How to solve common breastfeeding latch problems

You’re probably aware of the many benefits of breastfeeding. It’s cost-effective, convenient, snuggly, nutritious for your baby, and great for their health and yours. So if you run into trouble getting a good breastfeeding latch, you may start to panic. 

Don’t! Half the battle with nursing is figuring out how to get a proper breastfeeding latch going. (There are even people trained to help women overcome breastfeeding challenges. They’re called Lactation Consultants, and you should get yourself one.)

So let’s look at how it’s done, and troubleshoot some common latch issues.

Why a proper breastfeeding latch is so important 

Your baby can only effectively get the milk out of your breasts if they can latch onto your nipple correctly. A shallow latch means they’re not getting the breast milk they need, there’s a risk your breast milk supply will drop, and your poor boobs will be in agony.

Signs of a correct breastfeeding latch

  • You can hear your baby swallowing.
  • They open their mouth wide and take your whole nipple, plus about an inch of areola, into it.
  • Their lips are turned outwards and their tongue sticks out against their lower lip.
  • Their chin is against your breast and their nostrils are unobstructed.
  • It doesn’t hurt you too much.
  • Your boobs feel less full after a feed (particularly in the early weeks).
  • Your baby is growing and putting on weight.

Signs your baby isn’t latching properly 

  • Your baby makes weird clicking, slurping or smacking noises.
  • They’re fussy, get really upset when feeding, or refuse the boob altogether.
  • You can’t hear them swallowing during feeds.
  • Your nipple pain gets progressively worse, or you notice bruises on your nipples.
  • They’re not putting on weight.

How to get a good latch: Breastfeeding step by step

  1. Get comfortable in clothing suitable for breastfeeding, with snacks and a BIG glass of water on standby. (Important.)
  1. While you’re both still learning, it helps to hold onto your boob with one hand and support the baby’s neck with the other. Position your nipple just above your baby’s top lip, and make sure their chin isn’t tucked into their chest. This would make it difficult for them to swallow. 
  1. Give their lips a cheeky tickle with your finger. This will encourage them to open wide. Gently press your baby up to the nipple and ‘scoop’ it into their mouth. Their chin should touch your breast first.
  1. Your baby should have your entire nipple and part of the areola in their mouth, and their lips should be turned outwards like ‘fish lips’. 
  2. If something’s not feeling right, gently slip a finger between their lips to release their suck and start over.

Common latching problems and solutions 

Problem: It hurts like hell

Most moms report nipple tenderness when they start breastfeeding. But if it gets worse over time, it could be caused by an incorrect latch, an infection in your milk ducts (mastitis) or nipple, or a tongue-tied baby.

What to do

  • See a Lactation Consultant or doctor for a proper diagnosis and advice.
  • Check under your baby’s tongue for signs of a tongue tie (they won’t be able to stick their tongue out).

Problem: It’s not working and everyone is upset

Emotions make nursing hard. You want to be relaxed and snuggly to ensure your breastfeeding hormones kick in and trigger milk production.

What to do

  • Take a break and try again later.
  • Check that there’s not another reason your baby is upset (i.e. they need a nappy change, they’re gassy, or they’re overtired).

Problem: Baby’s suck is pitiful

A weak or half-hearted suck might indicate that your baby isn’t actually feeding. This isn’t always a problem. They might just not be hungry right now. 

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Susie Prout says, “Breastfeeding is so much more than just nutrition. Babies breastfeed to feel close, to sleep, to feel comfort, when sick, when they’re in pain and they often suck at the breast in a shallow way, and not always having an active feed with lots of milk.”

However, it could also be a sign of a poor breastfeeding latch.

What to do

  • Reattempt the latch and see if they suck more enthusiastically.
  • Maybe do nothing if they’re just sucking for comfort. Let them go for it.
  • If you’re worried, see a Lactation Consultant for a review.

Problem: Baby’s mouth is too small 

This can be the case with premature babies or in moms with large breasts. Or even if your boobs are overly full.

What to do

  • Try some different breastfeeding positions.
  • Try using a nipple shield. This is a breastfeeding latch trick from way back! It can help a smaller baby get hold of your nipple more easily while protecting your nips from damage.
  • Express or pump before a feed to reduce engorgement.

When to get help

If your baby is losing weight, you feel unwell yourself, or you’re concerned for any reason, see a doctor. They can help rule out any health issues first. They might then refer you to see a Lactation Consultant for breastfeeding latching tips!

Working out breastfeeding is hard! If only babies vibrated when they attached correctly, like an iPhone on charge. It’s normal to need to re-attach your newborn a few times as you figure out what feels right and what doesn’t. Trust your instinct, and don’t feel too discouraged if it takes some time. 

Connect with other breastfeeding (And formula-feeding! And mix-feeding!) moms on Mumli.

USDA WIC Breastfeeding Support, Steps and Signs of a Good Latch

USDA WIC Breastfeeding Support, Breastfeeding Benefits

Stanford Children’s Health, Problems with Latching On or Sucking

Office on Women’s Health, Getting a good latch

Verywell Family, The Signs of a Good Breastfeeding Latch

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