Getting a good latch

A baby latching to a woman's breast

Getting your baby to "latch on" properly can take some practice. You can try different breastfeeding holds to help your baby get a good latch. Learn signs of a good latch.

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How can I help my baby get a good latch while learning to breastfeed?

The steps below can help your newborn latch on to the breast to start sucking when he or she is ready. Letting your baby begin the process of searching for the breast may take some of the pressure off you and keeps the baby calm and relaxed. This approach to learning to breastfeeding is a more relaxed, baby-led latch. Sometimes called biological nurturing, laid-back breastfeeding, or baby-led breastfeeding, this style of breastfeeding allows your baby to lead and follow his or her instincts to suck.

Keep in mind that there is no one way to start breastfeeding. As long as the baby is latched on well, how you get there is up to you.

  • Create a calm environment first. Recline on pillows or other comfortable area. Be in a place where you can be relaxed and calm.
  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin. Hold your baby, wearing only a diaper, against your bare chest. Hold the baby upright between your breasts and just enjoy your baby for a while with no thoughts of breastfeeding yet.
  • Let your baby lead. If your baby is not hungry, she will stay curled up against your chest. If your baby is hungry, she will bob her head against you, try to make eye contact, and squirm around. Learn how to read your baby's hunger signs.
  • Support your baby, but don't force the latch. Support her head and shoulders as she searches for your breast. Avoid the temptation to help her latch on.
  • Allow your breast to hang naturally. When your baby's chin hits your breast, the firm pressure makes her open her mouth wide and reach up and over the nipple. As she presses her chin into the breast and opens her mouth, she should get a deep latch. Keep in mind that your baby can breathe at the breast. The nostrils flare to allow air in.

If you have tried the "baby-led" approach and your baby is still having problems latching on, try these tips:

  • Tickle the baby's lips with your nipple to encourage him or her to open wide.
  • Pull your baby close so that the baby's chin and lower jaw moves in to your breast.
  • Watch the baby's lower lip and aim it as far from the base of the nipple as possible so that the baby takes a large mouthful of breast.

An illustration of the "baby-led" approach described above.

What are signs of a good latch?

Signs of a good latch include the following:

  • The latch feels comfortable to you and does not hurt or pinch.
  • Your baby's chest rests against your body. Your baby does not have to turn his or her head while drinking.
  • You see little or no areola (the darker skin around the nipple), depending on the size of your areola and the size of your baby's mouth.
  • When your baby is positioned well, his or her mouth will be filled with breast.
  • The baby's tongue is cupped under the breast, so you might not see the baby's tongue.
  • You hear or see your baby swallow. Some babies swallow so quietly that a pause in their breathing may be the only sign of swallowing.
  • You see the baby's ears "wiggle" slightly.
  • Your baby's lips turn outward like fish lips, not inward. You may not even be able to see the baby's bottom lip.
  • Your baby's chin touches your breast.

What are some common breastfeeding latch problems?

Below are some common latch problems and how to deal with them.

  • You're in pain. Many moms say their breasts feel tender when they first start breastfeeding. A mother and her baby need time to find comfortable breastfeeding positions and a good latch. If breastfeeding hurts, your baby may be sucking on only the nipple, and not also on the areola (the darker skin around the nipple).

    Gently break your baby's suction to your breast by placing a clean finger in the corner of your baby's mouth. Then try again to get your baby to latch on. To find out if your baby is sucking only on your nipple, check what your nipple looks like when it comes out of your baby's mouth. Your nipple should not look flat or compressed. It should look round and long or the same shape as it was before the feeding.

    Get answers to common questions about breastfeeding and pain.

  • You or your baby feels frustrated. Take a short break and hold your baby in an upright position. Try holding your baby between your breasts with your skin touching his or her skin (called skin-to-skin). Talk or sing to your baby, or give your baby one of your fingers to suck on for comfort. Try to breastfeed again in a little while.
  • Your baby has a weak suck or makes tiny sucking movements. Your baby may not have a deep enough latch to suck the milk from your breast. Gently break your baby's suction to your breast by placing a clean finger in the corner of your baby's mouth. Then try to get your baby to latch on again. Talk with a lactation consultant or pediatrician if you are not sure if your baby is getting enough milk. But don't worry. A weak suck is rarely caused by a health problem.
  • Your baby may be tongue-tied. Babies with a tight or short lingual frenulum (the piece of tissue attaching the tongue to the floor of the mouth) are described as "tongue-tied." The medical term is ankyloglossia (An-ke-low-GLAH-SIA). These babies often find it hard to nurse. They may be unable to extend their tongue past their lower gum line or properly cup the breast during a feed. This can cause slow weight gain in the baby and nipple pain in the mother. If you think your baby may be tongue-tied, talk to your doctor.

What are some typical breastfeeding holds?

Some moms find that the following positions are helpful ways to get comfortable and support their babies while breastfeeding. You can also use pillows under your arms, elbows, neck, or back to give you added comfort and support. Keep trying different positions until you are comfortable. What works for one feeding may not work for the next feeding.

Clutch or "football" hold: useful if you had a C-section, or if you have large breasts, flat or inverted nipples, or a strong let-down reflex. This hold is also helpful for babies who like to be in a more upright position when they feed. Hold your baby at your side with the baby lying on his or her back and with his or her head at the level of your nipple. Support your baby's head by placing the palm of your hand at the base of his or her head.

Cross-cradle or transitional hold: useful for premature babies or babies with a weak suck because this hold gives extra head support and may help the baby stay latched. Hold your baby along the area opposite from the breast you are using. Support your baby's head at the base of his or her neck with the palm of your hand.

Cradle hold: an easy, common hold that is comfortable for most mothers and babies. Hold your baby with his or her head on your forearm and his or her body facing yours.

Laid-back hold (straddle hold): a more relaxed, baby-led approach. Lie back on a pillow. Lay your baby against your body with your baby's head just above and between your breasts. Gravity and an instinct to nurse will guide your baby to your breast. As your baby searches for your breast, support your baby's head and shoulders but don't force the latch.

Side-lying position: useful if you had a C-section, but also allows you to rest while the baby breastfeeds. Lie on your side with your baby facing you. Pull your baby close so your baby faces your body.

Illustrations of the breastfeeding holds described above.

Did we answer your question about getting a good latch?

For more information about getting a good latch or breastfeeding holds, call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations: