or lying down, you’ll be able to work with their instincts, instead of working around them. First, recline at a comfortable angle, maybe on a couch, or a bed propped up with pillows, and then position your baby so that their whole front is pressed against your whole front. In this position, gravity will work with you, and you won’t have to work as hard to hold them pressed against you as you might when sitting upright. Let your baby’s cheek rest against your bare breast, and try to relax as the two of you work together to latch them on.
  • Nipple shields: If Baby has been having trouble latching on for a little while, or is premature and having trouble latching, a lactation consultant might recommend trying to use nipple shields – soft, flexible covers that fit over the nipples to provide a layer between the baby’s mouth and mom’s breast. Nipple shields can also be helpful for moms with flat or inverted nipples, and moms with cracked or bleeding nipples who want to keep breastfeeding while they heal.
  • Lactation consultant: If breastfeeding isn’t going the way you hoped it would, and you’re having trouble finding a solution through research, a lactation consultant will be able to walk you through possible problems and solutions – after all, there’s no replacement for having someone there in person to take a look at what’s going on.

Breastfeeding can be a great way to get your relationship with Baby off on the right foot, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a few bumps along the way. If the early part of your breastfeeding journey has been challenging, try to remember to be patient with yourself and with Baby – you’re both trying something totally new, after all!

  • Helathwise staff. “Nipple shields for breastfeeding problems.” Michigan Medicine. Regents of the University of Michigan, March 16 2017. Retrieved November 28 2017. http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/abp4569.
  • Catherine Watson Genna. “Tongue-Tie and Breastfeeding.” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, Leaven. 38(2): 27-29. April-May 2002. Retrieved November 28 2017. http://www.llli.org/llleaderweb/lv/lvaprmay02p27.html.
  • Ayala Ochert, Suzanne Colson. “Breastfeeding: Instinct or Instruction?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, New Beginnings, 26(2): 32-33. 2009. Retrieved November 28 2017. http://www.llli.org/nb/nbmarapr09p32.html.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding tips: What new moms need to know.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, November 23 2010. Retrieved November 28 2017. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/breast-feeding/art-20047138.
  • “How do I position my baby to breastfeed?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, November 16 2014. Retrieved November 28 2017. http://www.llli.org/faq/positioning.html.
  • “Laid-back breastfeeding.” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Chapter 20. 2010. Retrieved November 28 2017. http://www.llli.org/docs/0000000000000001WAB/WAB_Tear_sheet_Toolkit/01_laid_back_breastfeeding.pdf.
  • “My doctor says I have flat nipples. Can I still breastfeed my baby?” La Leche League International. La Leche League International, January 9 2016. Retrieved November 28 2017. http://www.llli.org/faq/flat.html.

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