Baby won’t latch, or won’t latch comfortably? These latching tips for breastfeeding are a great place to start troubleshooting your latch.
After breastfeeding my kids for a combined 6+ years, I’m sharing my best latching tips for breastfeeding so you can get a good start on your breastfeeding journey.
Breastfeeding might be natural, but it doesn’t usually feel natural right out of the gate. Like anything new, there’s a learning curve.
Not knowing how to breastfeed or having trouble getting your baby to latch is nothing to be ashamed of for new (or veteran) moms. You wouldn’t expect yourself to be a master chef when you’ve never even made toast before would you? The same is true for breastfeeding.
Learning to nurse your baby is a skill you learn just as your baby learns to nurse effectively from you. It’s a relationship that is built.
Ensuring that you have a rock-solid latch that allows baby to nurse efficiently, and is comfortable for you is key to being successful at breastfeeding. A good latch means less pain when breastfeeding, and also that baby is getting enough milk and emptying the breasts.
Ineffective latching can lead to sore nipples, and baby may not be emptying the milk that is in the breasts meaning they aren’t getting the milk they need in an effective way which could also hurt your supply over the long term.
Breastmilk production works on supply and demand. So if your baby isn’t nursing effectively, your body will believe that it doesn’t need so much milk and slowly dwindle your supply.
So let’s talk about the best latching tips for breastfeeding so you’ll be nursing like a champ in no time.
I am not a lactation consultant or medical professional. I am a mom who has now breastfed three kids for a total of over six years combined. With my second two, latching was a breeze. Both were nursing within minutes of birth.
But my first? She was a challenge. It took about a week for us to really establish a good breastfeeding relationship that was full of frustration. It was hard, but the tips I share below are what helped me to finally figure it out and build a strong breastfeeding bond with my daughter.
(I also may share some affiliate links if I recommend any products that I love. An affiliate link is just a referral link that if you use to purchase something I recommend, will give me a small commission at no extra cost to you.)
1. Find the best position for you
Get comfortable. You’ll want to find pillows or other items to help prop you, your arms and the baby up to make it as easy as possible.
This article from Medela has 11 different positions to try to see which works best for you.
Many moms like football hold when first starting because it gives you a lot of control over the baby’s positioning. Getting set up properly is one of the most important latching tips for breastfeeding.
2. Make a nipple sandwich
You ever get a big juicy burger or mile-high club sandwich? Unless you get a good hold of that thing and smoosh it down a little bit, you’ll never fit it into your mouth to get a bite, right?
Same is kind if true for latching a baby.
To help baby get their mouth around and behind your nipple, you’ll want to make a nipple sandwich.
All you do is hold into your breast a few inches behind the nipple and squeeze down like you would when smooshing down a burger to take a bite. (This article has some good images to help you get the idea.)
This will help baby have a large area to latch onto.
3. Start with nipple on top lip
If baby is hungry, touching their lips or mouth will induce their rooting instinct.
Basically, rooting is baby looking around and trying to latch. For example, if a baby is nuzzling you and making a kind of fish face where their mouth keeps opening and closing, that’s rooting.
So when you place your nipple their top lip, if they’re hungry, they will go after that nipple.
Because it is on their top lip they must open extra wide and tilt their head up to try to reach it. This puts their face and mouth in optimal positions to get a nice big wide latch.
This tweak of starting with the nipple above on the top lip is a game-changing latching tip for breastfeeding.
4. Only latch when they open as wide as possible
You may have caught a theme here with the last few tips. The goal is to get a big and DEEP latch.
That’s why it is so important to make the target as easy to grasp as possible by doing the nipple sandwich, and then make sure the baby is opening their mouth wide by tapping the top lip with the nipple.
Your instinct might be to just latch them on however you can at first, but taking the time to really pay attention and ONLY allow them to latch when they open up wide will help you so much down the road.
Not only will then ensure the baby is latched on properly and able to nurse effectively, but it will be much more comfortable for you!
I know whenever I start to get nipple pain or tenderness, I go back to this. I start paying close attention to the baby’s mouth and make sure they are getting it nice and wide before I let them latch on.
5. Bring baby to you
One of the biggest troubles I was having at first with my daughter is I kept leaning down to try to get my nipple into her mouth, when what I needed to do was bring her up to my nipple.
This might seem like a small change or something that shouldn’t matter much, but it does.
I think the motion of bringing the baby to you is kind of a cue to them to be ready to latch. Like it’s a clue that they need to be ready. I’m not totally sure that’s a true scientific thing as I’ve never actually seen why this is an important tip. It’s just my observation when doing it with my kids.
Bottom line, it works and is an essential latching tip for breastfeeding.
6. Get nipple in as deep as you can and don’t be too gentle
Another reason my daughter wasn’t latching well at first was because I was being too gentle.
As a new mom, you’re bit paranoid and want to be as gentle with your teeny fragile squish as possible, but in order to get the nipple into their mouth as deep as possible, you have to be a little forceful with it.
Have some common sense here. It’s still a newborn, you don’t want to hurt them, but you also need to be assertive when bringing the baby up to the nipple to latch.
If you are too slow about it or not confident in the way you put the nipple into their wide-open mouth, then they might latch a little early or not get enough of the breast into their mouth.
It’s like a dance. You have to lead them, and if you are not guiding them it won’t work. This is why it takes practice to become good at this with your little one.
7. Squirt some milk in their mouth to rouse them
Newborns can be really sleepy. In fact, sleep is what they do the most besides feeding.
Sometimes the newborn drowsiness makes it hard to get a strong latch from the baby.
What I was able to do to rouse her a bit and get her interested in nursing was to hand express a small amount into and around her mouth. This little smell and taste were usually enough to entice her to perk up and look for more.
When I realized I could do this it really helped me feel more confident in my ability, and is one of the best latching tips for breastfeeding.
8. Diaper change at night to wake sleepy newborns
Most parents would love for their baby to sleep without waking all night, but when you are establishing a breastfeeding relationship, nursing every few hours is essential.
That means sometimes you have to wake a sleeping baby.
While my daughter did NOT enjoy it when it was time to feed I would wake her by changing her diaper. This definitely got her up and raring to go.
So if you need to get baby awake to feed, but they are being a bit lazy or tired. Try a diaper change.
9. Consider whether nipple shields are a good option for you
After a day or two of latching struggles, a well-meaning nurse handed me a nipple shield.
I stuck that little piece of plastic to my nipple and bam! My daughter latched right on and started feeding. I figured the problem was solved for the time being, but it was just a brief help.
The thing about using nipple shields is you have to then keep using them, and they are not necessarily easy to use. I remember after that first visit with the nurse, I felt like I could never get the shield on properly or keep it on while getting back to latch. It was kind of a nightmare.
But I kept on trying with it because it worked.
Eventually, I grew frustrated and threw the shields out and just focused on latching the baby directly to my nipple.
Nipple shields also have disadvantages, like potentially inhibiting milk supply. This article lays out the pros/cons and when it might be a smart idea to try one or skip one.
10. Try finger feeding with a syringe
If you are really having trouble latching and need to feed the baby, consider finger feeding with a syringe until you master the latch.
When I was learning to breastfeed my daughter, she would get so frutrated and hungry that it was almost impossible to even try to get her to latch.
So what I did was pump a little milk and offer it to her via syringe while she was sucking my finger.
The reason to consider this kind of feeding if you are working on latching and need to supplement is that it mimics breastfeeding more than using a bottle. There’s no real likelihood of baby having nipple confusion with this method, and it’s less likely to impact your attempts at breastfeeding negatively.
You can also tube feed baby while finger feeding, or even try cup feeding. Here is more info on that.
11. See an IBCLC
If all else fails and you need help, see an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant or IBCLC.
This an important note to remember. Not all “lactation consultants” are the same.
There are many different ways to become certified as a “lactation consultant,” but the requirements for an IBCLC are much stronger. An IBCLC will, in general, be more highly educated, experienced, and skilled than other types of lactation certification.
This is not to say lactation consultants who have had other certifications can never be helpful, but the IBCLC certification is the gold-standard of certification in the field. So seek one out specifically if you are in need over any one else.
This includes pediatricians.
Unless your baby has some specific concerns that require your pediatrician’s involvement, I would not recommend taking their word as gospel on breastfeeding-related matters.
Your instincts may be to listen to your pediatrician on this, but in my personal experience, my kids’ pediatricians didn’t know as much as I did about breastfeeding and all I had done was read a few books.
Pediatricians are generally not trained on lactation, breastfeeding, infant nutrition, etc. If they are, they are many times out of date on their information.
I don’t want to discourage you from getting your pediatrician’s thoughts, but I would also seek out the opinions of an IBCLC who has specialized training on this topic. When my pediatrician recommendations went against my instincts, I conferred with an IBCLC, and I’m so glad I did.
These latching tips for breastfeeding should help get you on the right start with your breastfeeding journey, mama. Have any of your own latching tips? I’d love to hear them! Share in the comments below.
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