One of the most important parts of Baby‘s first few days is how they feed. For moms who are breastfeeding, getting the right latch early on is key to ensuring proper nutrition and development for your baby and to preventing breastfeeding pain.
How to get your newborn to latch on
If you’re breastfeeding for the first time, even if the process goes relatively smoothly for you and Baby, you might still face some challenges along the way. Even though newborns are built to breastfeed, in many ways breastfeeding is still a learned skill, both for you and for your little one.
One challenge some moms and babies face is problems with the baby’s latch on to the breast. Educating yourself early, even while you’re still pregnant, can help you prepare for a smooth transition. If you delivered at a hospital or birthing center, you may have had access to lactation consultants to help you get comfortable nursing your baby and begin to address any latch issues early on. But there are always surprises when it comes to actually trying something so new, no matter how well you prepare.
Even if you don’t get it right the first time, there’s a good chance you and Baby will just need to make some slight adjustments to find the right latch. If you continue to have trouble — especially if you don’t have much guidance early on — it can be helpful to reach out to a lactation consultant, ask your healthcare provider to refer you to someone who might be able to help, or bring it up with your baby’s pediatrician. In the meantime, though, here are some tips that might help you both get more comfortable.
Early bird special
Introducing Baby to your breast as soon as possible can help with latching success. As long as both you and your little one are healthy and able to following delivery, chances are good that your healthcare provider will place baby onto your chest for some skin-to-skin contact and allow you to try nursing Baby right away to help tap into their earliest latching and nursing instincts — some newborns may even try to wriggle their way right up to their mother’s breasts to start eating right after birth!
And even once you bring your baby home, continuing skin-to-skin contact will reinforce their natural nursing instincts and may help facilitate a quick latch.
Get into a comfy position (or two… or three)
Even though most of the time when you breastfeed you’ll be sitting or lying down, it’s definitely hard work. Try to get comfortable as you begin settling in to nurse Baby by using any pillows, footstools, or other support you might need.
There are a number of different breastfeeding positions you can try, and some of these might work better than others both in terms of comfort and in terms of latching, so it’s a good idea to experiment as needed. If there’s one position that helps Baby get a better latch, then you might want to use this early on, even if it’s not your favorite position.
As you get into the swing of things and as your baby grows bigger, you can continue to try different positions that allow you to both nurse comfortably.
Whatever position you’re in, in the early days of nursing when Baby is still so little, make sure that their shoulders and hips are supported (rather than focusing on supporting the back of their head), that they’re snuggled in close to you, and that their nose is facing your nipple.
If Baby isn’t opening their mouth, you can brush your nipple across the top of their upper lip, almost as if you are tickling their lip. You can also hand-express a little bit of colostrum (the rich liquid your breasts will produce as your milk comes in), then take your nipple to your baby’s nose so they can smell it, and then bring your nipple toward your baby’s mouth. Hopefully, this will make your baby open their mouth wide and lift their chin, which brings you one step closer to a good latch!
Once Baby is opening their mouth, your instinct might be to try to place your nipple right into the center of their open mouth — especially if you’re feeling desperate to get them to latch already — but if you instead aim your nipple toward the roof of their mouth, it will actually help facilitate a deeper latch.
A deep latch is a good latch, and this will mean that your little one can draw more milk from the breast and it will cause less nipple discomfort for you.
All hands on deck
Keep in mind that as you are trying to guide your nipple into Baby’s mouth, you likely want to be holding the breast they’re trying to feed from. Your thumb and fingers should form a “C” shape around the breast to guide things along, keeping your fingers well back from the nipple.
Depending on the size of your breasts, you may even want to gently squeeze the breast a bit, so that you can compress or “sandwich” your breast tissue, allowing Baby to get a better latch. If you do this, make sure that the compression is parallel to their lips, in the same way that you would eat a sandwich yourself. And if your breasts are on the larger side, placing a rolled up towel beneath them might make it easier for you to do all of this (often challenging) baby and breast juggling.
If your baby also wants to bring their hands up toward your breast and their mouth while nursing, don’t feel the need to move them aside. If they really get in the way, that’s probably a sign that you should hold your baby just a little bit closer to your body. But having their hands there will actually provide them with a greater degree of comfort as they eat.
And when your baby gets bigger, they may even try to help guide your breast into their mouth. So helpful!
Easy does it
If Baby is having a hard time latching, you may be tempted to push their head onto your breast, but this could actually cause them to arch away.
It’s more effective to draw them towards the breast and then hold your breast steady for them to latch onto, guiding the nipple into their mouth as described above. And, again, it’s important to focus on supporting your baby’s neck, shoulders and hips rather than the back of their head. Babies like to feel secure, so making sure their hips are supported with a little hug to their tush can help as well!
Avoid the ouchies
You will know that your little one is latching correctly if you feel a pulling or tugging sensation and, eventually, if there is almost no discomfort for both you and Baby.
Your nipples might be a little tender in the early weeks of breastfeeding just because they’re still getting used to all this hard work, but they will actually adjust pretty quickly. And once you’re in the swing of things, when done correctly, breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt. If it does, it’s often a sign that there may be something not quite right about the latch and that you may need to try to make some adjustments.
If things are really hurting — if you feel pinching or pain after a few sucks — and you need to take Baby off your nipple, don’t try to pull them directly off, or you’ll be facing even more ouchies. To break the seal of the latch with minimal discomfort you can gently slip your finger between your breast and the corner of Baby‘s mouth, break the suction from your breast, and then try again.
Another way that you can be alerted of a not so perfect latch is if you hear clicking or smacking noises, because when Baby latches well things shouldn’t be so noisy. These sorts of noises could mean that your little one needs work on their latch, which, again, can cause nipple pain. If they’re being a particularly noisy eater, you know what to do: break that seal and start again. If you feel pain free and notice a lot of noise, it can be helpful to get an experienced opinion, as some babies are just naturally noisy and gulpy eaters!
While showing is better than telling when it comes to latching, there’s a lot you can learn by looking at where Baby’s mouth is situated on your breast.
Once your baby is latched, their chin should be pressed into your breast, with their head tilted back to allow their mouth to open nice and wide.
A deep latch happens when Baby puts not just your nipple but, in fact, as much of your areola into their mouth as possible. Depending on the size of your areola, you probably won’t see too much areola peeking out beyond your little one’s lower lip, though you may see some areola peeking out beyond their upper lip. This sort of an asymmetric latch guides your nipple to the back of their mouth and allows their tongue to press against the underside of your areola, which you may or may not be able to see, depending on the angle.
A deep latch also allows your baby’s gums to compress the milk ducts behind your nipple, which will stimulate the mammary glands located behind the areola. (If you are having trouble because you have particularly large areolas and Baby has a particularly small mouth, a lactation specialist might suggest massaging the area around your areola to simulate what Baby‘s mouth will be doing in the near future. And, again, to “sandwich” your breast a bit can also help with this.)
Another sign of a good latch is if Baby‘s bottom lip is flanged, meaning turned out like fish lips — as if they popped out of the womb ready to add some more duck-lip selfies to the world. (If their lip is turned inward instead, your healthcare provider or lactation specialist might show you how to gently turn the lip outward so that Baby can get a better sense of how latching on is supposed to feel.) Top lips may be naturally flanged or more neutral. Adjusting them is trickier and can actually make a latch less successful.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
Unfortunately, many women find that it takes time to figure out the proper latch consistently. There might even be times where it seems like Baby is fighting you or pushing you away as you try to maneuver them into a better latching position, which can be frustrating. But Baby really isn’t trying to make your life harder. Your little one is just as new to the whole process as you are, and it may take a little time for the two of you to figure out how to work together.
Remember, you can and should seek out help if you need it. Baby’s pediatrician will certainly let you know if they’re gaining weight as they should be — one indicator of how well they’re eating — and may also answer your latching questions. Lactation consultants can be a huge help during this time too, so reach out if you need support or are having pain or concerns about latching. These experts will be able to let you know if you’re facing normal latching challenges or if Baby is having trouble eating due to other issues.
But most early latch issues are totally normal, and it may just take a little bit of trial and error to get things right. Again, it’s highly likely that you’ll work through these early challenges quickly and will soon be breastfeeding with ease!
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Breast pain while breastfeeding: What’s normal and when to get help
- Lactation consultants: what they do and how they can help
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding tips: What new moms need to know.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, November 23 2016. Retrieved July 25 2017.http://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 July 25 2017. http://www.llli.org/faq/positioning.html.
- “Off to the best start: Important information about feeding your baby.” Unicef. Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative and the Department of Health, 2015. Retrieved July 25 2017. https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2010/11/otbs_leaflet.pdf.