If you only learn ONE THING before attempting to breastfeed a baby, learn about latching. If you can master a good, deep latch early on, you can prevent most commonly reported breastfeeding struggles.
I have been working on another post about latch problems, and it occurs to me that before spending time focusing on what can go wrong, it might be more helpful to simply talk about latching and how it works. So this is more of a how-to than a what-if post. In fact, a good deal of my training with Breastfeeding USA emphasized the value of anticipatory guidance… if you have not started breastfeeding, NOW is the time to learn about latching. Getting it right from the beginning is much easier than correcting it later. (But if you’re in THAT boat, don’t worry – that post is coming!).
A lot of women have never seen another mom breastfeed before they themselves breastfeed. In a society where breastfeeding is not the norm past the first few weeks, a lot of moms are in a situation where their moms, their friends, their sisters, etc., didn’t breastfeed. The concepts are unfamiliar, and it can be a little intimidating. But, a few basic strategies can help you develop a good latch with your baby so that you start off successful and continue that way.
Hunger Cues. One of the things that I find a lot when talking with moms is that they report that their baby is so upset that he won’t latch, or he is crying and frustrated at the breast, or he keeps popping on and off in frustration. A good way to head off these things is to respond to early hunger cues. When babies are hungry, they will tell you long before they cry. In fact, waiting for a baby to cry can make latching more difficult. Respond to early cues such as lip smacking, bringing hands to mouth, rooting, and squirming for a breastfeeding position. Just upon waking is often a great time to initiate a feeding, and if your baby wakes up super hungry and crying, you can initiate the feeding during his light stage of sleep near when he would be ready to awaken, when he is twitching and eyes may be closed but rapidly moving.
Basic latch mechanics.
The basic idea behind a deep latch is that your baby needs to latch fairly far back behind your nipple and compress a fair amount of breast tissue to elicit milk letting down and signal the body to make more milk. It’s a pretty simple concept, but it’s very different than the way a baby sucks on a bottle. So, if you are used to seeing babies bottle feed, this might look a little different to you.
When you go to latch your baby on, you don’t want to center your nipple in his mouth. Doing that will result in not enough breast tissue making it into his mouth and making him have a shallow latch. Think about lining up your nipple with his nose. Tickle his cheek until his mouth opens wide, like he is trying to take a big bite of an apple, then bring him to your breast chin first and quickly roll his mouth over your nipple. Bring him to you, not you to him. The ideal positioning is for your nipple to be going toward the roof of his mouth, not the middle of his tongue. Ideally, the lower lip will first contact the outer part of your areola and the last part of his mouth to make contact will be his top lip.
Here’s some drawings of what it should look like: http://www.breastfeedinginc.ca/content.php?pagename=doc-WL
Something that can be extremely helpful in getting a deep latch is the c-hold, also referred to as a “breast sandwich” or a “breast taco.” Basically, you make your hand into a c-shape to compress the area behind the nipple and make a smaller area for the baby to try to latch on to. Take a look here – making your breast easier to fit into a wee little baby mouth can make latching go much better, particularly if you have large or engorged breasts.
Another thing that can be helpful for moms, especially early on, is pillows. Pillows are your friend. Whatever configuration of pillows it takes to get your baby to the right spot while nursing with you in a comfortable position is the right number of pillows. When my youngest was a newborn, there was a time when I had seven pillows behind me, making a perfectly shaped reclining slope behind me, then 2 pillows plus a nursing pillow on my lap to bring my baby to the right level for me not to have to lean to nurse and still take the weight off of my arms and back. For those of you who are counting, that is TEN PILLOWS. Perhaps this was a bit excessive, but it worked. But three or four, or that great recliner, or the papazan chair, or the hammock, or the futon, or whatever place is most comfortable for you to relax and nurse – whatever your comfy place is, find it. The more you can relax, the more likely you are to achieve a good latch.
It shouldn’t hurt to latch. A tiny bit of pain in the first few SECONDS is ok. And yes, most women go through an adjustment period where there is some discomfort as they adjust to the feelings associated with breastfeeding, but it shouldn’t last more than a week or two. Pain after the first few seconds during nursing or pain after nursing is never a good thing. “Toe curling” pain at any time is NOT OKAY. If you are experiencing severe or ongoing pain, something seriously needs to be addressed, and it can usually be corrected. Contact a breastfeeding counselor, lactation consultant, or other health professional if you are dealing with pain!
If you have questions before you have your baby about latching, or you are already breastfeeding and struggling with it, contact Megan and she will do her best to answer your questions and get you on the right track!