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Lowdown on Latching

If breastfeeding is so natural and easy – then why is it so damn hard??

Yes, you may say this to yourself at some point in the beginning of your nursing career. Getting started is not without its challenges, as I’m sure you’ve heard already.

There is a HUMP that you must get over before hitting your stride. But don’t worry, with a little persistence and perseverance, you will get there. Point being: Almost everyone struggles in the beginning. You are not alone. I repeat: EVERYONE struggles in the beginning with breastfeeding (well, almost everyone).

In my opinion, the key to a successful start is all in the latch. There is a method to the madness that you must learn. Few women are able to figure it out on their own. It’s not as easy or obvious as you would think!

If your baby has a bad latch, breastfeeding will hurt. Plain and simple.

Start when you are still in the hospital: make sure to have the nurses or lactation consultants observe your baby’s latch. The hospital has experienced nurses and lactation consultants at the hospital WAITING to help you. And if they don’t offer, you should *insist* on seeing one. Please don’t be shy about this.

The Latch

It might be a good idea to have your partner or mom/sister read it to you when it’s go-time. I know that sounds silly, but you’re not going to remember this in detail. It will put you at ease if times get tough.

In a nutshell, you want your baby’s mouth to be open very WIDE in order to scoop as much of the nipple and areola in as possible. WIDE OPEN — almost like a yawn.

Depending on your baby, the whole latching procedure requires some precision, like trying to refuel an F-16 midair. If your baby’s mouth is not open wide and he is only sucking on the nipple itself, this is where the trouble starts…

How to latch:

1. Don your favorite nursing pillow. Get comfortable and take a deep breath. Find your happy place.

2. Have your partner hand you the baby. Put baby on his side, cupping his body around you like a capital ‘C’.

3. Since baby will have no head control, grab the base of his head as shown below. (This is the view from above.) In reality, your baby’s head will approach your breast below at a diagonal.

4. CHIN coming in first, bring your baby’s nose to your nipple in order to get him to root around and open his mouth.

Sketches by Jack Newman, M.D.

Take. Your. Time!

Some babies do this instantly without hesitation, others need more encouragement. Rub your nipple or finger on baby’s lower lip in order to tease it open (this is where patience and practice come in…).

WAIT UNTIL BABY’S MOUTH IS WIDE OPEN BEFORE GETTING HIM ON. Whatever you need to do to get his mouth open, do that thing.

** As a practical matter, this part is hard. The reason is because your baby will be crying out of hunger and possibly flailing around. Your instinct will be to get him latched on as soon as humanly possible because OMAGAH, he is starving – just listen to that crying(!!) – and I need to get him food, STAT!

Resist this urge to rush through it. Have someone talk you through it to keep your head straight. Remember that baby is not going to die by having to wait an extra 30 seconds to get milk (although it will feel this way).

5. When his lower jaw is gaping open, pull him onto your breast, scooping as much of the lower areola in his mouth as possible (see below). Scoop, SCOOP, you can do it!

Sketches by Jack Newman, M.D.

6. Ouch, I know. NOW: Count backwards from 10 to 1.

When your baby first latches on, a little pain is normal. This will go away over time. I used to scream out: MAMMMMA MIA!!!

However, if the pain is not improving after you’ve counted down to 1, something probably ain’t right. You need to remove him and start over.

This process can be very frustrating and requires a LOT of patience and a little bit of bullet-biting. The problem, you see, is that unlatching your baby can also be painful. Dang, that suck is strong!!! It’s like having a little piranha attached to your boob.

To unlatch your baby, wedge your thumb or your pinky into the corner of his mouth or under his lip in order to break the suction. Yes, he will freak out and cry. IT’S OKAY. If he latched on poorly, he can cause a lot of damage in a very short amount of time, so do get him off asap and try again.

Yes, it’s frustrating. You may cry out in pain and/or frustration.

It’s okay.

This is all normal (sorry). Keep your eyes on the prize.

This is what a successful latch will look like (below). You will also know because it won’t be very painful after the first 15 seconds or so.

Sketches by Jack Newman, M.D.

In time… your little rock star self will be able to get your baby on in the dark with your hands tied behind your back. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature. In the meantime, take your time. Practice makes perfect.

There is sooooo much to say about breastfeeding, but I really wanted to focus on the latch. For more information about how to get started breastfeeding, check out La Leche League. Another wonderful web-based reference is KellyMom.com. Sadly, there aren’t many great books out there on the topic, but a good one is The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

If you desperately need a laugh about the situation, I highly recommend the book Breastfeeding is a Bitch (But, we lovingly do it anyway) by Cassi Clark.

You’re gonna have a baby soon, squeeeee!

Oh, won’t you tell a friend? I’d be much obliged.

See also:

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