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Trouble Latching On? Tips for Successful Breastfeeding

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You’ve decided to breastfeed your newborn, but for some reason your baby doesn’t seem to be on-board with the master plan. She keeps falling asleep, her mouth isn’t opening wide enough to get any milk, and your breasts are in serious pain every time you try to feed her. And you’re thinking, This is the pits! Don’t give up yet. There are ways to help your baby latch on so that you can both—painlessly—enjoy breastfeeding.

These are four steps you can take to help your baby latch on correctly:

  1. Ensure that your baby has full contact with your body, from his chest down to his thighs. The feeling of safety created through contact with Mom helps a baby feel comfortable enough to focus on the task at hand.
  2. Check the positioning of your baby’s head. By tipping his head back slightly, his chin touches your breast under the areola; this helps him to reflexively open his mouth wide. If this isn’t enough, lightly brush your baby’s lips with your nipple and wait for him to open his mouth wide enough that it covers about one-half inch of the areola beyond your nipple.
  3. Quickly and firmly hug your baby’s shoulders to your breast. Hugging the shoulders in brings the head closer to the breast, positioning your nipple deep in your baby’s mouth. When your nipple touches your baby’s palate, his sucking reflex will kick in.
  4. Be sure your baby is swallowing and not just moving his mouth. When swallowing, a baby’s lower jaw moves in a longer, slower rhythm. You will probably hear your baby exhale through the nostrils after swallowing. Help your baby continue swallowing until he no longer wants to suck; this is your baby’s way of telling you, “I’m done!”

If you feel pain, your baby is probably not latched on correctly. Break the baby’s suction by placing one finger in the corner of her mouth between her gums, and gently pull her mouth away; then try again. Feeding incorrectly can lead to prolonged nipple pain for you and insufficient milk intake for your baby; it’s important to help your baby learn to latch on correctly.

“The asymmetrical latch is key to successful breastfeeding,” said Alexandra Walker, MA, IBCLC, a lactation consultant in Bethesda, MD. “In order to achieve an asymmetrical latch, line the baby up nose to nipple, rather than lips to nipple. When the baby comes on to the breast, the baby's upper lip should be just above the nipple and the baby's lower lip should cover all of the areola, and perhaps even some breast tissue." Some babies purse their lips, particularly the lower lip; if this is the case, the mouth is not properly latched on for successful swallowing. Be sure that your baby's lips are turned out.

"With this asymmetrical latch, the mother's nipple is able to extend back toward the baby's soft palate where it is protected from trauma," added Walker. "This latch not only allows the mother to enjoy a comfortable latch, but also it allows the baby to transfer milk more effectively.”

Still need to troubleshoot? You’re not alone! While some women have an easy time breastfeeding from the start, many moms have to work a little harder with their babies to figure out the process. Try different breastfeeding positions. If your baby refuses to latch on despite your best efforts, you may want to work with a lactation consultant. These specialists are trained to help women breastfeed successfully. Another good resource is “When the Baby Refuses to Latch On” from Breastfeedingonline.com.

Palo Alto Medical Foundation
La Leche League International

Hillary Easom happily breastfed each of her two children for 16 months.

Add a Comment2 Comments

Yes, you are absolutely correct. Women who are new to breastfeeding will feel some discomfort and sore nipples because their bodies are not used to...well, strong, continuous sucking! I should have rephrased the sentence. A baby sucking with an improper latch can lead to sharper pain beyond nipple soreness.

Lanolin helps some women with nipple soreness. Sometimes it just takes getting used to the breastfeeding experience. In any case, my hope is that women won't get discouraged and give up trying, because -- as you said -- the pain will go away.

Thank you for your comment!

May 3, 2011 - 1:31pm
EmpowHER Guest

I love this article overall. But: If you feel pain, your baby is probably not latched on correctly. ARGH!!!!!! Yes, it very well could be an incorrect latch. However, there IS pain for most women who are starting BFing, just because your nipples have to get used to the whole experience. Telling women it should be pain-free just does a disservice, IMO. Yes, there's pain. And yes, it will go away.

*BFing at 9 months, 6 months of EBF*

May 3, 2011 - 12:02pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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