Latching Basics

Get comfortable and sit back with good back support. You’ll need to bring the baby to you. Avoid leaning over the baby and trying to push the breast into his mouth; this will most likely result in a backache and a poor latch.

Make sure the baby is turned in towards you, his head facing your breast, his body not facing the ceiling. It’s hard for anyone to swallow with his head turned to the side. (You can see this yourself: try to swallow while your head is turned to the side; compare it to swallowing while looking straight ahead.) The added tension this position creates usually results in a poor and often painful latch. Double-check that the baby’s position is correct by making sure his ear, shoulder, and hip are all in a straight line.

Support the baby’s head with your hand, using the hand on the side opposite to the breast being offered. Place your hand at the base of his neck, underneath the ears. Avoid putting your hand on the top of his head, as he may want to push back against your hand and end up further from the breast.

Place your nipple on the baby’s top lip, just under his nose. Wait until he opens wide.

Babies have a rooting reflex which consists of opening wide and then closing to start to suck. It’s easy to miss the wide-open mouth. Be patient, and try again if the mouth isn’t wide open. A narrow gape will result in a shallow, painful latch.

Aim the nipple toward the roof of the baby’s mouth and the lower lip as far from the base of the nipple as possible, so that he will draw lots of the breast into his mouth. This is called an “asymmetric latch,” because more of the bottom part of the areola is in his mouth.

If the latch is painful, something is wrong. Take the baby off and try again.

Remember that breastfeeding is a learned art for both of you. The more you practice, the better both of you will get. Fortunately, with a normal feeding pattern which includes 8-12 feedings per day, your baby will give you plenty of practice.

Dr. Nancy Brent is a former Kids Plus Provider and former Medical Director of our Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh.