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What a Good Latch is...And is Not.

A good latch means good attachment to your breast, not just your nipple.

It is a mouthful of breast that positions the nipple far back in your baby’s mouth. Their jaw is wide open and relaxed. When your baby nurses, their jaw moves from front to back, with a visible wave that starts at the chin and ends at the ear. You feel a rhythmic tugging on your nipple. Your baby’s cheeks, chin and nose have good contact with your breast.

A bad latch is when your baby is sucking on your nipple like a bottle nipple

The reason a bad latch doesn’t work is because breastmilk does not flow by mere suction, like with a bottle nipple. Instead milk flows with compressing and massaging your breast and nipple.

Similarly a breast pump doesn’t work by sucking out milk.

The intermittent vacuum stretches and releases the nipple, stimulating the release of oxytocin, contracting the smooth breast muscle, releasing the milk, and collecting it in a bottle. Yes, pumps suck, but they also release, and that is why they are different.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

The easiest way to get comfortable is to lean back against pillows, in a semi-reclining position with your baby in your arms. You can help your baby take the nipple with their mouth and nose very close to your nipple, or you can wait. A well-positioned and relaxed baby opens their mouth wide, and compresses your nipple deeply in their mouth.

Try not to latch and re-latch, over and over again.

Each time your baby clamps down, it bruises your nipple.

Your baby should be belly to belly. Check that their ear, shoulder and hip are in a line, body straight and square, and chin level, not tipped up or tucked down. Their nose, chin and both cheeks are touching your breast.

If it hurts, brace yourself. Wait for your baby to start suckling. When they are focused on nursing, you can make the adjustments you need to be comfortable, by gently shifting your baby's body, into a better position.

Making adjustments and getting comfortable.

  1. Lean back. Check your body— drop your shoulders back and down. Relax into your pillows, without your baby at first. If you are not completely comfortable, move the pillows around. Don’t forget to support your feet, maybe an ottoman, pillow or foot stool? And don’t forget a pillow under your elbow. (This is a good place for your Boppy or Brestfriend.)

  2. After your baby attaches, pull their whole body in closely, so that you can’t see their lips any more. Their chin and nose are touching your breast, and both cheeks are touching your breast. Their whole body is tucked in closely with yours.

  3. If you are holding your breast with one hand, gently ease it out, adjusting slowly so your baby doesn’t lose their attachment. Use the freed hand to support your other arm, or your baby, with it.

  4. Move your arms, shoulders and hands to align your baby’s body, so their ear, shoulder and hip are in a straight line. The idea is not to grab their head or their arm or leg, but to move your arms and hands so they wiggle, slump, or are compressed into a better position.

  5. Gently shift your baby’s whole body to the left, and then to the right, and find the sweet spot where it’s most comfortable. This is also the way you can give them more room to breathe through their nose. Shift about 1/2” in one direction and ask yourself if it’s better or worse. Repeat this. You are trying to get your nipple centered so it’s not too far to the left or right as your baby nurses.

  6. Gently roll your baby’s whole body slowly up, and then slowly down, again to find the sweet spot, where breastfeeding is most comfortable. You are again trying to get your breast and nipple positioned so your baby is not pulling it up or down causing your nipple strain and discomfort.

These slow adjustments almost always relieve a painful latch, or at least reduce your pain, to a bearable level. In the photo below, with the baby in pink, the mom reported a 9 out of 10 before we started. After these steps, she reported a 1 or 2 out of 10. You can see she is relaxed.

Relaxation and alignment are the best pain relievers we have for everything, not just breastfeeding.

Good alignment reduces strain, not just on your body, but also on your nipple, and that is why this step-by-step adjustment works.

When you have learned how to have a comfortable latch in one position, your baby can learn to nurse in any position, on your lap, by your side, standing, or dozing in a baby carrier. Your baby can nurse even when you are standing on your head during your yoga practice!

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