How to get a great latch breastfeeding – and avoid those sore nipples
Picture the scene – you just gave birth. You’re lying there, able to relax at last and looking at this amazing little human you just gave birth to. It’s a pretty awesome moment.
And you know you need to try and breastfeed this tiny human and you look at your nipple and their teeny tiny mouth and wonder how this is all going to work – how to latch baby on?
But worry not, new mommy! Today we’re talking how to get a good latch breastfeeding and I’m gonna share with you my top 12 tips to make sure that newborn gets on the breast and doesn’t torture you in the process. (Because you’ve been through enough.)
And if you’ve already had your baby and started nursing, don’t worry – they’ll help with your breastfeeding latch too.
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Not medical advice: I am not a medical professional and nothing in this post or on this site should be taken as medical advice.
Why breastfeeding latching matters for your success
Latching your baby on well is SO important to your chances of breastfeeding success. In fact, it’s a game changer.
When you get a great latch breastfeeding is so much easier for both of you. Your baby will get plenty of milk easily and you’ll avoid sore nipples – and a baby who wants to feed from them all the time.
And it’s absolutely something you can learn. This is a life skill and you probably don’t have it yet – and a brand new baby definitely doesn’t. So give yourself a chance if it doesn’t feel great right away.
Getting a good latch down from the start is a top priority – even from that very first feed when you’re lying, exhausted in the bed where you just gave birth. Even then – when all you want is to hold the baby you delivered and rest – try to keep these tips in mind. (Your nipples will thank you later.)
How to get baby to latch properly
What a lot of new moms don’t realise (I know I didn’t) is that to nurse efficiently, baby’s mouth will be full of breast! It’s not like sipping a soda – your nipple will be far back in your baby’s mouth when they are latched correctly. And it needs to be way back there because if your latch is shallow – if they’re only taking your nipple part way into their mouth, it will hurt you.
Getting the nipple right the way to the back of your baby’s mouth takes it past their hard palate – the hard roof of the mouth – to the soft palate where it will be safe from harm. So these tips are aiming to get your baby latched deeply – and if you can feel friction going on while you nurse you need to break the latch and try to get deeper.
So let’s get right to those latching tips now…
#1 Don’t wait till they’re starving!
Watch for the signs that your baby is hungry – like fidgeting, turning towards your breasts and rooting or even latching on to whatever is available – your arm, dad’s nose – they’re not fussy. Once you see those feeding cues, don’t wait too long before offering a feed.
Do it right away if you can because the longer they wait the more cranky your baby will get – like any hungry person. Getting a good latch goes much better with a calm baby not a wildly hungry one.
#2 Hold your baby very close
To latch on well, your little one needs to be CLOSE to your body. You don’t want them stretching at all to latch on – they’re going to pretty much bury their face in your breast – so snuggle them right in next to your body.
Two great positions for latching a newborn are the cross cradle and laid back holds. (Want to read about nursing positions? Click here.) Laid back is often the way ahead for that very first feed because you can relax more which you’ll probably want to do at that point.
If you use the cross cradle hold, you can have your baby very close and your hand at the nape of their neck to help direct them to the nipple correctly. It also makes it easy to support that little head.
Here’s what those holds look like:
#3 Turn their body in towards you – tummy to mommy
Whichever way you’re holding them, have their belly against your body. It just makes it so much easier because they are facing right in towards your breasts where they need to be. If you’re doing laid back with your baby lying on your belly, this will pretty much happen by itself. If you’re holding your baby cross body, take a look to make sure that they are turned right in against you. That little belly shouldn’t be pointing to the ceiling.
#4 Nipple to nose
Ok so your baby is nice and close and it’s time to try and actually get them on the breast. Get your bra unhooked now and let your baby see the nipple.
This is the weird bit. Aim for their nose. Yes, nose.
Line them up ready to latch on with your nipple pointing to their nose. It’ll look wrong but it really works. You get a better, deeper latch aiming for the nose than aiming for the mouth.
#5 Wait till their mouth is gaping wide open
You’re ready to go but you look at that little mouth and it looks about the size of a penny. Your nipples though? Bigger than a penny, for sure!
So how do you get those big nipples into that tiny mouth? I’m not gonna lie – it gets easier as they get bigger and the mouth does too but for right now, just wait for the biggest gaping mouth they will give you.
It might not be very big even when it’s gaping but that’s when they will be able to grab the biggest mouthful of breast.
You can encourage them to open up their mouth by stroking their top lip with a finger or your nipple. If you’re able to express a few drops of milk onto your nipple that will encourage them too.
#6 Support your breast with your hand
You’re trying to attach a little tiny head onto maybe quite a big breast and that’s not always easy. One thing you can do to give yourself a little more control is to support your breast with your hand while you latch. Not push it into the baby’s mouth – just hold it steady while you latch them.
To do that, just make a C shape with your thumb and forefinger around your breast and support the weight of it with your hand..
#7 Bring the baby to the breast not the other way round
So the baby’s mouth is gaping wide open now and you are all ready to put your nipple in – STOP!
You need to bring your baby to your breast, not the breast to the baby.
This is SO important for getting a good latch. They need to grab on and suck in a mouthful of breast – not just your nipple so be sure to move your baby to you not the other way around. It’s so tempting to lean forward and pop your nipple in when you see the gape but don’t!
Think about what you do when someone puts something in your mouth – you instinctively close it and you need big and wide right now.
#8 Bring them to your breast chin first
To help your little one get a big mouthful of breast, bring them chin first. You’re already holding them right, so this isn’t a big movement. Using your hand that’s supporting them at the nape of the neck, move your baby forward onto the nipple chin first. This helps them to scoop the breast into their mouth right and get a good deep latch.
Some things are easier to understand by watching so check out this really helpful video:
#9 Lean back a little bit if you can so that you don’t post the nipple
Laid back position is great for getting this bit right. If you find that you lean forward as you latch – even without meaning to – and ‘post’ your nipple into your baby’s mouth, try getting into a position where you are a little reclined.
If your body is tilted back it’s really hard to lean forward with a baby in your arms so you have to bring them to you – and that’s good.
#10 How to tell if you’ve got a good breastfeeding latch
So now your baby is latched on – but are they latched right? How do you judge a good breastfeeding latch?
This photo shows a well latched baby. Look at how wide open the baby’s mouth is and how their lips are splayed out against the mother’s breast.
If your baby is latched well, most of your areola will be hidden – you might see some above the baby’s top lip. And you will see or hear your baby sucking and swallowing.
But whatever your latch look like, you need to pay attention to how it FEELS.
Does it hurt? If it does, you need to break the suction and try again. Sometimes that might feel not worth it if your baby is settled – but sore nipples can happen fast so act quickly to try and fix the problem.
If your latch looks a little weird but your baby is feeding well and you fell good – then it’s ok!
#11 How to break a painful latch
If it hurts break the latch and try again. How? Babies sucker on pretty hard and create a seal on your breast that you need to break to unlatch them. Gently slip a finger into the corner of their mouth and move it along their lip a little until you feel the latch break. Then repeat all your steps to relatch them.
#12 Use a nursing pillow or regular pillows to support you both
Getting a baby into position for nursing and keeping them there for the entire feed can be hard going for mom. New babies are pretty light but they feed for a long time and bigger babies are, well, bigger.
You get your little one well latched but after a while you realise you’re slouching and your back’s starting to hurt or you’ve let them slip lower and the latch doesn’t feel too great.
Supporting your baby during the feed with regular pillows or a special nursing pillow is a great way to keep them well positioned and avoid strain on your back. I used this Ergo nursing pillow and loved it.
#13 Try another position
When latching is really not working for you, try a different position. Some moms find football hold much better for getting their baby latched on so do a little experimenting to find what works for you.
More breastfeeding tips for new moms
If you’re planning on breastfeeding or just getting started, The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class from Milkology was created just for you. All online and from a professional lactation educator, I love how thoroughly it tackles the skills and knowledge you need – and how well it instills confidence in new moms and moms to be.
Now go check out these breastfeeding posts:
Plus – read this article for more latching tips.