What Exactly is Latching On?

Article By
Published On
15 Feb, 2021
Read Time
4 minutes

Latching on - and maintaining a comfortable latch - is a key part of a successful breastfeeding routine. But the 'perfect' latch can sometimes be a daunting and confusing thing for new parents to figure out.

So, let's demystify this breastfeeding lingo, and run you through everything you need to know about latching on while breastfeeding.

How do you define a latch on in breastfeeding?

Latching on is the process of getting your little one to suckle around your nipple and areola so they can remove breast milk from your boobs and breastfeed comfortably.

Think of your areola as a target for baby's mouth and try to get them right in the bullseye! Your baby should be pressing against this target to trigger the milk flow and ultimately establish a strong breast milk supply for your feeding journey.

If your baby is latched on properly, breastfeeding shouldn't cause you pain and your nipples won't become cracked or painful.

How to get a correct breastfeeding latch

Getting the hang of a good breastfeeding latch that's comfortable for you both can be tricky at first.

It can take time and perseverance to get it all going smoothly. Even if you know what latching on is, you may still struggle when it comes to knowing if you've got it right or not.

How to get a good breastfeeding latch

  1. Let baby's head tilt back and brush your nipple against their lips.
  2. Try and let your little one find your nipple on their own. Put them in a comfy position with your nipple close to their mouth and gently guide them there.
  3. Direct your nipple slightly above their top lip, making sure their chin isn't tucked down towards their chest. Aim their bottom lip away from your nipple's base.
  4. Their lips should be turned outwards, flared out against your breast, and not tucked in like they're sucking on a straw. Remember, baby's gums and tongue do most of the work when they're feeding, so your nipple should be deep into their mouth.
  5. They should lean into your breast with their chin first, open their mouth wide, and then latch on.
  6. Their chin should be firmly against your breast, with nothing against their nose.
  7. Baby's tongue should be able to reach as much of your breast as possible and the areola (the circular, pigmented area around your nipple) should be in their mouth as well.
  8. Their cheeks should look rounded as they feed with a good latch. You should be able to hear or see them suck, swallow, and breathe in a steady pattern.
  9. After a feed, your nipples should be long and round and should not be flat or inverted. Don't forget, it's not supposed to be painful. You and your baby should be comfortable, and you should be able to see your little one sucking, swallowing, and breathing.

Top tip

If you think your baby isn't latched correctly or if your nipple hurts when they're nursing, you can slide your finger into their mouth to break the hold they have on your nipple. You can then try again and alter your position to achieve a better latch that's more comfortable.

Indicators that you have a good breastfeeding latch

If you've followed the steps we've covered, you should be able to see some clear signs that your baby has a good latch on while breastfeeding. These include:

  • Breastfeeding your baby is comfortable and doesn't cause you pain.
  • You can hear or see your baby sucking, swallowing, and breathing.
  • Your baby is resting their chest and stomach against your body.
  • Their head is positioned straight and not turning to the side.
  • Your baby's chin touches your breast.
  • Their mouth is not just open around your nipple but wide around your breast.
  • Their lips are turned out.
  • Their tongue is cupped underneath your breast.
  • As they feed, you may also notice their ears move slightly.

If you're struggling or feel unsure at any stage, don't be afraid to ask for help. You can get in touch with your midwife or a lactation specialist. They'll be able to help you out with any breastfeeding-related issues.

Top tips for getting a good breastfeeding latch

Getting a good latch can be more difficult for those with bigger boobs so it's important to get into the right position. It should become easier with time, but if you're finding it hard, try giving these breastfeeding latch tricks a try:

  • If you're struggling with getting a good latch, moving to a quiet place that you find calming can help. If you're uncomfortable or stressed, your baby probably will be too.
  • Hold your little one close and try using skin-to-skin contact to comfort them if they're feeling frustrated.
  • Chat or sing to your baby as they feed to soothe them.
  • It'll be easier to establish a deep latch if you feed your baby when they're calm and before they get too hungry.
  • Try different breastfeeding positions to find which one works best for you both.

If you're still struggling to achieve a good latch or are concerned that your baby may be tongue-tied, consult your doctor or health visitor for advice.

How can I get my newborn baby to latch deeper?

Using the deep latch technique prevents damaged, sore nipples and can help your baby feed more easily. A deep latch can be achieved in any breastfeeding position. But it can help to sit up straight and use pillows for support.

Here's a step-by-step guide to the deep latch technique:

  1. Hold your breast with your thumb and index finger on the edge of your areola and squeeze them towards each other.
  2. Support your baby's head with one hand, with your thumb near one ear, the third finger near the other ear, and the web of your hand at the nape of your baby's neck.
  3. Gently tip their head slightly backwards.
  4. When your baby's head is back and their chin is up, you can lift them to your nipple. Your nipple should be resting just above their upper lip.
  5. Wait for them to open their mouth wide. (You can encourage your baby to open their mouth wide to achieve a deeper latch by ticking their lips with your nipple.) You can then "scoop" your breast by positioning their lower jaw on the breast first. Next, tip their head forward and position their upper jaw behind your nipple.
  6. Wait for a few seconds, then you can let go of your breast. If your baby's nose is buried deep, simply tip their head slightly so you can see their nostrils.

Most babies will automatically release and un-latch from the breast on their own when they've finished feeding and are feeling full.

But if your baby hasn't released, isn't suckling anymore, and seems to have finished feeding, you can release their latch by gently slipping a clean finger in the side of their mouth and moving it a quarter turn.

When a baby is latched on and feeding properly, you should be able to hear them gulping and making quiet clicking noises.

You can tell that a baby is feeding when they're latched on if there's movement in their lower jaw or around their ears and temple area.

Most babies feed faster at the start and slow down towards the end of a feed, at which point you may see they become more relaxed in their hands and shoulders.

A shallow latch is when a baby isn't opening their mouth wide enough to nurse without causing you pain. If you're experiencing a shallow latch:

  • Your nipples may be pinched, flattened, and squeezed.
  • Feeding might be painful.
  • You may find that your baby becomes frustrated or makes sucking movements. This is because a weak latch doesn't allow them to feed properly.
  • You may get a pinching feeling in the nipple during feeding.
  • Your nipples might become sore, cracked, or scabbed.