Some parents are blessed with open-mouth, insert-boob babies, meanwhile, the rest of us have to work at it a little bit. There is definitely a learning curve when it comes to breastfeeding and some parents have extra challenges on their journey to keeping their baby's tummy filled.
If you're planning to breastfeed, you're probably already trying to get ahead of the game by learning what to do to ensure that your baby latches on to your breast to nurse. We highly recommend taking a breastfeeding class during your pregnancy to familiarize yourself with proper techniques for latching baby on after birth.
A proper latch not only saves your nipples from pain and soreness, but it also ensures that baby is transferring enough milk from your breast to their stomach. We support breastfeeding and chestfeeding families all of the time as labor doulas, postpartum doulas, and Certified Lactation Counselors, and we’ve learned a thing or two along the way!
Here are our top five tips to help your baby latch on to nurse:
1. Start with a Calm Baby
If you're trying to work on latching while a HANGRY baby, you're both going to end up upset and frustrated. Try some snuggle time skin to skin or have your helper walk the baby around, perhaps singing or shushing, for a couple minutes until the baby – and you – are calm, soothed, and ready to try it again. You may have to try several times to get it right, so stay cool and take deep breaths.
2. Tummy to Tummy
Positioning is key for your comfort and your baby's ease of latching whilst learning to nurse. Lying on your back and turning your head to eat isn't easy, right? When breastfeeding with a cradle hold, be sure that your infant's tummy is positioned right up against your tummy. You can sit up and hold them horizontally against you, or lie back and hold them vertically against you.
3. Get Comfy
You’re going to be spending a lot of time nursing your baby, so making sure you’re comfortable and relaxed will prevent you from hunching over, feeling tense, or getting “nursing back”.
Sit in a comfy spot with proper back support, use pillows under your arms, and put your feet up. A nursing pillow such as Boppy or My Brest Friend can be a great way to help support your baby’s weight so you can focus on supporting their head/neck and your breast to work on the latch. They may seem tiny when they're first born, but they get heavy fast!
4. Say Ahhh
To prevent sore and damaged nipples, we want to encourage baby to latch on deeply and take in as much breast tissue as they can. A baby suckling on just the nipple is going to quickly cause sharp, severe pain. Repeatedly nursing with a shallow latch is a recipe for ongoing pain and trauma, like cracked and bleeding nipples. OUCH!
When bringing baby to breast (not breast to baby – hello, sore back), lightly touch your nipple to just above baby’s upper lip to encourage them to open wide. When they have their mouth WIDE open, pull them in close as you guide your breast and aim your nipple towards the roof of their mouth. Didn’t get it the first try? That’s OK! Break the latch with your finger and try, try again.
5. Get Hands On
If you have large breasts, a squirmy baby, or flat nipples, you may find it is easier to hold your breast in your hand while baby latches. With your baby well supported on a pillow against your tummy, you can support baby’s head and neck area with one hand and your breast with the other.
Gently compress your breast (like you’d try to compress a large sandwich so you can take a big bite) to control the angle of your nipple and areola as you aim it above the baby's lip and bring their head in to latch on. This is sometimes called the “Flipple” technique and can be handy for encouraging a deeper latch.
Bonus Tip: Avoid using any scented products on your nipples: the natural, unique scent of your nipples/areolas is a biological marker that helps guide your baby to latch on. Fragrances can interfere with this. You can simply wash your breasts with warm water in the shower, and use your breast milk as balm to soothe dry or sore nipples.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP
If you're struggling, there is no shame in getting help from a professional. In fact, early intervention can make a huge difference in achieving your personal feeding goals.
Dealing with any of these issues?
Excruciating pain during nursing
Nipple trauma (cracking, bleeding, blisters)
Nipple is compressed into a “new lipstick” shape or blanched after nursing
Painful, hard lumps in breasts (clogged ducts)
- Baby’s mouth makes a “clicking” noise while sucking
Schedule an in-home or in-office lactation visit with one of our CLCs to get back on track ASAP!
If you have any concerns about latch, baby's weight, or just don't feel quite right, it's okay to go ahead and schedule a visit – don't wait until a painful problem pops up to get in! With our guidance, your willingness to keep working with baby, and a solid support system, you should be able to stay patient as you help your baby learn how to latch.