Breastfeeding will be more relaxed and comfortable for you and your baby if you get a good latch right from the start. A good latch can head off breastfeeding problems before they happen: it will enable your baby to get more milk and to drain your breasts effectively and this will signal your breasts to make more milk, increasing your supply. And, although you can expect a wee bit of discomfort as you begin breastfeeding, rather like trying out a new pair of shoes, having a good latch at the breast will avoid damaged nipples and painful feeds.
Signs of an effective latch include feeling comfortable, without pain, ‘pinching’ or a ‘biting’ sensation; your baby’s mouth will cover some or all of your areola, depending on the size of your areola (the dark part surrounding your nipple), with most or all of the underside and some of the top of the areola in your baby’s mouth; your baby’s lips will be flanged outwards, like ‘fish lips’ and baby’s tongue will be cupped under your breast although you may not be able to see this, but please don’t push baby to check or you may break the latch.
If baby has a good latch and is sucking effectively, you will be able to see the muscles in front of his ears wiggling – this indicates a strong efficient suck that uses the entire lower jaw and you will hear little swallows and tiny puffs of breath as he breaths after a swallow. Now, think about how you suck from a straw: as you suck in a mouthful, your chin drops down, as long as you are ingesting fluid.
Similarly, as your baby sucks at the breast, it will look as though he is pausing (with his chin down) between ‘chomps’, as he sucks in milk. The longer this pause, the bigger the mouthful he will be getting and the more milk he will be drinking.
If you are concerned about your milk supply, please download our FREE ebook ‘Making More Mummy Milk,Naturally” by Pinky McKay IBCLC Lactation Consultant for effective strategies to boost your milk supply.
Baby Led attachment
For your baby’s first feed after birth, you might like to try ‘baby led’ attachment. Newborns who are awake and alert have a natural instinct to find the breast – some will even be able to ‘crawl’ towards the breast and latch without any ‘help’ apart from gentle support of their body against yours as you lie in a reclining position, skin to skin with your baby (see a video of the breast crawl here).
It can take some time for your baby to find your nipple, latch and suck. He will use his natural inborn reflexes to push against you with his hands and feet and pummel your breasts with his fists – this will help to stimulate you to release oxytocin, the hormone that helps your milk to flow.
Your baby’s first feed will be colostrum, a sticky yellowish fluid that is packed with antibodies and immune factors. As baby gets close to the nipple, he may bob his head or move his head from side to side, seeking and licking before he latches and begins sucking. He may start sucking on his fist at first as his little hands seem to be in the way, but he will soon realise this isn’t where his food is coming from.
This instinctive behaviour can be influenced by a long tiring labour, drugs during labour or if you and your baby are separated immediately after birth. But please don’t worry, when baby is ready, you can make up for any lost time. With lots of skin to skin snuggles in the early days (you are topless and baby is just dressed in a nappy), your baby will soon find his way to the breast, naturally.
Breastfeeding positions to help baby latch well
There are several ways to hold your baby as you breastfeed, whichever way works best is the right way for you whether that is sitting up in a comfortable chair, lying down on your side, or semi-reclining and propped with pillows in a way that supports you. Reclining at a 45 degree angle, often called ‘laid back feeding’, can help with positioning baby against you, using gravity and baby’s natural reflexes. This makes it easier for your baby to use her hands, lift and turn her head and lead with her chin first to get a deeper, more comfortable latch.
A good mantra to remember as you breastfeed is “chest to chest and chin to breast.”
You will find it easier to get a good latch by holding your baby close facing you with his chest against yours, not holding him so he has to turn his head sideways to latch – try turning your head to gaze sideways over your own shoulder to drink a glass of water!
Do I need a pillow?
Generally, you won’t need a pillow and in fact a pillow used under your baby can be a hindrance to getting a good latch as it can encourage unnatural or less comfortable breastfeeding positions for you and your baby. Your own body is the best pillow for your baby but you may like to use one under your feeding arm or elbow for support or if you find a particular hold easier, such as the ‘football hold’ (sitting with baby lying next to you with his feet facing behind you), or if you are breastfeeding twins together and need support for both babies to be closer to your breasts.
Tips to latch your baby
Whichever way you hold your baby there are steps to getting a good latch:
• Watch for your baby’s early hunger cues such as ‘rooting’ -turning his head from side to side as though he is seeking the breast; smacking or licking his lips; opening and closing his mouth; making sucking noises and trying to suck on his fists or fingers.
• Crying is a late hunger signal, and a crying baby will find it difficult to latch and feed effectively so if your baby is crying, you will need to settle her before latching. Holding your baby ‘skin to skin’ will help to calm baby and will signal your brain to release oxytocin, the hormone that helps your milk flow.
• Unwrap your baby and hold him close – your baby needs his hands free to feed effectively, and his hands will tell you how feeding is going. A hungry baby will usually start a feed with his tiny fists clenched, then as his tummy fills with milk, those tiny hands will become relaxed and open.
• When you are holding your baby in a comfortable position, squeeze a wee bit of milk out to encourage your baby to latch on as she smells her food. If you have large breasts and baby’s mouth is small, you can make it easier for baby by cupping your breast into a ‘ boob sandwich’, parallel to baby’s mouth, but keeping your hands back far enough to give baby space to latch.
Let your baby lead. Support baby’s neck, shoulders and hips and offer the breast, let your breasts hang naturally and bring baby to the breast, rather than bending towards your baby. The mantra here is ‘bring baby to breast, not breast to baby.’
• You can support your breast if this feels more comfortable (Tip: If you have large breasts, you may find it helpful to support your breast with a rolled up face washer or hand towel under your breast), but please don’t ever push your baby’s head to force a latch. Your baby needs to freely move her head to get an effective latch – think how you might bite into a cupcake if somebody was pushing on your head!
• Often, simply being in a natural feeding position, babies will open wide and latch instinctively but if you need to help your little one, gently brush baby’s lips with the underside of your areola. As baby opens her mouth wide, with the tongue over her bottom lip, bring her quickly to the breast with your nipple aimed towards the roof of her mouth. This way, baby will latch chin first, taking in a good ‘mouthful’ and getting a nice deep latch.
• If your breasts are engorged and your nipple is stretched ‘flat’, like an over-inflated balloon, hand express a little milk first to soften the areola so baby can latch effectively. • To unlatch your baby, gently pop a clean finger into the corner of his mouth, breaking the suction before you remove your little one from the breast.
• If you feel pain as you breastfeed, if you hear ‘clicking’ as baby feeds or if, when baby comes off the breast, your nipple looks squashed, like the tip of a new lipstick, this is a sign that things need to be checked, so please get your midwife or lactation consultant to observe a feed and check your baby’s latch.
Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, best-selling author, and Mum of five. She’s also the creator of Boobie Foods, all natural and organic foods to nourish breastfeeding mums. See Pinky’s website www.pinkymckay.com