Updated: Oct 2, 2022
I remember my son’s first latch like it was yesterday. It was around 3am on his third day on earth. For 72 hours he had been fed via those tiny syringes which they give you to for harvesting colostrum and I was terrified that he would never learn to nurse from the breast.
I had been pumped full of drugs during my 78 hour labour which ended in a emergency c-section and the pain relief that I had relieved left my boy super sleepy when he was first born. It took our rainbow baby a few days to recover from his traumatic birth, but when he did regain a little of his in-utero energy, he latched onto me with zeal (of his own volition) in the middle of the night. It felt like a bolt of lighting sending life directly from my breast into my tiny newborn. Awesome in every sense of the word.
When it comes to early breastfeeding education and support, nothing trumps help and information about your babe’s latch. A deep, comfortable latch is (almost) everything you need to ensure that your nursing journey starts smoothly and continues for as long as you choose. It’s importance cannot be overstated! If you are an expectant mother or parent who wants to breastfeed and you take just one piece of advice from me, let it be this: get your latch double, triple and quadruple checked by a lactation professional in the beginning. Doing so could prevent a whole host of potentially crippling issues such as:
Pain whilst breastfeeding
A restless, windy baby
Poor weight gain for baby
A reduced milk supply
Greater risk of blogged ducts and mastitis.
A deep latch should be comfortable and pain-free. If breastfeeding hurts, you need help and support from an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) as soon as possible. Delaying seeking help could lead to painful infections and sore, chapped nipples. A painful latch could also indicated that your baby has a lip or tongue tie. Again, if you suspect this to be the case, seek help from a lactation professional as soon as possible. Releasing a lip or tongue tie may sound like an unnecessary or invasive measure, but it is a quick and highly effective procedure which could mean the difference between whether or not you are able to continue nursing your little one at the breast.
Some tips to help you achieve a deep, comfortable latch when breastfeeding are:
1.Look for your baby’s hunger cues - these may be sticking out their tongue, smacking their lips, sucking fingers or fists, rooting (turning their head towards your breasts). Try not to wait until your baby is crying with hunger as this can make feeding times stressful. Offering f the breast more often is better than not offering it enough in the early days and months of your nursing journ.
2. Get comfortable yourself - prop yourself up with pillows, or lie down in a restful position, ensuring that there are no blankets or pillows eat your baby’s faces. Only once you are comfortable should you bring your baby to you. Do not hunch over and have support under your arms if necessary.
3. Bring your baby to your breast, lining their nose up with your nipple. Stroke their cheek, or rest your nipple on your baby’s nose to encourage them to open their mouth wide. Once they do, bring their body close to yours, avoiding restraining their head or neck as you do so.
4. If your little one struggles to latch onto your breast, make your nipple protrude more by cupping your breast. Do this by holding your breast in a c-shape between your thumb and fingers so that your nipple is easier to latch onto. This may be especially helpful if you have flat or inverted nipples.
5. If you are in any pain, unlatch your little one straight say by slipping your little finger between your breast and their mouth and try again. Consider switching sides and adjusting your positioning so that you can both relax.
6. Help to induce your letdown reflex (when milk is ejected from your nipples), breath deeply once your little one is latched onto you. Allow your shoulders to soften each time you exhale.
The free app: Latch Aid is a fantastic resource full of visual and auditory prompts to help you to achieve a deep and comfortable latch in the absence of real-life support. Highly recommended.
If you do experience nipple pain before you are able to seek help, it is important to either continue breastfeeding or to continue expressing milk from your breasts using a pump to maintain your supply. Nipple shields may offer temporary relief from pain until you are able to get a deeper latch and in-person advice, too. In the event that your nipples do get cracked or sore, apply some of your own freshly expressed milk onto them to aid healing.
For help & support navigating your breastfeeding journey, order my debut book, 'Self Care: The Breastfeeding Edition (50 Practical Tips for Nursing Moms)' for free on Amazon Kindle, or here: www.thebreastfeedingmentor.com/book