After the intense experience of delivering your baby the quality of your latch is about the furthest thing from your mind. But after that first cuddle (and obligatory photo) this is put to the test immediately.
With any luck, this comes naturally and they catch on straight away. But this is not always the case.
It is essential that your baby is able to achieve a deep latch when breastfeeding as soon as possible. This will help you establish a good milk flow and minimise any pain and frustration you may feel, and ensure a nice and full baby.
Don’t fret if you’re not finding breastfeeding easy - it isn't - establishing a deep latch can take practice and perseverance.
This post will help you identify the signs of a deep and shallow latch while breastfeeding, and provide some steps to improve the quality of that latch.
With a few small adjustments you will be able to enjoy all the benefits that breastfeeding can provide, and nurture an unbreakable bond between you and your baby.
Signs of a Deep Latch
A proper latch means that your baby is in the right position to get the most out of your breastmilk (including the hind milk) and it does not feel painful or uncomfortable to you.
You should be able to notice the following with a good latch:
Signs of a Shallow Latch
You’ll start to notice that your baby may not be latching on correctly when they are not gaining enough weight, or you’re in pain during breastfeeding.
These are definite signs that your baby isn’t latching on correctly during a feed.
Signs of a weak latch include:
Tips to Latch Successfully
If you encounter difficulties then don't be too hard on yourself.
Breastfeeding can be challenging to get right first time! Remember that it is a new skill for both you and your baby.
When you also factor in your own postpartum recovery and (likely) lack of sleep, you deserve to give yourself some time to get things right.
You can start to correct a poor latch by following the below tips:
Find a Comfortable Place
Start in a seated position that supports your back first. Then progress to lying down once you’ve got the sitting position right.
Don’t hunch over your baby or sit in an uncomfortable position because you want to allow your baby to feed as calmly and as patiently as possible.
Using a V-shaped cushion or breastfeeding pillow may prove useful to help you support the baby in this position.
Find a Position that Works for You
Over time you will learn what position is easiest to breastfeed your baby.
The most common way to breastfeed is by using the cradle hold, where you are draping baby over your waist so that their face is directly in front of your chest and does not have to turn their head to feed.
Whatever the position, ensure that the head, mouth and nose point towards your nipple.
Once you are comfortable with baby laying on your lap, you can progress to lying down with the baby on top of you, in a tummy-to-tummy position. Or baby lying next to you, facing your chest.
Other common ways to breastfeed are the rugby hold, with your baby held under your arm. Or the koala hold, where your baby is sitting upright with their legs wrapped around you like a koala (for older babies who can support their head).
Bring Your Baby to You
Support your breast and bring the baby to you.
Allow them to open the mouth and tilt the head back so that the bottom lip meets your breast first.
Your nipple should touch the roof of his/her mouth and go in as far back as possible.
Make sure they open wide first before you latch, otherwise they may only catch the nipple, and you’ll end up in pain.
Finish the Feed on One Side
Encourage your baby to finish one breast before offering the other, so they get as much of the hind milk as possible.
This stimulates milk production and ensures that baby comes off when they have had enough milk.
Express a Few Drops of Breast Milk
You can tempt your baby to your nipple by rubbing some breast milk on their lips. Instinctively they should open up, and you can position them as instructed in the previous steps above.
Check out the below demonstration:
Increase Skin to Skin Contact
Close contact between you and your baby can heighten those maternal feelings and promote a that close bond regardless of whether you are feeding or not.
The feeling of calmness will reduce external stressors your baby may feel that could be interfering with their internal biological program. Hindering their instinct to feed.
A study released by the International Breastfeeding Journal showed that when frequent skin to skin contact is experienced between mother and baby, the time to an improved latch is reduced and the success rate enabling the continuation of breastfeeding increased from 33% to 94%.
Re-Attempt the Latch
Don't carry on with a feed if it hurts. Otherwise, you may end up with very sore nipples and clogged milk ducts from the lack of flow.
Break the feed by inserting your finger into the baby's mouth and encouraging him/her to try again.
Speak to your midwife or health visitor if you are still struggling to obtain a good latch. They will observe and help you establish and maintain a good feed.
Also, look for breastfeeding cafes in your area or local breastfeeding support groups. Your midwife should know where the nearest one is to you.
My Baby Still Can't Latch
If you are still finding breastfeeding difficult, then there may be something else that could be causing the problem.
Consult your health visitor or GP who might be able to advise whether it could be one of the following:
Your baby may have a tongue tie or a cleft palate. This affects their ability to latch on and feed correctly.
Check for symptoms of thrush or a mouth infection too.
Don’t fret if you do find an issue, as these can be cleared up quickly with some medication from your GP.
Digestive or Reflux Problem
Feeding may become uncomfortable for your baby if they are in pain during feeding.
Make sure you are burping them correctly by rubbing their back in a clockwise circular motion until they burp. If they don’t burp after ten circular motions, then try the feed again.
Again, speak to your midwife or GP for more help on this issue. They may prescribe your baby with reflux medication to help ease the pain.
Everyone's breastfeeding experience will differ. If your baby is a natural then great! But if not, it is just a learning process that you both have to go through which is very common.
Allow yourself time to get breastfeeding right.
Once you’ve got it, breastfeeding can be the most fantastic experience for you and your baby, as well as the best way to bond too.
Don’t forget that you’re providing your baby with the best start in life, so don’t give up!
Contributed by Leyla Preston