Breastfeeding A to Z

Helping Your Baby To Latch On

Remember breastfeeding is as much an art as a science and no one way works for everyone. If you have the opportunity to observe another mother breastfeed this can be the most helpful lesson in learning how to feed your baby. During the first few feedings you may want some help from the nursing staff, lactation consultant or other knowledgeable person on how to latch your baby on to your breast. Deciding if the baby is latching on involves several things. The following can help (1) (2):

Find a comfortable position. Try not to lean over to latch your baby on. This is hard on your back and makes an extra tug on the nipple. Sit back, or lay in a way that baby comes to you. Various positions can be used. Cradle, football and side lying are a few of the main ones. It helps to vary positions early on to avoid one area of the breast getting uncomfortable.

Make sure your baby is turned towards you. You want their head and tummy facing you. Think about trying to drink something with your head turned to the side. Not easy. While they are learning, you want your baby’s head, tummy and hips all turned towards you.

When attempting to latch the baby on, it helps if you put your hand around the breast with the thumb on top and the rest of your fingers underneath. This is called a C-hold because your hand is shaped like the letter “C”. Make sure the thumb and fingers are an inch or so back from the nipple so you don’t get in the way of the area your baby wants to latch onto. This allows you to direct the breast into the baby’s mouth and support the breast.

Don’t be too quick to take your hand away. It helps baby if you keep your hand there as support. Especially, if your baby stops and starts their feeding the breast doesn’t slip out of their mouth due to the weight or pressure of the breast in their mouth. Within a few weeks your baby may be able to latch without you needing to keep your hand there. But in the early weeks, it is helpful to your baby to keep your hand there. (3)

Ideally, your baby will open their mouth wide enough that you can put as much of the breast as possible in their mouth. If you’ve seen them yawn or cry you know they can do this. (2)

Stroking your baby’s upper lip from side to side with the breast or expressing a little milk onto their lip will help encourage them to open their mouth. (2)(4)

References:

  1. Wambach,  K, Riordan, J, Breastfeeding & Human Lactation, 5th edition, Burlington, MA, Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2016, pp 235, 240-41.  Note:  Publishing date does say 2016.
  2. Mohrbacher, N, Stock, J, La Leche League International The Breastfeeding Answer Book, 3rd Revised Edition, Schaumburg, IL, La Leche League International, Jan 2003, pp 64-72, 75-76.
  3. Black, RF, Jarman, L, Simpson, JB, Lactation Specialist Self-Study Series Module 2: The Process of Breastfeeding, Jones & Bartlett Publishing International, 1998, p 38.
  4. Newman, J, Pitman, The Latch & Other Keys to Breastfeeding Success, Amarillo, TX, Hale Publishing, 2006, pp 21, 28, 152, 161-163.