Breastfeeding Latch: The First Fundamental of Breastfeeding

Anna | March 4, 2023

Knowledge you’ll get from this article:

For new mamas, breastfeeding can be a daunting experience. To help, it’s important to understand the basics of a good latch. Signs of a good latch include your baby’s mouth open wide, lips flared out, chin touching breast, and a line from their ear, shoulder, and hip.

To improve the latch, take a breastfeeding course, get comfortable, bring baby to you, and practice. If these tips don’t work, try hand-expressing, checking for tongue tie, using a nipple shield, and getting expert help.

Let’s jump right in…

A good latch means your baby is properly positioned and attached to your breast, allowing them to effectively and comfortably remove milk. A poor latch, on the other hand, can lead to problems such as nipple pain, cracked or bleeding nipples, and a decreased milk supply.

Baby breastfeeding with a good latch.

Signs of a Good Latch

  1. Wide mouth angle
  2. Flared lips
  3. Ear, shoulder, and hip aligned
  4. The chin touching the breast
Signs of a good breastfeeding latch include a baby's wide mouth angle; flared lips; ear, shoulder, and hip aligned; and the chin touching the breast

Let’s review each point in more detail…

A good latch means your baby is effectively taking in milk and getting the nutrition they need. Signs of a good latch include:

Signs of a Shallow Latch

A shallow latch is when your baby takes in only your nipple and not enough of your breast tissue. Signs of a shallow latch include:

  • Pain: Breastfeeding should not be painful although you may be sensitive for the first two weeks. If you’re experiencing pain, it may be a sign of a poor latch.
  • Cracked or bleeding nipples: This can result from an incompetent latch.
  • Clicking sound: When a baby is unable to maintain a good latch, you may notice a clicking or smacking sound during feeding. This sound occurs because the baby is repeatedly readjusting and attempting to relatch with each suck.
  • Pinched nipple after feeding: If your nipple appears pinched after feeding, it may indicate that your baby is not latching deeply enough to take in enough breast tissue. This can result in the baby sucking primarily on the nipple, rather than the nipple and the surrounding areola.
  • Milk leaking from the mouth: If you notice milk leaking from your baby’s mouth while feeding, it may be a sign of a poor latch. This can occur when the baby is not properly attached to the breast and is not effectively extracting milk.
  • Milk Supply Decreasing: If you notice a decrease in milk supply, it’s a good idea to check for signs of a good latch and compare them to the symptoms of a shallow latch to see if that could be the cause.
Baby breastfeeding with a shallow latch.

How to Improve Latch

Improving your baby’s latch may take some practice, but here are some tips to help:

  • Take a breastfeeding course: A professional breastfeeding course can teach you about proper positioning and latch techniques. We offer both in-person and online breastfeeding courses. Learn about our in-person classes or online courses. The class covers the following topics that help improve latch.
  • Proper positioning: Take a look at the “Signs of a Good Latch” mentioned earlier, and then experiment with different breastfeeding positions to find the one that works best for you and your baby.
  • Get comfortable: To create an environment that supports a proper latch, it’s important for both you and your baby to feel comfortable. Gather pillows, sit in your favorite chair, or relax in bed. When you’re both comfortable, you’re more likely to successfully establish a proper latch.
  • Bring baby to you: Don’t hunch over* to bring the breast to your baby; instead, bring your baby to your breast with your arm and hand (hand supporting the neck).
  • Try again: Practice is key. Keep trying until you get a good latch. It may take multiple attempts in one nursing session. Don’t get discouraged if you both need multiple tries.
  • Skin-to-skin contact: Skin-to-skin contact can help your baby feel more relaxed and comfortable during breastfeeding.

*Breastfeeding, especially with newborns, can be a lengthy process. If you’re hunching over, you could develop backache and other issues in the long run.

Newborn breastfeeding to show the latch.

Additional Breastfeeding Latch Guidance from an IBCLC

With the information above, you may be able to resolve any latch issues you may encounter. As IBCLCs, we work with many new mamas who have experienced more complicated breastfeeding issues, such as engorgement, tongue ties, and flat or inverted nipples. If the advice above hasn’t helped you properly latch, read through the next few sections to see if you or your baby might have other issues to resolve.

Hand Express to Relieve Engorgement

Engorgement can make it difficult for your baby to latch correctly. If you are experiencing engorgement, try hand-expressing some milk or doing reverse pressure softening before breastfeeding to soften the breast and make it easier for your baby to latch.

Check for Tongue Tie

A tongue tie is a condition where the baby’s tongue movement is restricted due to a thick or tight frenulum, making it difficult for the baby to latch and suckle properly. If you suspect your baby may have a tongue tie, consult with an IBCLC to determine the best course of action.

Baby breastfeeding with a nipple shield.

Temporarily Use a Nipple Shield

In some cases, a nipple shield can be used to improve the latch. A nipple shield is a silicone cover that fits over the nipple and areola to make it easier for the baby to latch.

Watch our ~8-minute video on nipple shields.

Get Expert Breastfeeding Help

Breastfeeding can be challenging, but it should never be painful. If you experience severe pain or discomfort during breastfeeding, reach out for help. A lactation consultant can provide expert help and advice to improve your latch and make breastfeeding a comfortable and enjoyable experience for you and your baby.

If you find that these suggestions aren’t resolving your breastfeeding challenges, don’t hesitate to seek help. We are available for consultations, so feel free to reach out any time to schedule one.