When learning to nurse there are three main concepts that we should strive to understand.
The first concept is hunger cues. To recognize a newborn's hunger cues at their earliest expression can take a little time while you get to know your new baby, but making a point to look for their hunger cues during the first week (or four) will gradually make you a cue-spotting expert. While it might not make your sweet kiddo 100% content, it will go a long way in that direction. You can learn all about hunger cues by reading my post "How do I recognize my baby's hunger cues?"
The second concept is learning nursing positions. Choosing a position that works best for you and your littles will help create a relaxed and comfortable mood for the both of you. Your preferred position can change depending on the immediate situation, physical abilities, and baby. To learn more about different nursing positions you can read my blog post "How do I know which nursing position is right for us, and if I'm positioning my baby correctly?"
The third concept, and arguably most significant (at least for your nipple comfort), is baby's latch. This is what we'll be talking about in today's post.
Latching. The questions asked most often are; What is it? Is there a right way? Is there a wrong way? How do I know my baby's latched correctly? What does a shallow latch feel like? How do I know if my baby is latched deeply? Does a correct latch really make a difference? How do I know when to unlatch my little one and then how do I do that so I don't hurt myself or my baby?
What is latching? Latching is what baby does with their mouth when they attach themselves to your nipple and bottom of your areola in order to nurse.
Is there a right way or a wrong way & does it make a difference? A deep latch is what we strive for because it helps baby suck milk more effectively from the breast thereby draining the breast more completely which aids in milk regulation and minimizes the possibility of engorgement. Additionally, a deep latch pulls the nipple far into the mouth bringing it all the way to the soft palate which drastically reduces the chances of sore or cracked nipples by ensuring proper blood flow to the nipple when sucking as well eliminating friction on the nipple.
How do I latch baby deeply? A deep latch begins with baby laying under the breast so that they need to angle their head back and come up and over the top of the nipple. This will naturally encourage them to tuck their chin into the bottom of your areola, opening their mouth wide like a yawn in order to bring all of the nipple and some of the bottom of the areola far into their mouth. It can take several minutes of encouraging baby to open their mouths wide and then quickly bringing them to the breast before you are successful.
Express a few drops of milk onto your nipple so that as baby roots around your breast smelling and tasting for the nipple they get an instant reward/encouragement when they find it.
Cup your breast with your free hand using a 'c' hold. This shapes your breast so baby can more easily attach.
As you're holding your breast in a 'c', repeatedly tickle your nipple from the tip of their nose down to their chin. This encourages them to open wide (like a yawn) which helps to get as much of the nipple and bottom of areola into the back of their mouth.
Once baby's mouth is opened like a yawn, quickly bring them to your breast.
Once latched, both lips are flipped outward and resemble a fish. Similarly, the corners of their mouth don't touch. Additionally, when a baby is deeply latched they have more of the bottom of your areola covered by their mouth than they do the top (Asymmetrical latch) and the nipple is positioned toward the back of their mouth at their soft palate (which you'll feel by a tugging, but not pinching or painful, sensation.)
How do I know if baby is deeply latched? You should feel a simple pulling sensation as baby sucks.
*Most times you can tell a shallow latch if after 10-20 seconds of being on the breast your nipple continues to feel pinched or painful. Also, when baby comes off the breast, your nipple will most likely be white (from lack of blood flow while suckling) and squashed (from baby only having your nipple in the front of their mouth as opposed to nipple and bottom of areola toward the back of their mouth).
How do I know when to de-latch and try again? If after 10-20 seconds you still feel pinching or pain then baby is not deeply latched. Insert your pinky finger into the corner of their mouth, between their gums, slowly turning your finger about a quarter turn to break suction as you pull gently toward your breast. This will gently release the suction so you can de-latch without trauma to the nipple. Now you can safely try again.
Resources & Images from:
SickKids - Breastfeeding Infant & Latch
Standford University - The ABC's of breastfeeding