How Do I Get My Baby To Latch Better?

A deep latch can be kind of challenging for a new parent and for a new baby.

Latching refers to the seal between your baby’s mouth and the breast or chest, allowing them to transfer milk with no discomfort for the mom. A deep latch helps baby grasp more breast tissue which helps the milk flow more easily and protects your sensitive nipple from being chomped by baby’s gums. However, if baby is struggling to open wide or if positioning is not the right fit for either mom or baby, then latching may be painful and the slower feed may be frustrating for new mamas.

So how do you get your baby to latch better, or in other words, deeper?

There are a range of different techniques that can be used to encourage a better latch during feeding time. We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite methods to help you get a deep, pain-free latch. 

Read on to find out more!

Woman breastfeeding her baby using deep latch technique

Understand Hunger Cues

First and foremost, you need to understand and recognize your baby’s hunger cues.  Every baby has their own personality and may have slightly different cues to show early hunger. But there are common signs that your baby is ready for a feed including stirring from sleep, licking their lips, turning their head when their cheek is touched or sucking on their fists. If you notice your little one is fidgeting and making a fuss, this is an indicator that it’s feeding time.

Crying is actually a fairly late stage hunger cue.  It’s harder to latch an upset baby! Learning your baby’s hunger cues can help you avoid an upset baby and ensure a better latch.  Don’t worry mama – it takes a while to learn those cues. It will come with time, we promise. Baby wearing and keeping baby near, even skin-to-skin will help you see these early cues.

Proper Positioning

Now that you know your baby is hungry, it’s time to get into a latching position that works for you and baby.  Baby’s use their reflexes that they are born with to instinctually find the nipple and latch.  Helping baby feel supported with help baby use these reflexes to latch.  At the same time remember to think about what is good for you too!

In each position, the same tips will help you get a deep and efficient latch.  Line baby up with the nipple pointing towards the roof of the mouth so that the tongue can grasp more areola. Support baby so that they are comfortable, keeping the back of their head free to tip back and gentle pressure in the upper back will help baby come to the breast with their chin off their chest and into the breast for a deep latch.  Here are some tried and true positions that may have great results, but it may take some experimenting.

Cross-Cradle Hold

This position works best for new mamas with smaller newborns. This position helps you guide baby to the breast which can be helpful if you are having some nipple discomfort.

Here’s an example of how this would work if you are planning to feed from the right breast.  Hold and guide your baby to the breast with your left arm, supporting the baby’s head and neck with your left hand; the web of the hand at the top of the neck so that your fingers can support baby’s head like a pillow and your forearm supports along their spine, supporting baby’s rump under your elbow. Use your right hand to support your breast.  Shaping the areola from below with your thumb and index finger making a “U” shape you can give baby a smaller ledge to latch onto: Like a boob sandwich! When baby roots, they will open wide and you can bring baby close encouraging their chin into the breast and the nose tipped away.  If the baby doesn’t open wide or the timing was off, try adjusting the latch and holding baby closer Once your baby has successfully latched and is feeding, you can shift your arm into the more comfortable cradle hold.

The cross-cradle hold should truly only be used in the beginning when learning to nurse, as it’s not overly ergonomically friendly in the long-run with bigger babies.  In the wean time, make sure to support your wrist with a little receiving blanket or breastfeeding pillow.  Remember not to lift baby too high above your breast!

Cradle Hold

Once you’ve mastered the cross-cradle hold, you can move onto the cradle hold.  This one is a good long-term nursing solution for most mamas, as once you get the hang of it, it’s easy and comfortable.

Just like the cross-cradle hold but in reverse, the cradle hold involves using the feeding side arm to hold your baby, and then the opposite hand to guide the breast to their mouths. This technique is a little more comfortable than the cross-cradle hold, and can help to improve feeding time when used correctly.

Football  Hold

This technique is ideal for any mamas who have had a cesarean section and need to avoid pressure on their scar, for mamas of multiples, or for those  who have particularly large breasts, which may make other methods more challenging.

Hold your baby under your arm on the breastfeeding side, as though you are holding a football in that arm, supporting the head and neck with your hand. The baby’s body would normally be supported in this position by either a breastfeeding pillow (we love the “My Brest Friend” pillow) or by a couch cushion or something else that is easily accessible to you. Ensure that your  baby’s feet are not pushing against the support, as this can disrupt a good latch.

Because this position works with gravity and your baby under the breast, this might not be ideal for those of you with a strong letdown.  If your baby appears to be under niagara falls of breast milk and is sputtering while trying to nurse, this position might not be for you.

Woman breastfeeding baby

Deep Latch Technique

Another popular technique for encouraging good latching is known as the deep latch technique.  This method involves holding your breast tissue between on either side of the areola in either a “C” (football hold) or a “U” (cross-cradle/cradle hold). Apply light pressure to pinch the breast tissue into a half “sandwich”, creating an easier surface for your baby to latch on to. You can also use your thumb in this position to tilt your nipple up a bit to encourage a better latch. Supporting your baby’s head with your hand, tilt their head slightly backwards by using the heel of your hand to push up on their shoulder blades.

The nipple should rest just above your baby’s upper lip, parallel with their nose, and your baby’s lips – upper AND lower – should be flared out when latched. Lift your baby up to the nipple and allow the lower jaw to reach it first – wait for a nice, big mouth. Next, tilt the head up slightly to allow the upper jaw to make contact with the breast, ideally open well behind the nipple. Continue to squeeze your nipple while the baby latches. Once they have latched, they will have taken in more of the areola, known as a “deep” latch, which allows them to draw out milk easier. You can stop squeezing your breast once they have successfully latched, but you may want to continue with compressions while they are nursing, in order to fully drain the breast.

Signs Of A Good Latch

Understanding the signs of a good latch can help you distinguish when your baby is getting enough milk and when they might be struggling. Some common signs of a good latch include:

  • You can see the tongue when you pull down the bottom lip
  • Their jaws drop and pause as opposed to a rapid back and forth movement
  • Their cheeks are full and rounded
  • No slurping, clicking, or smacking noises
  • You should be able to see your baby swallowing.  The pattern should be suck-suck-suck-suck-swallow.  (However many sucks your baby takes before each swallow will vary, of course)
  • Chin is touching your breast
  • Once feeding is over, your nipple is not flattened, red, white, or damaged in any way
  • Any discomfort ends quickly after getting the baby latched on
  • Your baby ends the feeding with signs of satiety/satisfaction. These signs include: the baby looks relaxed, “falls” off the breast, has open hands, and/or falls asleep

Breastfeeding should not hurt when done correctly, and there should be minimal discomfort for both the baby and mom. When the baby has latched incorrectly, painful symptoms can arise like cracked or dry nipples, blocked ducts, and even mastitis. This is not normal, and is a sign that the breastfeeding technique may need to be adjusted. Remember, each mama and her baby will be different, so experiment with different techniques to find which one works best for you and your breastfeeding journey will go swimmingly.

If you are struggling to find the right rhythm with your new bundle of joy, a breastfeeding support specialist can help get you back on track. Oona offers a range of informative and supporting breastfeeding classes and consultations with our breastfeeding experts. Whatever questions or concerns you might have, they will be able to answer them and help develop a personalized breastfeeding plan that works for you. Contact us today to find out more!

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