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The Hidden Confessions of a Good Breastfeeding Latch

When it comes to determining whether her infant’s breastfeeding latch is correct, a new mom usually does one of the following:

  1. Hire a lactation consultant to observe and adjust.
  2. Wait 4 hours. No toe-curling agony every time you breastfeeding? Perfect latch!

For those of you strapped for cash and with a strict anti-agony policy, I may have a third option.

Maybe.

If I feel like sharing.

Hooray! This is a non-PMS week!  You’re in luck!

Breastfeeding on TV looks so easy.

  1. Open bra flap.
  2. Expose nipple.
  3. Attach baby.
  4. Cherubs float by, flowers rain down, and somewhere a soprano hits a High C.

Sorry, but for many new mothers that’s not what happens. You see, that’s a Senior Level Breastfeeding Latch, and you’re on your first day of Kindergarten. You’ll get there, but you’ve got to master these steps first.

I would encourage you to read through the steps below first, and then use the “Find Your Perfect Breastfeeding Latch” infographic at the bottom of this article as a visual aid every time you latch your baby on, until it becomes second nature!

What Goes Where?
~ No. 1 ~

Don’t laugh at this question! It’s actually not as simple as you may think!

You see, the formula for success isn’t Baby + Nipple = happy breastfeeding. That blueprint leads to nipple trauma.

Look at your newborn’s mouth.

Now look at your breast. Look beyond the nipple tip, and see the whole darkened-skin area. (Which is called the areola, btw.)

The real formula for success is Baby + Areola = happy breastfeeding.  That’s right, you need to help your newborn get most of that whole darn areola in his mouth. Your first task will be to use your hand to help position your areola in a way that makes that possible.

Which hand you use will depend on how you’re holding your baby.  There are two ways to position your breast correctly: The U-Hold and the C-Hold.  

When you’re nursing a newborn especially, it will be important that you hold your breast through the whole nursing session, to keep him latched correctly and avoid any slight slippage that can lead to serious nipple pain later on. In a few weeks, when he’s a bit bigger and you’re both masters at this, you can let go of the breast and still maintain the right breastfeeding latch, but in these early months keeping your hand on the breast is a big help.

STOP! Before you read on, I would encourage you to go somewhere private. It may be hard to understand these instructions if you’re not copying them. And grabbing your breast at your desk may make some co-workers a bit uncomfortable.

Getting a Good Breastfeeding Latch with the U-Hold

Can you guess why the U-Hold is called the U-Hold?

*looking around for raised hands*

Exactly! It’s called that because you will be holding your breast in the shape of a “U”. (You’re so smart!)

  1. Using your thumb and pointer finger, make a pretend gun with your left hand. *pew pew!*
  2. Now tilt the “gun” until it resembles a lopsided “U” (because most people’s thumbs are shorter than their pointer fingers).
  3. Slide that shape UNDER your left breast. You should have four fingers on one side of the breast, and your thumb on the other.
  4. Squeeze slightly to protrude the areola and proceed with #2 below.

Getting a Good Breastfeeding Latch with the C-Hold

Can you guess why the C-Hold is called the C-Hold?

*looking around for raised hands*

You’re right! You’re going to hold your breast in the shape of a “C”! This is a good hold for moms who are more “well endowed”.

  1. Pretend to shoot your husband with your “hand-gun”.  Watch as he gives an Oscar-worthy death performance so touching, Vin Diesel starts blubbering snotty tears. *applaud for marital harmony*
  2. Still in Rootin-Tootin Cowboy mode, slide four fingers under the breast, leaving the thumb on the top of the breast.  (“C” shape, get it?)
  3. Squeeze to protrude the areola and proceed to the next question.

Is His Mouth Open in the Right Shape?
~ No. 2 ~

Once your areola and nipple are sticking out like a tempting worm, your infant will automatically (’cause he’s incredible!) take the bait and open his mouth.

If he’s playing hard-to-get and refuses, gently brush his lips with your nipple tip while chanting “Open Sesame”.  (It’s the chanting that does it…)

If you’re using the Diva Breastfeeding position, you’ll actually have a free hand.  If not, you’ll need a spouse or third arm.

Don’t be fooled by some namby-pamby mouth-open.  You want OPEN.  As in, as open as possible. Some babies are daintier than others, and won’t open their mouths wider than a little Cheerio shape no matter how hungry they are. In those cases, gently move his chin down with the pointer finger on your non-occupied hand.

  • You want to see your baby’s mouth open wide like a zero “0”.
  • If he opens like a circle “O”, you need to try again. An “O” shaped breastfeeding latch always leads to nipple agony.

Did He Latch Incorrectly? How to Try Again.

Do you remember that scene in Christmas Story when Flick licked the flag pole? Remember how you winced and closed your eyes until it was ripped off?

THAT’S WHAT YOUR NIPPLE WILL FEEL LIKE If you try to pull the baby off without breaking the suction first!

To do that, carefully insert your pinky into the corner of his little mouth until you feel his suck break.  Then pull him off and try again.

Can You Spot His Lower Lip & Tongue?
~ No. 3 ~

Ye Proper Breastfeeding Latch will reveal that his lips are positioned like fish around the areola. 

    1. Look at the underside of his latch (or have the Hubster look, he won’t mind). His lower lip should be “pout-style” against the breast’s underside.
    2. Very gently, move that lower lip and peek inside. You should be able to see his tiny tongue, pushing against the areola while the upper gums are pushing down on the top part of the areola, “milking” the breast.
    3. If you can’t see that lower-lip pouting under the breast, this is a sign of a breastfeeding latch gone bad.  Detach him (using the tip in #2) and try again.

Is He Swallowing Milk?
~ No. 4 ~

This is so basic, it’s easy to miss.  A good latch will produce a lot of milk, while a bad latch will produce little milk.

So are you producing a lot of milk?  A good clue is to watch his swallowing.  Look to see his jaw moving deeply up and down, in a circular motion.

Little chin-swallows are a sign that he doesn’t have enough areola in his mouth and is gumming the nipple.   That’s a one-way ticket to Cracked Nippleville.

You want DEEP circular movement, like he’s gulping. If no one is around to help you peek, use your elvish-ears to listen for swallows. Besides being super-cute, it’s a great sign of a good breastfeeding latch.  No clicking or smacking, just solid and steady gulps.

Is the Top of the Areola More Visible?
~ No. 5 ~

If you compare the top half of your areola with the bottom part, there should be more showing on the top than the bottom.  In other words, in most cases, he should have more of the bottom of the areola in his mouth than the top.

That “more visible on top” position points the nipple slightly upward, which helps him get it further down the back of his throat for a pain-free breastfeeding latch.

Is He Wiggling His Ears?
~ No. 6 ~

A strong suck with a good breastfeeding latch will usually cause his ears to move up and down, like they’re wiggling.  He’s so talented!

If no wiggling seems to be happening, move to Question No. 7 anyway. It’s a helpful indicator of a good breastfeeding latch, but isn’t required.

What Does it Feel Like?
~ No. 7 ~

You are going to feel some weirdness.  How can you not?  You’re doing something you’ve never done before!

Here’s a quick way to test whether what you’re feeling is normal or not.  “Not normal” means you should make adjustments to your breastfeeding latch to prevent soreness (or worse).

What “Normal” Feels Like:

When it comes to pain, realize that your nipples do have to adjust to being stretched, pulled, and semi-swallowed. They may feel a little “tired” for the first few days, but the nipple tip shouldn’t feel touch-tender. That’s a latch do-over sign.

Once your milk comes in (usually in 2-7 days, until then you’ll have colostrum), you’ll feel some tingling a few seconds after he begins to suck. For me, it was similar to the pins-and-needles feeling when my leg has fallen asleep.  It only lasts a few seconds, and is a sign that your milk is about ready to flow (called “let-down”).

That let-down feeling is a godsend.

It’s your body shouting, Whoa big sister! I’m about to flood down your blouse! Abort conversation! Seek bathroom for breast pad adjustments!

(True story actually. My sister’s relationship with her father-in-law will never be the same…)

What “Not-Normal, Try Again” Feels Like:

“Not Normal, Try Again” doesn’t feel like pins and needles. This is a fishing line pulling a hook through your breast and out your nipple every time he sucks.

Instead of pushing his tongue against the areola part of the breast to “milk” the breast, he’s squashing your very tender nipple against the hard bony top of his mouth. Gently insert your pinky in the corner of his mouth to detach, recheck the questions above, and try again.

If your nipples start to look bruised or cracked, you’ll need emergency nipple therapy in order to continue. If you don’t, it will get worse before it gets better. (Or you give up breastfeeding altogether.)

Need a Visual Help To Achieve
Your Perfect Breastfeeding Latch?

Sometimes it’s just easier to follow a flow-chart than read through a bunch of instructions over and over again. So we have created a handy-dandy little Breastfeeding Latch Infographic for you to use! (Sorry male 13-year-olds, there are no booby pictures, just fancy arrows and text.)

To see a larger version, click here to download this graphic, then zoom in if you’re struggling to read the fine print!

Download a larger, easier to read, version of this graphic by clicking here.

Just remember that a bad breastfeeding latch always leads to a bad breastfeeding experience.

Getting that breastfeeding latch right is the first step towards long-term nursing bliss!

If you’ve been working and WORKING on this latch and still seem to be going no-where, have your baby checked out for tongue-tie.  There could be a physical reason why your baby is struggling to get in the right feeding position.  Click here to read more.

Did you struggle finding your perfect breastfeeding latch? What seemed to help you? Pay it forward in the comments!

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