What Is a Breastfeeding Latch?

Definition, Techniques, and Information

A new born breast feeding
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A breastfeeding latch is how a baby attaches to his mother's breast to breastfeed. The way your child latches on can determine how successful you will be at breastfeeding. When your baby attaches to your breast correctly, the movements of her jaw and tongue squeeze the milk ducts below the areola to remove the breastmilk from your breast. The consistent removal of your breast milk allows your child to get all the nutrition he needs to gain weight and grow at a steady rate.

It also signals your body to continue to make more breast milk

A Proper Breastfeeding Latch

When your baby latches on to your breast, he should have your entire nipple and about an inch of the surrounding areola in his mouth. His tongue should be down, and his lips should be turned out against your breast. You should hear your baby swallowing, and there shouldn't be any clicking or smacking sounds as he's sucking.

Should a Breastfeeding Latch be Painful?

You may feel a little bit of nipple tenderness when your baby first latches on, and that's normal. But, in general, you shouldn't feel any pain while you're breastfeeding. Pain is a sign of a problem, and the most common reason for breastfeeding pain is a poor latch. 

Breastfeeding Latch, Breast Milk Supply, and Breast Problems

A good breastfeeding latch is necessary to build and maintain a healthy supply of breast milk for your baby. If your newborn isn't latching on well and removing the breast milk from your breasts, it could cause your milk supply to go down.

A poor latch can also lead to some of the common problems of breastfeeding such as sore nipplesbreast engorgementplugged milk ducts, and mastitis (a breast infection).

Two Breastfeeding Latch Techniques

The Traditional Latch: When you think of a breastfeeding latch, you're probably picturing a traditional latch.

The traditional latch is the most common latch technique. When you latch your baby on in this way, you attach your baby to your breast with his mouth centered around your nipple and areola like a bulls-eye. You should be able to see an equal amount of your areola showing all around your little one's mouth.

The Asymmetrical Latch: The asymmetrical latch is a bit different. Instead of a bulls-eye latch, this technique places your child's mouth off-center on your breast. The baby will have more of your areola in his mouth near his chin and less of your areola in his mouth near his nose. So, you'll see more of your areola near your child's upper lip and nose, and less of your areola near the baby's bottom lip and chin. Your nipple will not be straight in your child's mouth but tilted high up toward the roof of his mouth. Your baby's chin will be pressing into your breast and his nose will be lightly touching your breast or not touching your breast at all.

An asymmetrical latch is thought to be more comfortable than a traditional latch. It is also believed to help a baby more efficiently remove breast milk from the breast. Moms with very large breasts may prefer an asymmetrical latch. Since this technique lifts the nose off the breast, it may put you more at ease especially if you're worried that the baby's nose might become blocked while breastfeeding.

Where to Go For Help with Your Baby's Latch

A good latch right from the start can make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable. So, investing some extra time into making sure your baby is latching on correctly, can make all the difference in how successful you are at breastfeeding and how long you decide to nurse your child. 

You should ask for help with your breastfeeding latch from the very first time you breastfeed. If you deliver in a hospital, your nurse or the hospital's lactation professional can show you how to hold and position your baby and how to latch her on to your breast the right way.

If you deliver at home, your doctor, midwife, doula, or support person can help you get breastfeeding off to a good start.

If, after a few days, your nipples become painfully sore, or you're not sure whether or not your baby is latching on properly, get help as soon as possible. Take your child to her health care provider for a weight check, and have your doctor, a breastfeeding specialist, or a local breastfeeding group evaluate your little one's latch and help you get back on track. The sooner you have the breastfeeding latch corrected, the better it will be for your baby, your breasts, and your milk supply.  

Sources

Almqvist‐Tangen G, Bergman S, Dahlgren J, Roswall J, Alm B. Factors associated with discontinuation of breastfeeding before one month of age. Acta Paediatrica. 2012 Jan 1;101(1):55-60.

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.

Santo LC, De Oliveira LD, Giugliani ER. Factors associated with low incidence of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Birth. 2007 Sep 1;34(3):212-9.

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