Updated: Apr 27, 2022
A wise woman (or perhaps many) once said that: ‘Breastfeeding is the hardest natural thing I have ever done in my life!’ Indeed, it is the most natural ‘way’ you can feed your baby, but for many mothers the technique (especially at the beginning) does not come so naturally! In Spain, data shows that 80% of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding during the first month, but by three months this figure has dropped to 52%.* So, in other words, lots of mothers start off only breastfeeding, but somewhere between 1-3 months many have stopped completely, or are mixed feeding. So why the big drop off between 1-3 months? Well, there are many reasons, such as the desire for another caregiver to help with feeds, mothers needing to return to work or study, and parents who have been told by their paediatrician that the baby needs supplementary feeding. But there is also a big elephant in the room reason that is often not addressed and can result in feelings of maternal shame and sadness - and that is those who wanted to continue breastfeeding but are finding it too difficult due to pain, cracked nipples, and mastitis. Without proper support, these mothers often reluctantly move to stopping altogether or starting mixed feeding (while they struggle to resolve the original problem, in the hopes they can continue breastfeeding again). Firstly, we should say that - however you want to feed your baby is fine, no mother should feel pressured to do anything that isn’t right for her or her particular family situation, and as a parent we know you will make the best choice for you and your baby at that moment in time. Fed is always best! But if you want to continue breastfeeding and are struggling then this article is for you! In healthy babies and mums, the majority of breastfeeding issues such as breast pain and cracked nipples can be solved by ensuring you have a good latch. It sounds simple but… Firstly, what do we mean by ‘latch’? The word "latch" describes the way a baby takes the breast into their mouth. The ‘better’ (deeper) the latch, the more easily the baby can get milk from the breast, and the less likely you are to end up with cracked and sore nipples. 6 steps to achieve a "deep latch" (and help your baby feed more easily):
Hold your breast with your thumb and index finger on the edge of the areola (the darkened area) forming a "C" shape (in football hold), or a "U" shape (in cross cradle hold). Squeeze your finger and thumb toward each other gently to slightly compress the breast.
Raise your baby to the nipple in whichever feeding position suits you and your baby best.** Allow your baby to rest their hands around your breast if they wish - it will help them to orientate themselves and help your breasts to let down the milk.
Aim your nipple just above your baby's upper lip, and then tip their head slightly backwards by lifting between your baby's shoulder blades with your free (or freer!) hand.
Tickle your baby's lips with your nipple. Wait until baby opens their mouth very wide.
Act fast and decisively! "Scoop" the breast by placing the lower jaw on first. Now tip your baby's head forward and place the upper jaw behind your nipple. Keep your thumb pressing down on the breast in the C or U shape until the upper jaw is also latched on. Your baby should go into the breast chin first and then latch on with the lower jaw more deep than the upper jaw. Baby's lips should be splayed outwards like a fish!
Wait several seconds, then release the pressure on your breast with your thumb and finger as they start to feed. If baby's nose is buried deep in the breast, tip their head slightly so you can see their nostril (but with the nose still touching the breast).
What are the signs of a good latch technique?
There should be no pain during feeding.
Your baby's chest and stomach rest against your body, the baby’s head is not turned to the side but instead is aligned with their own body and lined up with yours (think ‘tummy to tummy’).
Your baby's chin is touching your breast.
Your baby's mouth is open wide around the whole breast, not just the nipple.
Their lips are splayed out.
You can see or hear swallowing.
Your baby's ears may wiggle slightly!
If you're having trouble getting a good latch try these 3 things:
Taking a breath, and moving to a calm and quiet place.
Holding your baby skin to skin before and during feeding.
Letting your baby lead the way. With them supported and held up to you, offer the breast as above but let your baby find the nipple on their own.
*Iniciativa Mundial de Lactancia Materna (2013) ** Cross cradle is good for beginners.
Still having trouble? Contact us for a home visit with a Baby On Board midwife to check your technique, and that there are no other issues causing problems (such as tongue tie or thrush).
How did your first days and weeks breastfeeding go? Tell us in the comments below!