Latching And Positioning; Getting You And Your Baby Off To A Great Start

Latching and Positioning

Before you became a mum, did you ever think to yourself that you’d ever have any difficulties with getting your baby to stay at the breast? If you answered NO, then welcome to my world. In my mind, what could be hard or difficult about getting a baby to stay at the breast? When the time finally came for me, it was such a huge shock! First off, the first latch was ‘weird’. It wasn’t exactly painful; it was just surprising how forceful it was at first. Afterward, it seemed to get better up till the following day when I began to feel sore around my nipple area. Depending on which ‘African’ relative you ask, you may get answers such as: ‘Oh it’s normal, we all went through it, you’ll feel better in a couple of days’ OR ‘Oh didn’t they tell you that you have to vigorously clean your nipples just before your baby’s first feed? Here let me help you’ OR ‘Oh just breastfeed, your baby’s mouth will heal the sore’. As you may already know, NONE of these answers is the right one! Very often, mums experience nipple soreness due to an improper latch or positioning. Here’s all you need to know:

Early Initiation

The World Health Organisation recommends that breastfeeding commences within the first hour of delivery. This has been linked with a higher chance of breastfeeding success. Once your baby is out, even before the cord is clamped, he should be placed skin to skin with you. The mother’s body is known to be the ‘habitat’ for her newborn. When babies are placed skin to skin after delivery, babies have been seen to crawl towards the breast to latch on themselves. This ‘breast crawl’ is facilitated by the fact that your nipples have the same smell as the amniotic fluid that protected your child during pregnancy. This instinct is peculiar to mammals and humans are not exempt. If you decide to attempt this with your baby, discussing with your birth team can be very helpful. The entire process takes from 20-70 minutes in total. these babies have been found to latch on better and may save you the pain from your nipples being sore.

Latch On Techniques

For a good latch, you should fulfill these requirements:

  • Audible swallowing. You should be able to hear your baby gulping. You should see jaw movement that may extend to the ears
  • The latch should be deep. Try running your tongue along the roof of your mouth from front to back. You’ll notice a change in texture from rough to smooth towards the middle of your roof. The smooth area is called the ‘soft palate’. This is the part of your baby’s mouth you want to aim towards. If your latch is shallow, your nipples rest along the hard palate causing abrasion and poor transfer of milk
  • Your baby’s lips should be flanged outwards and his nose should be free to breathe
  • You should not feel pain

For a proper, deep latch, you should:

  • Start off by getting in a comfortable position. Newborns love to nurse and you may find yourself seated in a place for quite a while. If you need pillows to prop yourself up, then do so. If you need a footstool, backrest or even a glass of water, keep them close by.
  • Notice your baby’s ‘early’ hunger cues. Crying is a late sign of hunger and can make latching quite difficult to handle. If your baby is alert, rooting and seems fussy, she’s likely hungry
  • Now that you’re comfy, bring your baby towards you. Support his head and neck with one hand. Tilt his head backward slightly
  • Hold your breast at the edge of your areola between your thumb and forefinger. Bring your baby’s chin towards the lower part of your breast with his lower lip far away from the nipple. Hold your breast like you would hold a sandwich; this is called the ‘C’ hold. Or you may hold it between your forefinger and middle finger; the scissors hold. This helps compresses the breast so your baby can get a mouthful of it.
  • Tease his upper lip with your nipple several times till he opens wide.
  • When he opens wide, aim your nipple towards the roof of his mouth, allowing his chin to take in more of the areola below the nipple as much as possible
  • Remember, bring your baby to breast, not breast to baby! Practice makes perfect! If at first, you fail, then try again!

A lactation specialist can help resolve issues, especially with latching and positioning. The success of your breastfeeding journey is mostly dependent on getting this right. Please seek out a breastfeeding specialist if you’re unable to do this on your own.

Positioning  Techniques

If you think the only position to breastfeed in is being seated with your baby in your lap, you’re wrong. While this position is the most common, it is not the only position you can feed your baby. Imagine your nipple to be a football. Now a football can be kicked from any angle between 0 and 360 degrees. The same goes for your nipple. You can position your baby from any of the angles as long as you both are comfortable. I’ll just briefly describe a few positions:

  • Laid Back Position: This is a personal favorite. Babies love this position and they tend to take in more of the breast allowing you to get a deeper latch this way. For the laid back position, mum is either lying down or reclined. Your baby should be placed on your abdomen and should fit within the crook of your elbow leaving your other arm free. Human babies are natural ventral feeders and so this position is ideal for them.
  • Football/Clutch Hold: in this position, your baby is tucked under your arm and should lie on the side you’re feeding him. His head should be in your palm. You can prop him up with pillows so you’re not slouched forward. I found this position super helpful in the early weeks. It allows for a deeper latch thanks partly to gravity.
  • Cradle Hold: this is the commonly used type of positioning. Your baby is placed in your lap with his head and bottom supported by your arms. In this position, he’s facing you with his abdomen directly facing yours.

These three are the most commonly used positions. There are still several others including the cross-cradle, double football hold, side-lying position etc. Feel free to come up with your own modified positioning.

If you have any questions, please drop it in the comment box or send me a mail at: Maryam.sanuth@breastfeedingng.com

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