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It's All About the Latch

Breastfeeding isn’t exactly going as planned? Well, you are certainly not alone! The majority of women experience some difficulties establishing breastfeeding for the first time. Expectant moms watch other women effortlessly breastfeeding their babies and assume: ‘How hard can it be?’What these expectant moms don’t realize is that these other women are probably coming out in public for the first time most likely months after the birth of their baby and previous to this outing, probably spent hours of trying and trying, becoming frustrated, crying, second guessing themselves and learning through trial and error. It can be challenging.

But if you educate yourself and seek support, breastfeeding will definitely become easier! The majority of issues involving breastfeeding can be directly linked to the latch: sore nipples, soreness while feeding, baby is fussy, baby doesn’t seem to be getting enough, plugged ducts, mastitis - all can most likely be resolved with an adjustment with the latch.

Here is what a proper latch should look and feel like:

Baby has a wide open mouth.

Baby’s lips are flanged (not tucked in).

Baby’s tongue is down.

Baby should have as much of the areola in their mouth as possible.

Baby’s nose and chin should be touching the breast.

Use a nursing pillow or regular pillow to support baby and make it more comfortable on your arms.

Often it is helpful to have a foot stool to raise your legs to also help properly support baby.

You should feel tugging but no pain.

Baby should not have any puckering or indentation in the checks. Their sucking comes from the jaw. You should see their little ears moving as their jaw moves.

Baby should be in alignment. Ear, shoulders and hips in a line, with baby’s tummy and chest touching mommy’s tummy and chest. (This, of course, is if you are using the traditional cross-cradle or cradle hold.)

Ideally, you should be supporting your breast with one hand and supporting and guiding the baby’s head with the other.

When you are putting the baby on the breast, tickle the baby right under the nose with the nipple. This will stimulate the baby to respond with a wide open mouth and tilt their head up (like taking a drink from a glass). When you see this happen, take action. Quickly guide baby’s mouth onto the breast and push them on enough to achieve getting most of the areola in. Once they begin sucking, they are latched and you can relax the hold (while still supporting them).

You should be able to detect a suck-swallow pattern. This will change depending on when the milk lets down and when it comes at an even flow, but swallowing means they are getting the milk.

Ultimately if they are mostly content, gaining weight and peeing and pooping on schedule, you know they are getting what they need. And if you are comfortable and not experiencing pain, then you are on your way.

If you are experiencing any difficulties, reach out to the many local professionals that can help guide you toward a successful breastfeeding experience. And remember: breastfeeding does get easier and easier as you and baby become more familiar and confident with the technique and process.

Sharon is the owner of Calgary Birth Essentials, and has over 15 years experience educating and supporting families having babies in Calgary. Calgary Birth Essentials offers small group and private prenatal classes, birth doula services and lactation consultations. For more information, visit


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