Ahh, breastfeeding, so natural, so easy, a baby could do it, right? Wrong. Not all babies can master the breastfeeding latch right out of the womb and mamas that’s ok! Mastering the breastfeeding latch is an art that must be learned by both baby and mama. There are many factors to be considered, but it starts by assessing whether or not you have a bad latch to begin with. Here are a few considerations when attempting to master the best breastfeeding latch for you and your baby.
How do I know if I have a Bad Breastfeeding Latch?
There are signs that let you know if the baby is latched incorrectly. It will likely be painfully obvious (pun intended) that the baby has a bad latch. Here are just a few of the signs:
- Painful nursing
- Pain after nursing
- Cracked or bleeding nipples
- Cranky, fussy baby
- Baby constantly pulling on or off the breast/rooting
To put it simply, if you’re experiencing pain or your little one isn’t satisfied after their feeding, something is wrong.
How do I Fix a Bad Breastfeeding Latch?
First things first: Heal your nipples. Breastfeeding with a painful breastfeeding latch can cause you to have anxiety around breastfeeding and can cause you and baby stress. Taking some time to heal will help the process immensely. A few tips for healing your nipples and improving your breastfeeding latch include:
- Use a Lanolin Cream – Get yourself a Lanolin cream and use it daily. Lanolin creams for nipples help to heal cracked, bleeding, or sore nipples and are safe to use while breastfeeding.
- Use a nipple guard – Until your nipples heal, try using a nipple guard for breastfeeding. Nipple guards protect your nipple from additional damage and provide a guide for baby to latch.
- Breast Heating and Cooling Pads – Use these in between feeding along with the lanolin cream to give your breasts some therapy. Pads that do double duty as either heating or cooling are great because you can easily switch to the other method if one isn’t working for you.
- Pump and bottle feed – Aside from the things you can do in between nursing to heal your nipples, you can also take a break from nursing just long enough to heal. You can pump your breast milk and bottle feed your baby. You can also supplement with formula if you feel you aren’t getting enough milk this way. Pumping might still be painful, but less so than nursing with a bad latch.
- Bath instead of shower – A bad breastfeeding latch will have your nipples feeling like your nipples are being poked by pins and needles. This makes showering especially uncomfortable. Try a bath instead of a shower to avoid the pain of having water spraying on your already sensitive nipples.
- Shower in a bikini top or use medical tape – If showering is a must, try showering with a bathing suit bikini top on to give yourself a bit of protection from the pain while still reaping the therapeutic benefit of warmth from the water. An alternative to a bikini top is medical tape that can be found at your local pharmacy and will keep your nipples protected while in the shower.
Read more: 7 Ways to Handle Breastfeeding Challenges
How do I Master the Breastfeeding Latch?
- Football or Clutch – This position is where the baby is facing the opposite direction as you while in your arm ‘clutched’ if you will, like a football. Baby can then nurse coming from an outside position. If you’ve ever seen twins nursing simultaneously, imagining one baby nursing in that fashion is what this position looks like for your baby.
- Cradle – This one is pretty self-explanatory. This position is simply nursing from a cradling position where you support the baby with the arm that is on the same side as the breast you are nursing from.
- Cross Cradle – This position is the opposite of cross-cradle in that you support the baby with the arm opposite of the breast you’re nursing from.
- Back-Laying – In this position, you lay on your back with baby parallel to you, on your stomach and nursing from above or over your breast.
- Side-Lying – In this position, you lay on your side with baby parallel to you and facing your breast.
- Boppy – This is a great pillow for nursing because it is lightweight and versatile enough to be stuffed in a suitcase or the trunk of a car if you really want to take it with you on a trip. It also doubles as a way to prop baby up for tummy time and to practice sitting up.
- My BrestFriend – This nursing pillow is great for mama’s learning to master the latch. It wraps around you and fastens so that it stays in place (attached to you) while you are nursing. Since the pillow is fastened snugly around your torso, the baby won’t slide down between you and the pillow as can happen with other pillows. This helps baby stay in place while nursing.
- Standard Pillow – Even a standard pillow can be used as a nursing pillow but try to find one that is plump and firm so that neither you nor baby has to strain to get a good breastfeeding latch. Using a pillow for nursing will help elevate baby so that you aren’t hunched over while breastfeeding.
Mama’s Comfort is Important
It is important that you are comfortable. This isn’t only because you might be in that position for some time, but also because you being comfortable helps to relieve a bit of the stress of breastfeeding. If breastfeeding is long, hard, and painful in addition to uncomfortable, you’re less likely to want to continue on the breastfeeding journey. Make sure you are in a comfortable position and space when trying to get that perfect breastfeeding latch. Try setting up your nursing space ahead of time or find a spot that is your designated nursing space so you can leave a few essentials nearby.
Here are a few items you might want to keep in or near your nursing space:
- Comfortable chair, rocker/glider, or recliner;
- Side or end table – a space to put your things;
- Drinks, books, phone, tv remote, etc.;
- Room scents such as candles, diffusers, or essential oils that help you feel relaxed;
- Nursing pillow;
- Burp cloths, baby wipes, or towels to clean up spills and spit ups;
- Snacks for Mama.
Additional Tips for Mastering the Breastfeeding Latch
First of all, remember that it is a process, not instant magic. In every process there are steps. Here are a few steps in the process of helping the baby get a good breastfeeding latch:
- Tummy to Tummy – This is a reminder that baby should be facing you. His tummy should be facing yours in the cradle, cross-cradle, and side-lying positions. For the clutch position, baby would be facing the side of your body.
- Baby’s Nose to Breast – Baby’s nose should be in line with your breast before attempting to latch. Touching your breast to baby’s nose will signal to him that it is time to eat.
- Use Two Hands – Your best shot at mastering the breastfeeding latch is to use both hands; one on your breast and the other on the back of baby’s head/neck area.
- C – Hold / U – Hold – The hand not on baby’s head should be forming a C or U and holding your breast ready to position into your baby’s mouth.
- Open wide – Once baby knows it’s time to eat he will open his mouth. If baby’s mouth does not resemble a gaping void, try again to touch your breast to his nose. Baby needs to ‘open wide’ enough to get not just the nipple but part of the areola as well.
- Mom Sandwich – With baby’s mouth open wide and your breast in a C – Hold, you want to gently guide baby’s head from behind to your breast so that baby’s open mouth surrounds as much of the areola as possible. Imagine you are feeding baby a boob sandwich by offering the sandwich with one hand and pushing his head toward it with the other.
Tools to Help Master the Breastfeeding Latch
If you are having trouble getting baby to latch onto more than just your nipple, here are some tools that can help:
- Latch Assist – Lasinoh’s nipple everter tool may look like a miniature clown’s squeak horn, but it suctions to your nipple to help evert flat nipples.
- Nipple Guard – The nipple guard acts as a guide for baby to latch on the right part of your breast. An added bonus is the protection this barrier offers from the pinching that causes nipples to get sore and bleed.
- Minute Pump – Try pumping for a minute or two before breastfeeding to get your nipple latch ready. Pumping will help to evert your nipple and part of the areola making it easier for baby to latch correctly.
Read more: Breastfeeding Pumps for Every Kind of Mom
Where Can I Find Breastfeeding Resources or Lactation Support?
Support for breastfeeding moms is available. Don’t struggle alone. If you need help mastering the latch, contact a lactation consultant. Lactation consultants can often be found at the hospital or birthing center where you delivered your baby.
There are also resources and communities of supportive mamas who have or are going through their own breastfeeding struggles online. Find a community and join!
Breastfeeding resources can be found at:
- Your local hospital’s website
- La Leche League
- Mommy-oriented websites like DailyMom
- Mom communities can be found a number of places including:
- Facebook Groups
Good luck on your breastfeeding journey and cheers to all the other mamas out there trying to master the breastfeeding latch!
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Sources: Community Memorial Hospital