Latching on tips for breastfeeding

breastfeeding latch

Getting your baby to latch on for breastfeeding can take practice and perseverance – and sometimes you need a bit of help or to try something new. Although it’s easy to feel frustrated, especially when you’re exhausted anyway, a few small adjustments to your feeding technique could help your baby to get a good latch.

How can I tell if my baby is latched on correctly?

If you’ve just started breastfeeding, you might not be sure whether your baby is latching on properly. If the latch is correct, you should notice the following:

  • Before you begin, your baby’s body is facing you so that she doesn’t have to turn her head to feed.
  • As you go to latch her on, your baby is tucked in as close as possible to you with her chin touching your chest and her nose above your nipple.
  • The latch feels comfortable to you and is definitely pain free.
  • She will have a good mouthful of breast and you will be able to see little or no areola.
  • Your baby’s mouth should be wide open with her lips turned out.
  • You will hear or maybe see her swallowing milk.
  • Your baby's bottom jaw may move up and down as she sucks.
  • Her ears might wiggle slightly.
  • You will feel like your baby has firmly gripped your breast – you’d need to break the seal with your little finger in order to remove her from the breast.

What are the signs of a poor latch?

If you’re in pain when breastfeeding or your baby isn’t gaining weight properly, it may be down to a poor latch. Any of these signs could suggest your baby isn’t latching on correctly:

  • You notice pain during or after feeding, meaning it’s likely that your baby is chewing on your nipple rather than cupping the areola.
  • A clicking sound might indicate that your baby is sucking only at your nipple rather than having a mouthful of breast.
  • Your baby is sucking in her cheeks when feeding.
  • Your baby’s lips are turned in.
  • Your milk supply is low. The more your baby feeds, the more milk you produce. If your baby is not latched on and therefore not feeding properly, it will affect your ability to produce milk.
  • Your breasts still feel full after feeding (again, a sign your baby isn’t able to get enough milk off).
  • Your baby is not gaining weight or not gaining quickly enough. This could be because she is not getting enough milk.
  • Your baby seems wriggly and distracted during feeding.
  • After feeding, your baby is disgruntled and unhappy because she is not feeding properly.
My daughter wouldn’t latch at all initially. She just screamed. Then at 20 days old, she latched just like that. She hasn't touched a bottle since. If it's what you want keep trying. Just don't get yourself stressed though! It’s natural to feel upset if you’re struggling with breastfeeding, but do try to be kind to yourself. You and your baby are learning something new – and you’re doing it while you’re sleep-deprived because your baby probably still doesn’t know night from day.

When it comes to latching on, remember your baby hasn’t breastfed before so this is completely new to her too. And even if this isn’t your first baby, you’ve not breastfed this baby before so it will take time.

The process might be painful while you both work it out – but try to make sure you still get plenty of rest and support and ask for help if you need it.

Tips for a successful latch

The good news is that you can correct a poor latch. There can be a bit of a knack to it but with patience and some guidance, you'll get there.

Make yourself comfortable

Sit in a position that supports your back. Make sure that you are not hunching over your baby so use a cushion if you need extra support for your back or to raise your baby higher up on your lap and closer to the breast. A v-shaped cushion or breastfeeding pillow placed on your lap can be useful as it wraps around your waist and supports your baby.

Position your baby correctly

You can hold her in a number of positions. Whichever you choose, it’s important to remember that her body should face you so that she isn't turning her head in order to feed. Her head, mouth and nose should point towards your nipple with her nose just above.

Breastfeeding positions to try

  • Lying laid back with pillows supporting you with your baby lying on top of you in a tummy-to-tummy position.
  • Lying on your side again with pillows propping up your head and your baby lying facing you.
  • The rugby hold with your baby held under your arm and supported by a pillow.
  • The koala hold. This works well for babies that can support their own heads. Your baby should be held sitting upright with her legs wrapped around you like a koala.
  • The cradle hold. This is one of the most popular positions for mums who are just beginning to breastfeed. You should be sitting upright with your back well supported and your baby lying across you and facing you.
breastfeeding positions

Support your breast

Using your free hand to support your breast will take the weight off your baby’s chin and allow her a more comfortable feed. You can either cup your breast in a C-shape, ensuring your fingers are well away from the areola, or in a U-shape with your fingers laid flat against the rib cage.

You can also slightly ‘shape’ your breast with your fingers as she latches on to help her to get a good mouthful of it by gently pinching either side of the nipple and releasing as she puts her mouth around it.

Bring your baby to your breast

…and definitely not your breast to meet your baby. If you bring your baby’s chin towards your breast, her mouth should open and her head should tilt back slightly. Her lips should be open with the bottom lip meeting your breast first.

Your nipple should touch the roof of your baby's mouth and be far back in her mouth. Your baby needs to take a large mouthful of breast tissue including most of the areola.

Make sure she opens wide

Keep persevering one feed at a time and try to find local breastfeeding clinics. Go as often as you can – I was there two to three times a week in the first three weeks with each of my children.

If your baby does not automatically open her mouth to feed, you can try stimulating it by placing your finger on their chin. Alternatively try rubbing your nipple on her mouth or nose. The smell will help to stimulate the desire to feed.

Some mothers try to express a tiny bit of colostrum into their baby’s mouth. If it seems as though she’s struggling to open her mouth wide enough it might be worth asking your midwife or another professional like your GP to check for tongue tie.

Finishing the feed

Encourage your baby to finish one breast before offering the second. Feeding from both breasts will help to stimulate milk production. If your baby is latched on well and you are both comfortable, there is no need to finish the feed early. When your baby has had enough milk, they will usually come off the breast spontaneously or fall asleep.

If at first you don't succeed try, try again

If the latch feels painful or your baby hasn’t attached correctly, try inserting your little finger into your baby’s mouth to break the latch and then start again. Don’t let your baby keep going if the latch isn’t right – your nipples will become incredibly sore and your baby won’t be feeding effectively.

If you are concerned that your baby’s latch is not right, try getting your midwife or health visitor to observe you feeding. There are lots of breastfeeding cafes and local breastfeeding support groups around now, so ask your midwife where the nearest one to you is. These are really helpful as a breastfeeding counsellor can actually observe what you and your baby are doing and might be able to spot what’s going wrong.

Otherwise, you can ask your midwife or health visitor for advice or to refer you to a breastfeeding specialist. It might help to visit a lactation consultant, too.

How will I know when the latch is right?

Once your baby has latched on, she will be able to suck in a strong, rhythmic way that will stimulate your milk to flow freely and you will feel a deep pulling in your breast. Your baby's bottom jaw will move rhythmically as her tongue stimulates the breast ducts to release milk. The top jaw will remain still.

My baby still can’t latch – could something else be wrong?

It can take a little while for nipples to toughen up and get used to it, but pain is also an indicator that something is wrong so keep an eye on it and speak to your health visitor if it gets any worse.

If you have tried to adjust positioning and technique and your baby is still not latching on, then there is a chance that something else could be causing a problem. In the first instance speak to your health visitor or GP who might be able to advise you. If latch technique is not the issue, it could be one of the following:

  • She may have a mouth infection or thrush, which can be easily cleared up with medication for you both from your GP.
  • She could have reflux or a digestive issue. Persistent reflux may make feeding uncomfortable for your baby and reduce her desire to feed. Speak to your midwife or GP about how you can help with this.
  • She may have a medical condition such as a cleft palate or tongue tie. Cleft palate is usually picked up earlier than this and it can be put right. Tongue tie is easier for medical professionals to miss, but is easily sorted out with a simple procedure to snip the tiny piece of skin that is holding the tongue down. It isn’t too painful and is done in a matter of seconds.

”My first baby was never able to latch directly on to me. My second seemed a bit better to start with but munched my nipples raw within three days, to the point I was advised to stop breastfeeding as they had to heal. She turned out to have a severe posterior tongue tie – in hindsight, I now believe my eldest did too, but undiagnosed.”