There are a lot of tricks and techniques that you can use to get baby to latch on well. You may or may not need to try all of the technique described below; some babies “get it” a lot quicker than others. If you find something that works for you, then don’t even bother to try the rest.
Let baby do the work
This is always a good place to begin, and it’s the best way to do your first breastfeed. Just lie back and let baby lie on top of you, skin-to-skin. When baby starts looking for the nipple, guide him to the breast, but let him explore the breast at his own pace. In most cases, baby will lick and play with the nipple for a while, and then latch on with no help at all. The funny thing is that leaving baby to latch himself often gives a better result than when we try to help!
Get into position
The first thing you need to do when latching baby is to position him properly – this simply means that when you hold baby, he must easily be able to get to the breast and latch on. Hold baby close to you, with his tummy turned to you, and his nose opposite your nipple.
Use the nipple to tickle baby’s top lip, and when he opens, bring him closer so that he can get his mouth around the breast. Important: when you bring baby to the breast, pull his body closer and the head will follow. Don’t push on the back of baby’s head – babies have an inborn reflex that makes them push back against your hand, and you and baby will just end up in a fight to see who can push the hardest.
The breast sandwich
What do you do when you need to take a bite of a big, juicy hamburger that’s too big to fit in your mouth? You take it in your hands and squash it, of course. You can do the same thing with your breast to help baby get it into their mouth: take the breast between your thumb and fingers, close to the areola (but not on it!), and squash it to make it flatter and easier for baby to get into his mouth. Just take care that you squash it flat in the same direction as the baby’s mouth lies. Once baby has the breast in his mouth and is sucking, you need to move your fingers away from the areola (or let go of the breast entirely). It’s important to start with your fingers far enough from the nipple that baby can latch deeply on the breast without your fingers getting in the way. The breast sandwich is a very useful technique if you have large breasts or if your nipples are flat.
The nipple flip
Also known as the flipple technique. This is one of the most effective ways to help a baby get a nice, deep latch – it works almost every time! It’s a bit difficult to describe with words, but basically, it’s an exaggeration of the “nose-to-nipple” position: you’re trying to get a big part of the breast tissue below the nipple into the baby’s mouth:
- Start with baby positioned nose-to-nipple
- Use your fingers to “flip” the nipple up toward baby’s nose. So now you have nothing but breast in front of baby’s mouth; the nipple is up at baby’s nose somewhere.
- Bring baby’s chin up against the breast. This will prompt him to open his mouth
- When baby’s mouth opens, gently let go of the nipple so that the breast (that part below the nipple) rolls into baby’s mouth. The nipple will be the last thing to slip in under baby’s top lip.
What if it hurts?
A good latch is not supposed to hurt! However, in the beginning it is quite normal for your nipples to hurt for a few seconds when baby starts to suck. Let baby latch on and slowly count to twenty, does it still hurt? If it does, it’s best to take baby off the breast and re-latch, because the latch is probably not deep enough. Don’t think you’ll “tough it out” for this feed – it only takes one feed with a shallow latch to cause a cracked nipple, and once the nipple is cracked even a good latch will hurt! Rather re-latch baby ten times and keep your nipples happy.
Just a note: if you need to take baby off the breast to re-latch him, don’t just pull the nipple out while baby is still sucking – it will hurt! You first need to break baby’s grip: put your little finger into baby’s mouth, all the way between the gums, and pop the nipple out of his mouth. Another option is to pull baby in so close that you block his nose, so that he has to let go to breathe (baby won’t suffocate, promise. Given a choice between sucking and breathing, babies always go for breathing.)
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