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Why a good latch is so important
With a good latch, your baby is securely fastened onto your breast and feeding well. These photos and video show how to get a good latch.
With a poor latch, your baby doesn't get enough milk, and your nipples will hurt. A bad latch is the primary cause of cracked or bleeding nipples. It can also lead to problems such as clogged milk ducts, mastitis, and low milk supply.
If you or your baby is struggling with breastfeeding, contact a lactation consultant for help right away. Small adjustments, especially how you position yourself and your baby, can make a big difference.
Note: Although your nipples might feel sore when you first start breastfeeding, a good latch shouldn't hurt. If your pain continues or is severe, see a lactation consultant.
Get comfortable and position your baby
Sit upright in a comfortable position. You may want a pillow on your lap to help support your baby. Position your baby so that her head and body are in a straight line. She should be facing you with her nose near your nipple.
Position your nipple between your baby's upper lip and nose, then encourage her to open wide by gently tickling her upper lip with your nipple. Your baby will start rooting – looking for your breast with her mouth open. Pull her to your breast (rather than bringing your breast to her mouth) and aim your nipple toward the roof of her mouth.
Check your nipple position
As your baby latches on, her chin should touch your breast first and her upper lip should close around your breast last, ensuring she gets a big mouthful of breast tissue, primarily the lower part of your areola and the breast beneath. You might still see a bit of your areola on top.
Your nipple should end up far back inside your baby's mouth. If the latch isn't deep enough, you'll probably feel pain because your nipple will be pressed against the hard roof of your baby's mouth and her tongue will be stroking your nipple.
Check your baby's lip position
Your baby's lips will open wide around your breast. You'll feel her tongue and mouth pull your breast – not just your nipple – into her mouth. Her lips should be turned outward, though you might not be able to see her bottom lip.
When she's latched on well, you may hear her swallowing or see her jaw working as her tongue massages your lower breast.
As your baby nurses, hold her close. You may want to support your breast, especially if your breasts are large. Her chin should press against you, but her nose should be clear to breathe. Check that her head and body stay in a straight line, so she doesn't have to turn her head.
You might need to experiment with different nursing positions or pillows to find what works well for you and your baby.
If latching hurts, try again
If the latch is painful or seems incorrect, gently slide a clean finger into the side of your baby's mouth and between her gums. This will break the suction so you can reposition your baby and try again.
You also might need to release her latch if she falls asleep on your breast. But if your baby seems to be feeding contentedly and you're comfortable, let her nurse until she's emptied the breast, when she will likely stop sucking and release your breast on her own.
Getting help with breastfeeding
Becoming comfortable with breastfeeding can take time – for you and your baby. If either of you is struggling or your nipples hurt, get help as soon as possible.
A lactation consultant can address a poor latch and other problems. Your doctor or midwife, your baby's doctor, breastfeeding support groups, and other moms can also be supportive resources.
Learn more about getting a good latch
- Breastfeeding positions that work
- 5 nursing lessons from moms who know (video)
- Why your nipples hurt and what to do