Latching

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

Yes, we’re talking about the all-important latch. While you’re pregnant, you may hear this term “latching” in relation to getting your baby attached to your breast to nurse. But what exactly is latching, and why is it so important? How do you know if you’re doing it right? We’re getting into all the details and breaking down everything you need to know about breastfeeding and latching. 

What is latching?

Latching is the process of initiating nursing at the breast. It is the action of attaching your baby’s mouth around your nipple and areola (the darker area around your nipple—a literal “target” for your baby). The latch allows your baby to compress the milk ducts in the areola, create an effective suction and start suckling so he can induce letdown and begin feeding.

Why is it important to have a good latch?

Latching 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 fully “empty” your breasts, which helps you establish a strong milk supply and avoid clogs or mastitis.

How do I latch my baby?

As soon as you’re able after delivery, hold your baby skin-to-skin on your chest. Often, a baby will make natural movements toward the breast, such as bobbing their head, rooting or squirming around. Support your baby’s head and body, but see if you can wait for her to move toward the nipple and open her mouth. This can take some pressure off you and keep you both relaxed.

If a more baby-led approach isn’t working, try cupping your breast with your free hand and gently compressing it horizontally behind the areola. Some like to refer to this hold as making a “sandwich” or “hamburger” shape. Touch your nipple to your baby’s lips to encourage them to open their mouth. Hold them close so their chin and lower jaw touch your breast. Once they open wide, gently guide their head so you can insert your nipple and a good portion of your areola into their mouth, pressing your breast in and down against his tongue so the nipple points slightly up. You may feel like you’re stuffing a lot of your boob in, but a deep latch is key. If the latch feels off, gently insert a clean finger into the side of your baby’s mouth to break the seal and try again.

How do I know if it’s a good 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, so gently pull the lips out if they’re tucked under. Their tongue will be cupped under your breast. You should be able to see or hear them move into a suck-swallow-breath pattern as they feed. (Keep an eye on their jaw and ear movement to clue you in.) If you hear a clicking noise, the latch is likely not deep enough. 

In the early days, your nipples may feel a little sore after feedings, but a good latch shouldn’t pinch or cause pain. Once your baby’s mouth comes off of your breast, take a look at your nipple. If you have a good latch, the nipple will look round and long or the same as it did before feeding. If it’s flat or compressed, that may be a sign of a shallow latch, meaning your baby is sucking only on your nipple. Keep trying and you’ll soon find the right fit!

What if I can’t get it right?

If this whole latching thing sounds complicated… it kind of is. Breastfeeding is a natural function, but like anything new, it takes practice. 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!). And over time, your baby’s mouth will grow which also makes latching easier. Experiment with different breastfeeding positions, prop baby on a nursing pillow and take some deep breaths. You can always unlatch 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. You can also search YouTube for latch demonstration videos from reputable parenting and breastfeeding sources. But did you know there are also lactation consultants who run private practices and provide in-home and in-office visits for you and your family? If you’re experiencing pain, frustration, a weak or shallow latch, your baby is slow to gain weight or you suspect that he may have a tongue-tie, it’s important to get help. A small adjustment may make all the difference! Even if things are going smoothly but you are feeling nervous or unsure, and you want support and education, a lactation consultant can help. 

Set up an appointment with a lactation consultant through the Lactation Network. We can help you arrange a one-on-one personalized consultation. That face-to-face, hands-on support not only provides you with expert advice but also lots of encouragement as you and your baby start your breastfeeding relationship.