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Breastfeeding: How to Get Your Baby to Latch Correctly

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Breastfeeding mothers can face a variety of challenges in the first few days of their babies’ lives. One of them is making sure that your baby is latched to your breast the way they should be while feeding. Latch quality can affect things like pain levels, milk supply, and even how long you breastfeed. Many mothers and babies have a hard time getting a proper latch, leading to discomfort and sometimes forcing them to stop breastfeeding before they’re ready. 

Even if your baby isn’t properly latching at first, you can develop a good latch with time and practice.

What Does a Correct Latch Look Like?

Once your baby has a good latch, their chin and the tip of their nose will touch your breast. Your baby’s lips should be spread against your breast rather than sucked in. A correct latch will include both the nipple and the areola.

In addition to these visual signs, you can spot a proper latch based on the rhythmic pattern of suckling. This should include sucking, swallowing, and breathing.  

How to Get an Ideal Latch

A variety of factors can affect latch quality, including positioning and timing. Some things, such as nipple shape, may be beyond your control. These strategies can help promote a better latch.

Choose the right position. Breastfeeding positions affect the quality of the latch, but what works for some mothers and babies might not be ideal for others. If latching is a struggle in one position, try a few others until you find a comfortable option. 

Good choices for newborns struggling to latch include: 

  • Laid-back. Try this position if you have an oversupply or milk that comes quickly, as it will limit the flow of the milk and thus any pulling off or fussiness. In this position, you'll place your baby against your belly while you lay on your back. 
  • Football. If you’re recovering from a C-section, this position will help you find an ideal latch while avoiding pressure on your belly. It also works well for twins and premature babies. In this position, you'll hold your baby against your side as they feed.
  • Side. A great option for nursing comfortably in the hospital or at home, the side-lying position is often recommended when dealing with fast milk flow. Like the football position, this method may also promote greater comfort after a C-section. In this position, you'll lay on your side, propping yourself on pillows, while your baby faces you. 
  • Cradle. When most people picture breastfeeding, they think of the classic cradle hold. It involves sitting with your baby’s neck resting along your forearm and your tummies touching. This position can be convenient for older infants but is often hard for newborns, as it offers limited support. Still, it might be worth trying if you haven’t had much success with other positions.
  • Cross-cradle. A go-to for many new mothers, this approach works best in a glider or comfortable chair. In this position, you'll support your baby’s head with the crook of the arm on the opposite side where you’re breastfeeding. 

Try a nipple shield. If you have flat or inverted nipples, it might be hard to secure a proper latch. A nipple shield may help by giving a clearer shape. It could also make breastfeeding more comfortable if you’re dealing with cracked nipples or other sources of pain.

Wait until your baby’s mouth is open wide. You may have a shallow latch if your baby’s mouth doesn’t open wide enough. It needs to cover both the nipple and a large part of breast tissue. Encourage this by gently placing your nipple against your baby’s lips. 

Don’t be afraid to gently unlatch and try again if you struggle to get the timing right at first. You can do this by putting a finger into your baby’s mouth and softly breaking the suction.

Check for tongue-ties. A condition known as ankyloglossia or tongue-tie involves tightness of the cord that attaches the tongue and the bottom of the mouth. It happens in up to 11% of newborns and can limit tongue mobility, leading to a form of breastfeeding compression that can be painful for new mothers and make it hard for a baby to gain weight in the crucial first few days. A procedure called a tongue-tie revision can correct the problem.

Work with a lactation consultant. Many new mothers struggle to find the cause of a poor latch. If you’ve tried several positions and are still having trouble, don’t hesitate to meet with a lactation consultant. This professional can analyze your breastfeeding approach and give you suggestions. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control: “The CDC Guide to Breastfeeding Interventions.”

Cochrane Library: “Frenotomy for Tongue-Tie in Newborn Infants.”

Frontiers in Public Health: “The Use of Nipple Shields—A Review.”

HealthyChildren: "Positions for Breastfeeding."

National Institutes of Health: “How Do I Breastfeed?”

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