Health Notes

Breastfeeding: It All Comes Down to Latch

by Katina Granger on August 3, 2017

It’s the most important part of breastfeeding, yet it can also be the most challenging. Nearly every breastfeeding mom will ask the same question as their baby learns to breastfeed: “Is this a good latch or not?”

“A good latch feels like a pull/tug, not a pinch,” said Kolene Moore, a certified lactation consultant at Methodist Women’s Hospital. “The baby’s mouth needs to be wide open like the letter K. You will see baby’s lips are flared out beautifully and chin dropped down.”

Latch is the moment where everything comes together. Baby takes in the breast and begins to suck, drawing out mom’s milk. But improper positioning of mom, baby and breast can make the feeding process more difficult.

“Problems that can arise from an improper latch include nipple soreness, cracking and damage,” said Karen Bagniewski, a lactation consultant with Methodist Physicians Clinic. “This can lead to nipple infection, which can in turn lead to mastitis.”

“Without good latch, baby may not get enough to eat,” said Moore. “Baby could then run the risk of dehydration, jaundice, not enough wets and stools appropriate for age, or losing greater than 10 percent of their body weight.”

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So what do moms need to do to achieve a good latch?

It starts with how you hold your baby. Start by sitting in a place with great back support and grab a couple of pillows. You want the pillows positioned on your lap to give baby a boost up closer to the breast. Bring baby to you, rather than the other way around.

“If you have that baby up at breast level it’s going to do two things,” said Moore “Mom’s not going to bend over and curve her back to try and get to baby, and baby’s not going to put undue tension on the nipple trying to get hold of it.”

Next, make sure your baby is facing you.

“Posture and support for the baby are key to facilitate good milk transfer,” said Bagniewski. “Baby should be tummy to tummy with the mother and the baby’s hips should be flexed and not dangling. Baby’s shoulders and hips should align with baby’s arms and hands are typically around and somewhat holding the breast.”

“It’s absolutely perfect for infant vision so they can see their momma as best they can with those little newborn eyes,” said Moore.

Once position of mom and is correct, the next position moms need to consider is breast and baby’s mouth. In order to get it right, mom needs to take matters into their own hands.

“We want moms get their hands on the breast, compress it a little further,” said Moore. “They need to get that nipple directed deeply into the mouth. The first two thirds of the baby’s mouth is a hard palate – the roof of the mouth – then after that it’s soft palate. You want to get the nipple to reach the soft palate so it’s not rubbing on that bony structure throughout the entire feeding.”

“One of the most common misconceptions that I hear from new moms is, ‘I know it’s normal for breastfeeding to hurt in the beginning.’ This is not true,” said Bagniewski. “Careful assessment of latch should occur from the very first feeding after delivery to prevent sore nipples.”

How do you know baby has latched on properly?

  • You can see baby’s tongue when you pull down the bottom lip
  • Baby’s ears wiggle
  • There is circular movement of the jaw rather than rapid chin movement
  • Baby’s cheeks are rounded
  • You don’t hear clicking or smacking noises
  • You hear baby swallowing
  • Baby’s chin is touching your breast
  • When baby comes off the breast, the nipple is not flattened or misshaped
  • Any discomfort ends quickly after getting the baby latched on
  • Baby ends feeding looking relaxed and satisfied

If you need help ensuring you know how to achieve a successful latch, it is available for all moms from lactation consultants at Methodist Women’s Hospital, Methodist Physicians Clinic and Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital.

World Breastfeeding Week is August 1st through 7th.

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