How do I get my breastfeeding baby to latch on properly?

How do you know if your newborn is latching onto your breast correctly? We've put together – with expert La Leche League GB help – a step by step picture guide to how to do it and how to tell if you've got it right

how to latch a baby to the breast

Getting the correct latch – the way your baby attaches to your breast for feeding – is crucial to breastfeeding successfully. It makes breastfeeding less painful and is key to ensuring a good milk supply.

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“Getting your baby latched on comfortably is important for preventing sore nipples,” says breastfeeding expert Justine Fieth, a trained breastfeeding counsellor at La Leche League GB. “And a baby who attaches deeply at the breast is able to remove milk effectively – which is important because the more milk your baby removes, the more milk your breasts will make.”

The thing is, it’s not necessarily obvious how to get the latch right. You and your newborn are beginners at this, after all. And even if, when you first start breastfeeding, your midwife shows you how to get it spot on, it can be easy to forget once you’re home and having to sort the latch on your own. What you need is some step-by-step instructions on how to get the correct latch…

Here’s your 8-step guide to getting the correct latch

Follow these 8 simple steps from Justine to help you ensure your baby latches onto your breast properly…

  • Get yourself comfortable and well supported. Sit back and try to relax.
  • Hold your baby so their whole front is close against yours – wrapped around if you are sitting up or along your body if you are lying down.
  • Keep your breast at its natural level and bring your baby to your breast, rather than lifting your breast up or leaning over your baby.
    stroking newborn's cheek to encourage rooting reflex
  • Gently stroke your baby’s cheek or the corner of their mouth as you bring them towards your breast. This encourages the ‘rooting reflex’ which triggers your baby to open their mouth to find your nipple.
  • Help your baby approach your breast ‘nose to nipple’ with their chin on or close to your breast. It can feel surprising how far away from your nipple your baby’s bottom lip seems to be.
    newborn opening mouth wide to latch onto nipple
  • As you bring your baby in with their chin leading and their head tipped back, they will open their mouth. Bring your baby in close to you (not you to them!) to help them take a big mouthful of breast.
    newborn latched onto breast correctly
  • Their lower jaw and chin will be tucked into your breast well away from the base of your nipple and their nose will be free.
  • Keep your baby’s body tucked in close as they feed but watch that your fingers don’t push the back of their head: your baby needs to be able to move their head freely.

There are lots of different breastfeeding holds and positions – some of which you may find easier than others – but, says Justine, “when all is going well, specific holds and positions don’t really matter because you and your baby will work out what suits you best”.

How do I know if my baby is latched on correctly?

If you’ve got the right latch, it should feel comfortable for you – although, if your nipples are very sensitive or sore, you may feel some initial tingling or tenderness at the moment of latching on.

Signs your baby is latched on correctly:

  • More than just your nipple is in your baby’s mouth (some of your areola – the darker area around your nipple  – should be in, too)
  • Your baby initial fast sucks are followed by longer ones
  • Your baby’s jaw is moving when they suck
  • You can hear swallowing noises
  • Your baby’s cheeks stay rounded as they suck
  • Your baby seems calm during feeds and content afterwards

“If you are comfortable, and your baby is able to easily and efficiently get all the milk they need and they are producing plenty of dirty nappies – sticky black one poos at first, then loose yellow ones – then breastfeeding is going well for you,” says Justine.

By day 5, a well-fed breastfeeding newborn will be producing 5 or 6 wet nappies a day and perhaps starting to gain some weight (it’s common for breastfed babies to lose a little weight in the 1st week after birth).

VIDEO: How do I know if my baby is latched properly?

What if the latch just doesn’t feel right?

If your baby latches on and it doesn’t feel right, don’t worry; just unlatch (see How do I unlatch my baby from my breast?, below) and try again.

As you try again, you may want to check the following:

  • Is your baby’s bottom really tucked in?
  • Is your baby’s chin in deep and their head tipped back?
  • Are you leaning back to help bring your baby in close?
“A few quick adjustments to how you are sitting or lying or to how your baby comes towards the breast may be all that are needed,” says Justine.
“Sometimes it can take a little longer, though. And, if it doesn’t feel right to you, then it isn’t fine, whatever anyone says.”
Especially if it’s hurting.
“Pain is a sign that something needs changing,” says Justine. “Seek skilled help and keep asking. You are the only one who knows if it is hurting, whatever the latch might look like.”
And Kelly Bonyata, an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), and the creator of the amazing US breastfeeding resource Kellymom, agrees:
Even if latch and positioning look perfect (and, yes, even if a lactation consultant told you they were fine), pain (particularly after the first 2 weeks) and/or ineffective milk transfer indicate that something needs to change, and the first suspect is ineffective latch/positioning
Kelly Bonita of Kellymom.com

How do I unlatch my baby from the breast?

To take your baby off the breast without hurting your nipples, insert your (clean) little finger between your baby’s gums, at the side, says Justine.

Mums on our MadeForMums Chat forum have, unfortunately, learnt that hard way that just pulling your baby off is not a good idea. “I suffered from sore nipples,” says fragsjones, “and then I had a very painful blister on one but it was my own doing because I just pulled him away to get him off. Big mistake. Eventually, I did what the others are advising: finger in the corner of the mouth to break the suction.”

Why is a good latch so important?

A good latch is important for 3 key reasons:

  • making sure your baby is getting enough milk as efficiently as possible
  • making sure your breasts continue to make enough milk for your baby’s growing needs
  • preventing sore nipples / mastitis / blocked milk ducts

“If your baby has a ‘shallow’ latch, and doesn’t have a big mouthful of breast,” says Justine, “it can lead to sore nipples for you – and a baby who isn’t getting all the milk they need and so may not put on the weight they should.

“If there is any concern – your own or a health professional’s – about how much milk you are making, then working on improving positioning and latching is an important first step.

My milk’s come in and now my baby can’t latch: what do I do?

Once your milk ‘comes in’ – a few days after you’ve had your baby – your breasts can be sore and swollen. It’s not just the milk that’s doing that: there’s also extra blood flow and lymph fluids in your breast tissue.

sorebreast

“Engorged breasts are painful,” says Justine. “They feel as if they are ready to burst and, if not eased, can lead to blocked ducts and mastitis. So it’s good to treat early.”

You can help relieve engorged breasts by breastfeeding often and applying ice packs in between feeds to reduce swelling.

If your baby’s having trouble latching on, try putting a warm flannel on your breast before a feed to soften things up. Or even, if you’re super-careful (and not dead tired), try feeding in the bath. Be mindful that your milk could shoot out much faster than it did before, so if your baby starts gasping or gurgling or pulling away, just gently unlatch them (see How do I unlatch my baby from my breast?, above), wait a few seconds and then let them latch on again.

Where can I get help if I’m struggling to get the latch right?

“If you are finding it awkward, uncomfortable or downright painful then you need to get some skilled support to help you think about where you can make adjustments,” says Justine.

Good places to try for 1-to-1 support include:

You can also find it helpful to seek support from:

  • NCT National Breastfeeding helpline. Call 0300 330 0700 (open every day, 8am to midnight).
  • National Breastfeeding helpline. Call 0300 100 0212 (open every day. 9.30am to 9.30pm)
  • The Breastfeeding Network supporter line in Bengali and Sylheti: Call 0300 456 2421
  • Baby Café is a network of breastfeeding drop-in centres. Find your nearest drop-in by entering your postcode.
  • The Breastfeeding Network provides breastfeeding support and information.
  • Twins and Multiple Births Association (TAMBA) has information about feeding twins and triplets.

About our expert Justine Fieth

Justine Fieth is a trained breastfeeding counsellor based in Cambridge, who is on the Council of Directors of  La Leche League GB. She is co-founder and trustee of the Cambridge Breastfeeding Alliance, and became a recognised post-natal doula in 2016. She is now part of Doula UK and Cambridgeshire Doulas. Justine has extensive experience in helping families with a wide-range of  breastfeeding issues, including breastfeeding babies with tongue-tie, twins, premature babies, and slow-weight gain babies.

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