Smiling baby in a blue onesie
Author: TLN

Breastfeeding and latching — what you need to know 

Here’s the lowdown on why a great latch is so important for breastfeeding success.

You’ve likely heard this term “latching,” which means how your baby attaches to the breast. But what exactly is latching, and why is it so important? How do you know if you’re doing it right? Even if you’ve read all the parenting books or watched a zillion videos, getting latching down pat can feel really challenging — especially in the early days. In fact, in The Lactation Network’s 2023 survey, 83% of parents said they found breastfeeding challenging — and almost a quarter (24%) said they found it extremely challenging. That’s a lot of parents feeling a lot of frustration. 

In many cases, the frustration around lactation comes from two things — a lack of support and an uncomfortable, uncertain experience. It’s hard to meet your goals when you feel alone or unsure of what to do. New parents (and their babies) benefit tremendously from the guidance of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). They can help you master latching — one of the most mystifying, but important, parts of breastfeeding.

What is latching? 

Latching is the process of initiating nursing at the breast. It is the action of attaching your baby’s mouth over the nipple and areola (the darker area around your nipple — a literal “target” for your baby). A good breastfeeding latch is an essential first step for a baby to effectively remove milk while breastfeeding. 

Why is it important to have a good latch?

A proper breastfeeding latch is necessary for effective breastfeeding and the transfer of milk. A good, deep latch will prevent nipple pain and damage. It also allows your baby to effectively remove milk, which helps you establish a strong milk supply and avoid clogs or mastitis

How do I latch my baby?

Immediately after birth, bring your baby to your chest. Your baby will be looking to latch. If your team allows you the extra time, allow your baby to settle and start searching out the breast on their own. You may need the assistance of a support person to get your baby to latch on properly. 

When latching, there are a few different techniques. Most include starting with you seated in an upright position, using a breastfeeding pillow (or other firm pillow) for support at breast level. Bring baby to your breast, don’t lean over and bring your breast to baby.  

Baby’s body should be tummy to tummy with yours. Lining up baby’s nose with your nipple puts the baby in a good starting position.  

Express a drop of milk on your nipple. Run your nipple over the baby’s nose and lips, encouraging baby to open their mouth wide. Once the baby opens their mouth wide, bring them deep onto your breast, aiming your nipple for the back roof of their mouth (soft palette). 

How do I know if it’s a good latch vs. a bad latch? 

Your baby should be positioned comfortably with their chest against your body so she doesn’t have to turn her head to nurse. Your baby’s lips should “flange” — or flare out like fish lips — around your breast. The baby’s tongue will cup the breast. When the baby is feeding, you will observe a pattern of baby sucking, swallowing, and breathing. (Keep an eye on their jaw and ear movement to clue you in.) 

In the early days, your nipples may feel a little tender, but you shouldn’t experience damaged nipples, want to cry, or dread breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is painful, reach out to an IBCLC as soon as possible for support. 

What if I can’t get it right?

If this whole latching thing sounds complicated… it can definitely feel that way in the beginning. But it gets much easier! Breastfeeding is natural, but it’s a learned skill. If you don’t get a good latch right away, that’s normal and OK. No matter how many babies you’ve had, latching may take time for you and your baby to figure out. But with practice, it will become second nature — until you can do it in your sleep (and you will!).  

Experiment with different breastfeeding positions, prop baby on a nursing pillow, and take some deep breaths. If the latch feels shallow, unlatch your baby by gently breaking the suction (don’t pull them off) and try again. 

Where can I turn for help?

While you’re still in the hospital, the nurses and hospital lactation consultants may be able to observe your latch and give you pointers. But did you know that there are also lactation consultants (IBCLCs) who provide home, office, and telehealth consultations? If you’re experiencing pain, sore nipples, frustration, shallow latch, your baby is slow to gain weight, or you suspect that they may have a tongue-tie, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. A small adjustment may make all the difference! Even if things are going smoothly but you are feeling nervous or unsure, and want support and education, a lactation consultant (IBCLC) can help.  

Set up an appointment with an IBCLC through The Lactation Network. Consultations are no cost, and are covered by your insurance. That personalized, professional lactation support not only provides you with expert advice but also lots of encouragement as you and your baby start your breastfeeding relationship. 

Get the care you deserve

We’re here for you, every step of the way. We work with your insurance to provide in-home, in-office, or telehealth visits with an IBCLC. 

Get the care you deserve at The Lactation Network