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Latch – Its Importance

One of the most essential aspects of breastfeeding is the attachment of the baby’s mouth with the breast of the mother. This is called the latch.

Why is latch important?

  1. It directly impacts the amount of milk that can be transferred from the mother’s breast into the baby’s mouth.
  2. It determines whether or not breastfeeding will be painful for the mother.

Breast Crawl

A healthy full term newborn can latch onto the mother’s breast all by herself within 15 minutes to 1 hour of birth if given uninterrupted skin to skin time with the mother in the biological nursing position. Just as other mammals instinctively start breastfeeding after birth, human babies too are capable of doing this instinctively and reflexively. When the baby is put on the mother’s stomach, she will crawl upwards and find the mother’s breast and nipples (with help of sense of smell and little developed sense of vision) and will latch on. This is called – breast crawl.

What is a good latch?

A good latch is a latch in which the baby is able to transfer milk effectively without causing any pain to the mother. 

How to latch the baby on to the breast?

It’s very important that when the baby is going to latch, her mouth is wide open and she takes not just the nipple, but as much part of areola as possible into her mouth. There are certain steps that can be taken to ensure that the baby opens her mouth wide enough to form a deep latch.

Image created by Sangeeta A Shenoy
  1. Tickle the baby with the nipple from the nose to the chin until the baby opens her mouth wide. 
  2. Quickly latch the baby on at this stage.
  3. Bring the baby to the breasts and not the breasts to the baby.

Characteristics of a deep latch

  1. It is deep. The baby takes in her mouth not only the nipple but as much part of the areola as possible. Since the stimulation points for milk ducts are situated on the areola, it is very important that the baby takes as much of the areola as possible in her mouth. When the baby only takes nipples, it’s called a shallow latch. In a shallow latch, there’s very less to no stimulation, leading to very less to no milk flow.
  2. It is asymmetrical. A deep latch is an asymmetrical latch. What is meant by this is that when a baby is latched onto the breast, her lower jaw takes more part of areola into the mouth as compared to the upper jaw. and the nipple points upwards to the back of the baby’s upper palate, not to the throat directly.
  3. Baby is attached onto the breast slightly off-centre. More breast above the baby’s upper lips is visible as compared to lower lips. The baby’s chin will be touching the breast and their nose will be very close to it.
  4. The baby’s lips will be flanged outside like a fish. Both the lower and upper lip will be curled outwards, but the lower lip will be curled out more than the upper lip will. 
  5. It is painless. When the latch is good, breastfeeding is completely painless for the mother.

Common problems in latching

  1. Shallow latch – it’s the most common problem that a lot of mothers face. It can be painful and can lead to sore and cracked nipples. This can be corrected by following the latching steps diligently and by seeking professional help if sore and cracked nipples persist even after attempting a deep latch.
  2. Flat or inverted nipples – it can be a challenging task to latch a baby when the mother has flat or inverted nipple(s). But it is possible. Most important thing to remember here is that babies don’t latch on the nipple. They latch on the breast. Thus, nipple shape can be a factor, but not a deciding factor in achieving a good latch. Using breast shells, hand expressing / pumping right before nursing in some cases may help in releasing or elongating the nipples, making it easier for the baby to latch. Please click here if you are dealing with flat and inverted nipples.
  3. Edema – Many times, the mother is given Intravenous (IV) Fluids during labour. This can lead to retention of fluid even in breasts and breasts become hard. Thus, the nipples may seem flatter and are difficult to latch on. Reverse pressure softening  can help a lot in softening the area of nipples and areola, making it easier for the baby to latch. Click here to learn more about the technique.

How to unlatch?

This is a very important yet ignored point. When a baby latches onto the breast, a vacuum is created. To unlatch the baby, this vacuum needs to be broken. If one tries to unlatch the baby by force or only by pulling the nipple out, it can be very painful for the mother and can cause injury to the nipple as well. Therefore, if and when the mother needs to unlatch the baby, it is important to break the vacuum created by suction first. This can be done by inserting one’s small finger into the baby’s mouth from the corner of the baby’s mouth and then tugging the corner of the baby’s mouth gently in order to break the suction. It is important to note that the finger should be clean.

Knowing the correct unlatching technique comes very handy when the mother is working on correcting the latch. Each time, the latch is shallow or painful or unsatisfactory, she can unlatch the baby to achieve a deep latch.

This Video here has a good demonstration for your reference
Correct Latch
Shallow Latch

Note: Images used on this page are BSIM owned images