A good latch is the strong foundation you need to have a successful breastfeeding experience. A healthy latch will reduce nipple soreness and encourage your baby to suckle deeply, which stimulates your milk to flow. Sometimes a good latch comes easily, but in many cases, you will need to work with your baby to get the latch you need. This is the first time for your baby to breastfeed too! And don’t worry, soon enough you and your baby will be breastfeeding easily, and you won’t even have to think about it. It may take some work to get there, but you can most likely meet your breastfeeding goals.
Emotions and Stress
First of all, take a deep breath, close your eyes. You’ve got this momma. Your body is capable. Your breasts are capable. It may take some time and some work. But in almost all cases, mommas can breastfeed their babies. It is, in fact, what your breasts are built to do! When you are having a hard time getting a good latch it can be very stressful and emotional.
Seek out and be around other breastfeeding mothers. La Leche League is always a good place to start, but you can also ask a local lactation consultant if they know of any other breastfeeding groups. Your local midwives are great sources of this kind of information, as are local natural parenting stores. Being present with other breastfeeding mothers as they nurse their babies can be extremely reassuring. And there is something almost tribal about being around a group of breastfeeding mothers that is very comforting. It’s a connection we have that is very unique and universal.
If you find that you are getting too upset while working to breastfeed your baby, take a break. Give yourself and your baby a few minutes to calm down. Also, start a breastfeeding session before your baby gets so hungry that they are crying. A crying and upset baby is much harder to get latched on than a relaxed and calm baby. Be aware of your babies earlier hunger cues, such as rooting around, opening her mouth, and turning her head towards you when you pick her up, so that you can respond to them earlier, rather than when your baby has gotten upset.
Nurse Immediately After Birth
Your babies first instinct is to root around, find your nipple, and nurse. You can encourage this by placing your baby skin to skin - naked expect for a diaper- on your naked chest close to your breasts. A newborn that is placed on a mother’s stomach will even crawl and root it’s way around to find a nipple! Your baby is amazing!
Encouraging your babies natural breastfeeding instincts and start nursing as soon after birth as possible. The golden hour is one hour after birth. This is the most optimal time to get skin to skin and start nursing and establishing a healthy immune system and breastfeeding relationship. It will also help to contract your uterus, helping it to return to its pre-pregnant size and reduce your bleeding.
It is hard to settle into a cozy nursing session when your back is aching, or your arms are numb from holding the baby for so long. Make sure that you are comfortable and that your body, including your arms, is well supported. Use pillows to prop yourself up and if baby is positioned horizontally across your body, a pillow to support your babies body.
You can also try “laid back” breastfeeding. In this way of breastfeeding, you recline back in about a 45 degree angle and get comfortable. Your baby can be placed on your body so that her body is in line with yours and her head is at the level of your nipple. This position encourages a wide, deep latch, where your baby has almost all of the bottom part of your areola in her mouth, and her nose is in line with her bottom lip. It also encourages your babies natural rooting reflexes, so that she will help as much as she can with the latch.
Encourage Your Baby to Open Wide
Your baby is stimulated to suckle when she feels your nipple in the back of her mouth. For this reason, it is important that you get as much of your nipple and areola in your babies mouth as possible. If you have small, flat, or inverted nipples, this can be challenging. One trick is to grasp your breast with a “C” shaped grip, so that you are compressing the breast tissue. This gives your baby a smaller amount of breast to try to latch on to, and also helps to protrude your nipple.
Your baby should have a very wide open mouth before she latches on and starts suckling. You can encourage your baby to open wide by gently touching your nipple around your babies mouth. She will respond by opening wide and moving her head around, trying to find your nipple.
You want to make sure that your baby's lips are opened wide, and not sucked back in over her gums. Sometimes it is tricky to tell, especially with her bottom lip, but it is important to make sure. You can gently pull on your babies bottom lip to pull it out of her mouth, sometimes without breaking the latch. However, it is better to break the latch and start over if you need to.
Take a look at your nipple after your baby has fed for a while. Is it flat across the top, or sloped like a new tube of lipstick? If it is sloped, you need to work on getting an even amount of breast tissue in your babies mouth.
There will most likely be some discomfort associated with breastfeeding at first. Your breasts are not used to this much stimulation, and some soreness is normal. We make a wonderful herbal nipple salve that can ease nipple pain caused from breastfeeding. What is not normal is soreness that extends for more than a few minutes into a feeding session. If it hurts for the entire feeding session, most likely it means there is a latch issues. Unlatch your baby by inserting your finger into your babies mouth to break the seal, and start again.
Many of us don’t grow up seeing other women breastfeeding, although this is changing! Because of this, we don’t know what normal breastfeeding looks like, we don’t know how mother’s interact with their babies in relation to nursing. It’s hard to understand the patterns and rhythms of breastfeeding if you have not ever spent any length of time around nursing mothers. If you are having latch issues, reach out and ask for help. Your care provider, local midwives, certified lactation consultants, and La Leche League are all great resources.
It’s okay to ask for help. It’s normal to not know what to do. There are so many resources available to help you, and to help give you the confidence you need to complete your breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be. You can let your love and milk flow!