When chatting to women about their breastfeeding experience, whether it is in the past or the present, a common theme is the struggle to get breastfeeding going. Many report pain or discomfort – some women find the feeding process so uncomfortable they have tears in their eyes as they power through each feed to ensure their baby gets the nutrient they need to thrive.
The latch is so important and understanding the physiology of it is a great leap in the right direction towards a successful and beneficial partnership between Mum and baby. For a baby to efficiently get all the wonderful breastmilk provided, it needs each feed to begin with a correct latch. The first rule: If the latch isn’t right, take baby off and try again!
This is easy for us to say but the reality is that this is a new language that you are both learning and may take some time before you are both fluent. Just like adults, the upper inside of your baby’s mouth has a hard palate (bone and skin) at the front, and a soft palate (skin) at the back. One of the key elements to a good latch is where your nipple lands in relation to these two parts. If your baby only draws a small amount of breast into their mouth, the nipple will be squashed between babies tongue and the hard palate. Ouch!! No wonder women experience sore and cracked nipples with a hungry baby desperately trying to draw that scrumptious milk.
Just as this is far from ideal for Mum, it is also less than beneficial for baby as they are less able to engage all the milk ducts and drain the milk. This, in turn, can impact milk supply and increase the risk of blocked ducts, soreness and mastitis.
So how do you get the latch right?
Start off by getting as much support as possible in those initial hours following baby’s arrival. Your midwife will be able to show you different positions and highlight what a good/poor latch looks like. It is also worth asking for your baby to be checked for a tongue tie, as this tiny little bit of skin connecting baby’s tongue to the bottom of their mouth can cause feeding problems.
Listening to your baby’s feeding cues can also help to avoid waiting until baby is over-hungry before feeding. A calmer baby will lead to a calmer feed and a much more relaxed Mum! It is also much easier to get a good feed going if everyone is relaxed from the start. Watch out for baby smacking their lips, putting their hands in her mouth or turning their open mouth from side to side looking for the nipple. If you do find that baby is restless, go back to basics and try some skin-to-skin time. Everyone likes a little cuddle!
You may find that certain positions are more comfortable than others and this can be impacted by the type of delivery you had. In the early days it may be easier to lie down on your side to feed or you may prefer the “Rugby Ball” technique holding baby under your arm to the side. This position gives you a great view of your baby as they are feeding. Aiming your nipple towards baby’s nose can prompt them to open their mouth nice and wide, giving you the green light to bring baby to the breast quickly, so that they draw the nipple to the back of their mouth.
The key is to keep baby and breast nice and close together so that your nipple remains in place. Keep checking that the latch hasn’t slipped throughout the feed and remember – if it hurts, take baby off and start again and keep asking for support from your maternity team for as long as you need it.