Breastfeeding- why it's more than what the latch looks like.
You may have been told by someone supporting you with breastfeeding that the latch looks fine. Many of us ask this of our midwife, health visitor, or paediatrician ‘does it look ok?’
But this is only one small part of knowing that everything is ok with feeding.
Were you told, ‘ Yes, the latch looks fine’, but you sat there with your toes curled, in excruciating pain, and were left thinking, if it looks fine, why is it hurting this badly? Is this what breastfeeding feels like?
No No No!!! When a parent I’m supporting asks if the latch looks right, I always say-
‘How does it feel to you?’
What it feels like tells us so much more than what it looks like.
Curling toes, hunched shoulders in pain or discomfort, and dreading the next feed, all indicate something is not right with breastfeeding!
Being told the latch is ok because it looks right, can result in you feeling it’s your fault, you are failing at breastfeeding and you probably wanting to give up, because keeping going when it hurts is really hard!
How do you get a good latch?
So as a new parent trying to nail the latch, what do you need to know?
- What does it feel like?
Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. I’m not saying that it doesn’t, I absolutely know it does. Cracked, sore nipples and discomfort are common in the early days of breastfeeding.
Common does not mean normal!!!
It hurts because it is a skill that you and your baby need time to learn and perfect. A skill like walking or riding a bike, not like breathing, it takes practice. Breastfeeding may be natural but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Getting a good, effective and pain-free latch may take some time and often a lot of support!
There are many things in the early days that can influence and impact the ability of both you and your baby to get this right. The birth, interventions that may have happened to you both, medications you may have had, the exhaustion from labour, jaundice, if your baby was born early, are just some of the things that can impact breastfeeding getting off to a good start. So yes, the latch in many cases just gets better with time, because you both perfect the art of a good latch, not because your nipples have toughened up to it (another HUGE myth right there!) But what is important is that a good latch should not cause you pain. If it does, you need some support to help you make alterations that can improve things or identify the root cause of the pain.
Positioning and attachment are key
2. Follow the key principles
There is no one right position as we all come in different shapes and sizes. It definitely takes time to figure out the positions that work best for you and your baby. But the key principles to help get a good latch are:
- Baby needs to be in a nice line, so not twisting their head/neck to reach the breast. This doesn’t mean it has to be a straight horizontal line across your body, in fact a more asymmetrical approach to the breast can help get a deeper latch. Aim for their ear, shoulder and hip to be in alignment. (See picture below).
- No arms trapped in between you both. We think this helps as it stops their arms from getting in the way, but it means they aren’t as close to you as they need to be. Think sky-diving arms! So one arm on either side of the breast, like they are in free fall. This does get easier as your baby becomes less tightly curled up as they can be a bit in the early days.
- They need to be able to tilt their head back. Forget what everyone always says about ‘mind the baby’s head’ they actually have very well-developed head and neck muscles to help them self-attach. A hand on the back of their head, or even just a finger can prevent them from tilting back, which they need to do to get a wide mouth. Try using your hand across the back of their shoulder blades, with your thumb and forefinger making a ‘C’ shape across the base of their neck just be careful not to get your fingers too far forward on their jaw.
- Bring baby into the breast, chin leading. The chin touching the breast helps stimulate them to open wide. Have your nipple ABOVE their top lip, not opposite it. You don’t want to go straight in, you want to aim the nipple up and back to the roof of their mouth.
- Use your nipple to stroke downwards from their nose to their top lip, wait for a wide mouth then move BABY NOT BREAST, up and onto the breast. It is so tempting to help them out as they open, to try and get a breast into that mouth, but this means your nipple hits the hard palate, they suck and it’s ouch for you!!! Move baby not boob!!! Use pressure from your hands across their shoulder blades to guide them swiftly onto the breast as they have that wide open mouth.
How do I know the latch is right?
- No pain!!!
As you are learning, it may be painful as they latch. But does this settle and become pain- free? If yes, maybe you just need a bit more support to help get the initial latch right. If the pain continues during the feed, or settles but then starts again, it’s a signal the latch is not right. Take baby off, use your little finger into the corner of their mouth to break the suction, take baby off and try again.
- Is your baby generally settled and content when feeding?
They shouldn’t be slipping onto the nipple and causing you pain, they should have full rounded cheeks and be rhythmically sucking. Little quick sucks when they first go on, then longer deeper sucks as the milk begins to flow. Resting and pausing are normal. Then as the feed is finishing, they do little flutter-type sucks (this is that adorable little chin wobble like they are cold). The whole process of this they are feeding, so don’t take them off, they should come off themselves. If you don’t hear swallowing, they appear to fall asleep quickly or are doing that flutter type of sucking, early into a feed, when they haven’t been doing much swallowing, this needs looking at!
You should be able to hear a swallow. You will hear this in the longer deeper sucking part of the feed. You should hear swallowing usually from around day 5 after the birth. This sounds like a little ‘uh’ sound and the chin drops and pauses slightly with the swallow. IT IS NOT A CLICK! This isn’t swallowing.
- No lipstick nipples.
Your nipple should not look like a new lipstick after a feed, so pinched, compressed or flattened is not right! It means something isn’t correct with the latch. It may look a little longer or wider, but that’s ok!
- Is baby content following a feed?
Babies do feed frequently, 8 times in 24 hours is a minimum. Babies are designed to feed little and often but often it’s implied more than 8 feeds a day means your baby is feeding too frequently but it’s not. Some babies will feed more than 8 times a day. Looking at the whole picture will help tell if this is an issue or just normal for your baby. Too frequently looks like, never content after a feed, looking for more milk straight away after most feeds and if you feel your baby is never having any periods of being settled between feeds. There will be other signs here too, like not many heavy wet nappies, not frequently stooling, very sleepy, difficulty waking your baby, or very unsettled and crying more than usual, and not gaining weight are all signs they may not be getting enough milk.
If the initial latch is causing you pain, there are some techniques that may help this. Head to my Instagram page and look for the Reel ‘Hack to get a deeper latch’. For some this can really be a game changer to getting a comfy latch!
Trust your gut!
3. Trust what your gut is trying to tell you!
You may be new at breastfeeding and are trying to get it right, but if you are told everything is fine, but it really doesn’t feel fine then get some skilled support. Unfortunately, breastfeeding support is not all equal. There are different levels of training, experience and knowledge. If you have had some support and things are still tricky or you are in pain, consider what is the next layer/level of support available to you. It may be that support from a breastfeeding peer supporter, hospital infant feeding team, midwife or health visitor can help, or it may require help from an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant).
The bottom line here is if you are told all looks fine and it really doesn’t feel fine, or something feels wrong in your gut, seek some more skilled support. Getting the latch right and breastfeeding in the early days can be very intense! It definitely requires patience and perseverance, but this is not the same as gritting your teeth and bearing it!
If you want more support with an infant feeding issue or have an unsettled baby and would like to know more about how I support families with these challenges, you can book a free 15-minute call to chat about the services I offer and what may be the best one to help support you and your little one. Just click on the link below.