Breastfeeding: The Importance of Getting the Proper Latch and Maintaining It
How the baby latches on to the breast is one of the most important ingredients in the breastfeeding relationship. How the baby latches on affects mom and baby. A good latch benefits baby because it enables him/her to suckle effectively, drawing out an adequate amount of milk from the breast. A good latch benefits mom because it helps reduce the risk of sore and chewed nipples, bleeding nipples, raw nipples, and chafed nipples (from the baby’s mouth causing friction against the nipple, and/or the baby pulling on the nipple with his/her mouth – trying feverishly to get milk from the breast due to improper latch).
How can a mother help her baby to properly latch on? Most importantly, a mother should watch for her baby’s feeding cues. When babies are hungry and ready to nurse, they will exhibit many behaviors. There are early, mid, and late feeding cues to watch for. The early feeding cues are wiggling around, moving arms or moving legs, rooting, and sticking hands or fingers in the mouth. Mid-stage hunger cues include becoming fussier, high pitched noises, restless, and intermittent crying. The late-stage of hunger cues include full cries, screaming, and turning red. A mother will want to get the baby to her breast in the early stage of hunger cues. This will make it easier for mom to get the baby on the breast properly. When a baby is crying (as when in the late stage of hunger), it is nearly impossible to get the baby to latch on properly. The baby will need time to cool down and relax, and be consoled by the mother, before attempting to nurse again.
To get a proper latch, there are several steps. The first step is to sit with the baby (the mother and the baby should be tummy to tummy). Next, the mother should hold the breast near the baby’s mouth. Then, the mother should touch the nipple to the lower lip of the baby. Finally, when the baby opens his/her mouth wide, pull the baby in, to latch on to the breast. There are some signs to look for that will ensure that the baby is latched on properly. Signs of a good latch are:
- Cheeks are rounded
- Mom can hear the baby swallowing
- The ears move
- Baby falls off the breast after feeding, or is very relaxed after feeding
The mother should never hear a clicking or smacking noise, the cheeks should never be dimpled, and the nipple should never feel like it’s rubbing against the roof of the baby’s mouth. These are signs of an improper latch, and the mother should break the seal caused by the latch and try again.
There are several reasons why the latch should be maintained. One is that it keeps breastfeeding related discomforts, such as sore, cracked, and irritated nipples, to a minimal. When a good latch is maintained, it also lessens the risk of the mom becoming engorged because the baby is able to suckle properly, maintaining good milk flow and emptying of the breast. Maintenance of a good latch also ensures that baby is satiated, and getting enough milk for proper nutrition, hydration, weight gain, and development.