How to Latch Your Baby to the Breast in 7 Simple Steps

The most common reason new mothers quit breastfeeding is because of sore nipples, often as a result from a bad latch. I will never forget sitting with my second daughter about 8 years ago,who was just two days old, sobbing because I swore my nipples were going to fall off they hurt so bad. There I sat with cracked, bleeding, nipples; a starving baby and dreading each feed. It was literally toe curling pain. It was then that I got it…when I realized why women choose to quit breastfeeding…and why I needed to become a Lactation Consultant. With the help of many fabulous women, who are now my mentors, I pushed through, corrected my latch, and am happy to say that once I got the help, my breastfeeding experience was beautiful.

Knowing how to properly latch your baby to your breast, should seem instinctual right? It would seem that every mother should know innately how to latch her baby, and that the baby should know what to do instantly. After all…it is NATURE! Although sometimes that is true,  more often then not breastfeeding is a learned art. It takes practice, and sometimes trial and error to figure out just how to correctly and painlessly latch a baby.  Below are a few easy steps to ensure that both you and your baby get off to the best start possible.

STEP 1. Make sure  you have a quiet, comfortable place to breastfeed. This could be a chair, a bed, or the couch. Wherever it is, it needs to have good support for your back and your feet. You need to make sure you are able to have the chance to lean back and put your feet up if needed. The most common mistake I see is that mom leans into her baby, vs. bringing the baby to the breast. For whatever reason women feel they need to hunch over and go to the baby. When a mother goes to her baby versus bring the baby to the breast, gravity will win and soreness begins! The baby is forced more on his back which automatically makes him more inclined to bite down. His mouth can’t get deep onto the breast because gravity is helping him to slide down unto just the nipple vs latching deeply to the whole breast, which leads me to the next step.

STEP 2. Have good pillow support. More often then not this is the biggest problem. Mothers don’t have enough pillows to help bring the baby to the breast.  You need to make sure that you have a “pillow table” almost like a nest. The pillows should be just under your breasts. A great pillow is the “My Breast Friend” or the “Nesting Pillow”. I am not a big fan of the Boppy. It is too low, and too small. It doesn’t allow enough support for both mom and baby.More often then not, women will need to add pillows on top of the Boppy in order to get it high enough. You have to have the pillow table to the point where baby can reach the breast with out mother having to hunch over.

STEP 3. Massage the breasts prior to feeding. This wakes up the breast tissue and allows the milk to begin to flow. Massage in a circular motion all the way around the breast in a clockwise direction. After a minute or so of that, you can use some good hand expression to bring the milk down. For a great example of this visit article on hand expression, demonstrated by Dr. Jane Morton.

STEP 4. Which ever position you choose to hold the baby in, (cross cradle, football, etc) make sure you “ridge” the breast like a sandwich. To do this place your hand in a “C” position with your thumb at the top of your areola, and your pointer finger at the bottom of the areola. Once you have that in place roll your hand forward, so that there appears to be what looks like a “Nipple Sandwich”. It should be areola, nipple, areola. Then with your other hand, have your arm supporting the baby’s back, with your hand gently supporting the baby’s neck and head. Swipe or drag your nipple from his nose down to his chin. This will illicit a rooting reflex, causing the baby to open with a wide gaping mouth. Once you see that gaping mouth, quickly bring that baby onto the breast. Remember bring the baby to you, DO NOT go to the baby. We have a saying in the lactation world, “Nose to chin, and shove them in” Or even better, ” Nose to chin and hug them in”! It almost is a window of opportunity, when you see that wide gaping mouth, pop that baby on.

STEP 5. Once baby has latched on, look down to see the baby’s placement on your breast. His/Her cheek should be touching your breast, and when you look down you should not be able to see any part of your areola. The baby should have at least a 1/2 inch of the areola  in his mouth. Make sure to flip his/her bottom lip out, so that the lips are “Fish like”. For a baby who likes to clamp down a bit, make sure that your baby is tummy to tummy with you, and that you have leaned back. Place your feet up on a chair, or stool, as this will force your body to recline more allowing gravity to help. If a baby feels like he is falling onto his back, his first response will be to clamp down on the nipple to prevent losing his meal. Not so fun for mommy’s nipples. If the baby is still persistent about clamping down, de-latch him from the breast and massage his bottom gum line for a minute or so, encouraging him to bit down on your finger. This will help release some of the tension prior to latching. Repeat the latching steps, except this time, once he is on, hold the chin down for a few seconds longer. This will force his tongue to move in more of a glide vs. a short flicking motion. If the clamping continues, suck training may be beneficial to you.

STEP 6. Relax your shoulders, make sure that baby is tummy to tummy, and that the baby’s ear, shoulder, and hip are all in a line. If the baby’s head seems to be falling, you can roll a receiving blanket up and place behind the baby’s head for additional support.

STEP 7. Perform breast compressions while baby is sucking to help sustain a good sucking pattern. You want to look for good jaw glides. When the baby stops having audible swallows, is only sucking a few times here and there, and is no longer gliding but rather flicking or flutter sucking, it is a signal that the baby has drained that breast. De-latch the baby, burp and repeat on the other side.

It is always best to allow a baby to empty one breast before offering the second breast. Try not to get wrapped up in how many minutes to feed the baby. It is best to have a good quality feed vs. the quantity of time. If ever you have a hard time getting a baby to latch, place the baby skin to skin or at the “Breastaurant”. This will always encourage a baby to feed. If soreness continues, contact your local Lactation Consultant for further evaluation, as the soreness may be related to a more complex issue. Most important, cut yourself some slack. If you have a hard time latching, take a break and try again.

Copyright© 2012 Danielle Gauss,IBCLC,ICCE/ All Rights Reserved



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