Remarkably, most babies are capable of attaching themselves to their mother’s breast with very little assistance. Sucking and swallowing start in the womb before birth and are reasonably coordinated by the time of birth. The rooting reflex is the normal reflex stimulated by bumping or stroking a nipple against the cheek of an infant which results in movement of the mouth toward the nipple. Sucking is the process by which the nipple and areola are drawn into the mouth and held there in a tight seal. The tongue is responsible for moving the milk down the breast ducts and out the nipple.
A good latch is critical to pain-free, effective breastfeeding. A baby is correctly positioned when his gums are deep on the areola, not the nipple. With this setup, he or she will be able to compress the area beneath the areola to draw out the milk. Sucking on the nipple only leads to chewed nipples and inadequate feeding. An asymmetrical latch where more of the breast below the nipple is in the baby’s mouth helps lessen nipple pressure.
For a video demonstration of latching, please see our Latching Basics Video
A Few Tips to Help While Latching Your Baby
- Skin-to-skin contact helps to wake your baby when they are hungry and is a great way to bond with him or her.
- While your baby latches, let your baby take the lead and you follow. You should bring your baby to the breast and not your breast to the baby.
- Allow your breast to fall naturally. Find a position that is comfortable for you. See “Breastfeeding Positions” for specifics.
- As your baby’s chin touches the breast, this will trigger their rooting reflex and your baby will open wide and reach over the nipple.
- Allow your baby’s head to tilt back so that his chin comes to the breast
- Remember to support your baby’s back and buttock and keep his body pulled close to your body
- Baby-led/ Laid back nursing: In this position we let your baby follow his instincts and take advantage of reflexes like the rooting reflex. By lying back you allow the baby to lay on you with gravity helping you support the baby and enabling you to relax. Start with your baby skin to skin upright between your breasts. When your baby is ready to feed, they will use their reflexes and sense of smell and touch to scoot toward your breast and latch on to feed. Baby’s latching themselves often end up in a diagonal position across their mother’s abdomen.
- Cross Cradle hold: The hand and arm of the mother opposite (or cross) from the breast the infant feeds on supports the infant while feeding. The mother’s hand will support the infant’s upper back and neck. This allows the infant to tilt their head back and bring their chin forward toward the breast with the mother’s nipple lining up by the infant’s upper lip or nose. As the infant’s chin touches the breast this triggers the rooting reflex so the infant open’s wide. It is important that the infant’s back and buttock are supported by mom’s arm, body or pillows.
- Cradle hold: This position is often used as the baby gets older. The infant’s head rests in the crook of the mother’s arm and the forearm supports the back. The hand is then free to support the buttocks.
- Football hold: This hold is particularly useful for women who have had a C-section, and when nursing twins. The standard football or clutch hold places the infant’s body alongside the mother’s with the neck supported in her hand and positioned against the closest breast. Pillows placed vertically behind the mother gives more room for the infant’s legs to comfortably extend back. This hold often allows greater visibility.
- Side lying hold: In this position, the woman and infant lie next to each other. It is helpful to place a pillow under mother’s head, behind her back and between her legs for comfort and support. This is particularly helpful during night feedings and to relieve pressure from the perineum after a delivery.
Experiment with different positions after delivery. Have friends, nurses and lactation consultants show you the various holds; As you try you will find the position that works best for you and your baby. Remember if it hurts the latch should be corrected. Ask for help. Nurses, lactation consultants, La Leche, other breastfeeding moms and our practice are all great places to start if you need help getting a pain free latch.