Latch on Techniques for Breastfeeding

If you are a mom that is struggling to get your baby to latch on, you may be feeling frustrated, emotional, and defeated.  Breastfeeding is supposed to be a natural process and yet your baby just can’t get it figured out.  When you look for advice, you may find that the instructions for latching on are so complicated and contain so many details that you just can’t keep it all straight.  Moreover, the information you may have been given on how to latch, even from the professionals, may not be working for you.  If you’ve tried getting your baby to latch and she just won’t do it, we are here to help with easy advice on how to get your baby to latch.  Take a deep breath and read on.

Before you sit down to nurse

Watch for hunger cues:  Before you try to sit down and nurse your baby, it’s important to make sure you are relaxed and that your baby is not too hungry and frustrated.  Watch her for hunger cues.  When she’s starting to get hungry, she may suck on her fingers or hands, smack or lick her lips, root around, squirm, or fuss.  If she starts frantically sucking on her fingers or crying, these are later hunger cues.  If you wait until she’s very hungry and frustrated, latching on will be more difficult, especially if she’s already gotten accustomed to the instant gratification that goes along with bottle feeding.  Try to offer her the breast when she first shows signs of being hungry.

Pick a comfortable position:  Find a position that is comfortable for you.  You may want to use a nursing pillow to help you get comfortable.  One of the easiest positions for beginners is the cradle hold.  If you are using a nursing pillow, you may find a variation of the cradle hold called the cross-cradle hold, works best.  See LLLI’s How do I position my baby to breastfeed?

Once you’re comfortable you can try latching on.  Here are a few of the most common techniques for latching on.  You may want to try more than one method to see which feels right and works best for you.

Most common techniques for latching on

Bulls-eye latch:  This is one of the oldest methods for latching on.  This is most likely the technique you were taught in the hospital.  This technique works best with the cradle hold.  With this method, you hold your breast with your free hand and tickle your baby’s lip with your nipple.  When your baby feels your nipple on her mouth, she will open up her mouth instinctively.  Wait until she opens her mouth wide and then attempt latching on. 

When her mouth is opened wide, position your nipple towards the center of her mouth and quickly pull her in towards you using the arm that is supporting her head.  You want to get as much of the areola into her mouth as possible.  Make sure she gets plenty of areola in her mouth.  She will not be able to remove as much milk from your breast if she is only sucking on the nipple.  And, this type of shallow latch often results in nipple soreness.

Helpful link: 
Proper Positioning and Latch-on Skills

Asymmetric latch:  The asymmetric latch is similar to the bulls-eye latch, but instead of trying to get baby centered onto the nipple, baby is latched slightly off-centered.  With this method baby gets more breast tissue close to her lower jaw and tongue.  If you look at the diagram you will see that instead of getting some areola tissue above the nipple and some areola tissue below the nipple, she is getting a lot more of the breast tissue below the nipple in contact with her lower jaw.  By having more tissue contacting your baby’s tongue and lower jaw, baby is better able to remove milk. This latch may also feel more comfortable for mom.

It’s easiest to use the cross-cradle hold when using the asymmetric latch.  Tickle your baby’s lip with your nipple, like you would with the bulls-eye latch, and wait for her to open wide.  When she opens wide, aim her mouth just below your nipple, so that her lower lip and chin are lined up a little below your nipple.  Your goal is for her to connect with your areola first and then the nipple.  When she gets the areola into her mouth, quickly bring her mouth over the nipple so that she has both the areola and the nipple in her mouth. 

Helpful links:
Asymmetric latch instructions and pictures
Asymmetrical latch photo tutorial
Asymmetric latch videos

Nipple Sandwich technique:  To help your baby get more of the breast tissue into her mouth you can try the nipple sandwich technique.  When your baby tries to latch onto your breast, she may have a hard time getting enough tissue in her mouth.  If you think of your breast like a thick submarine sandwich, it’s easy to understand why.  When you hold onto a sandwich to take a bite, what do you do?  You squish it so the bread fits into your mouth.  You don’t just try to bite into it.  This is the rationale of the nipple sandwich technique.  Think about the position of your baby’s mouth when she “takes a bite” of the nipple sandwich.  You want your breast to be compressed (vertically if she’s lying across your lap or horizontally if you’re using the football hold) so that when she latches on, she doesn’t have to work so hard to get it all in her mouth.

Helpful links: 
Positioning and nipple sandwich technique with pictures
Nipple Sandwich with a twist
Deep latch technique

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