Your Guide to a Good Breastfeeding Latch

A deep latch, where baby closes their mouth on both your nipple and areola, is vital for successful breastfeeding. But baby needs practice, and some help from you, to latch on well. Today, we’ll explain how to help baby foster a deep latch, and how to know whether your little one is latching on correctly.

A deep latch, where baby closes their mouth on both your nipple and areola, is vital for successful breastfeeding. But even though babies have a natural rooting reflex (which leads them to search for, and want to drink from, the breast), they aren’t born knowing how to latch on deeply.

Latching takes practice, and some help from you, before baby can remove milk effectively on their own. Today, we’ll explain how to help baby foster a deep latch, and how to know whether your little one is latching on correctly.

Why is a good latch so important?

A good latch is essential for baby to effectively remove milk from your breasts.

Your baby needs to have their mouth around the areola – the darker area that surrounds your nipple – for a proper latch. It’s not enough for their mouth to be on just the nipple. They need to compress the areola for a good milk flow to start.

If baby has trouble latching on, they won't get as much milk as they need, and could end up struggling to gain weight.

And since breastmilk production is about supply and demand, latch difficulties could soon mean that your breasts won't produce enough milk. This increases your risk of problems like sore nipples, painful breastfeeding, damaged breasts, clogged ducts, low milk supply, or even mastitis.

But with a deep latch, your little one will get the milk they need, and breastfeeding will be more comfortable for you.

How to help baby latch on deeply

Here’s how to encourage a deep latch, step by step:

  1. Sit up straight. It’s easier to encourage a deep latch from a seated position.
  2. Choose, and get baby into, your breastfeeding position. You can pick any position. But keep in mind that the cross-cradle hold, football hold, and dancer hand hold are some of the best for helping baby latch.
  3. Make sure that baby’s head and body are facing your breast.
  4. Cup the breast you want baby to nurse from with your free hand. You could hold it in a C-shape (thumb on top, other fingers on the bottom) or a U-shape (thumb on one side, and other fingers on the other side), depending on what’s most comfortable.
  5. Place your thumb and index finger on the areola. If you’re using a C-shaped hold, your thumb should be where baby’s nose will meet the breast, and your index finger should be where baby’s chin will touch the breast.
  6. Lightly compress your breast with your thumb and index finger, so baby can more easily fit the nipple and areola into their mouth.
  7. Make sure baby’s head and back are both well-supported. Keep the thumb of your “head support” hand near one of baby’s ears, and your tallest finger of that hand near baby’s other ear. The space between your thumb and index finger should wrap around the back of baby’s neck.
  8. Have one of baby’s arms go on each side of the breast, almost like they’re about to “hug” the breast. This way, their arms won’t get in the way of a deep latch.
  9. As The Pump Station recommends, tilt baby’s head slightly back by “lifting between your baby's shoulder blades with the heel of [the] hand” that you’re using to support baby’s head.
  10. Bring baby to your breast so they touch your nipple. Your nipple should be between their nose and upper lip (adjust your breast in the compressed position if needed). Baby’s head should be tilted slightly back.
  11. Make sure that baby is held tight against you.
  12. Let baby root (open their mouth). If needed, rub their cheek so the rooting reflex activates, then tickle their lips so their mouth opens even wider. Baby’s mouth needs to be open as wide as possible for the best latch.
  13. With their head tilted slightly back, place their lower jaw on the breast so they can “scoop” it. Keep compressing your breast as you do this. Baby’s lower jaw should be well behind the nipple.
  14. As the lactation consultants at The Pump Station point out, “If your baby's head drops forward, they cannot get the lower jaw correctly positioned deeply under the areola.” So, make sure their head stays tilted back while you get their lower jaw in position.
  15. Tilt baby’s head forward and place the upper jaw behind the nipple. Keep compressing your breast as you do this.
  16. Baby should now have both the nipple and most (if not all) of the areola in their mouth. The lower jaw should look like it’s deeper on the breast than the upper jaw.
  17. Wait for a few seconds, then stop compressing your breast.

Watch this video from The Pump Station’s Corky Harvey (IBCLC) and FitParenting to see the deep latch technique in action:

How to know if baby’s latched on properly?

Once baby’s latched on, you’ll need to check to make sure the latch is deep.

If baby has a deep latch:

  • Baby’s lips will be turned out, or “flanged.” They should almost look like fish lips.
  • Baby’s chin and nose will touch your breast.
  • Baby’s mouth will be around the nipple and the areola.
  • Baby will contently suck in a rhythmic pattern, and won’t fuss.
  • You’ll see or hear baby swallowing.
  • The feeding will feel like a gentle tugging – it won’t be uncomfortable, and it won’t cause nipple pain.
  • Baby won’t be making a “clicking” noise (“clicking” is often a sign that baby doesn’t have the areola in their mouth, and is only sucking the nipple).
  • Baby won’t chew on the breast, and won’t keep rooting (chewing and repeated rooting after sucking are signs that something is wrong with the latch).
  • Baby won’t fall asleep often in the middle of a feed.
  • Baby will seem satisfied after a feed. Relaxed hands and a natural “falling off” of the breast are some signs of fullness.

More latch tips for breastfeeding moms

  • Remember that positioning and latch go hand and hand. Baby’s head and whole body must be facing your breast to get a proper latch. And baby’s head needs to stay straight, not turned to the side.
  • If possible, breastfeed in a quiet and calm environment. This will help both you and baby relax.
  • If needed, you can use pillows to support baby, so latching is easier.
  • Skin-to-skin contact may also help you achieve a successful latch.
  • Try letting baby lead – baby may not want to latch on if they aren’t hungry. Look for the signs of hunger before starting a nursing session.
  • Never hunch over baby, as this can make latching trickier.
  • Never force the breast into baby’s mouth. The deep latch technique is about putting baby onto the breast, not pushing the breast into baby's mouth.
  • If you see the signs of an improper latch, put your finger into the corner of baby’s mouth to break the suction, then start over.
  • Be patient, and don’t be hard on yourself if it takes a while to get the hang of the latch technique. It takes practice. You’re doing great, mama!
  • If your baby still has trouble latching after lots of practice, talk to a lactation consultant. They can help you with latching, as well as any other breastfeeding troubles you’re experiencing.

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