The benefits of breastfeeding are well-established, but a study by UC Davis Medical Center found that only about 13% of women manage to breastfeed exclusively for the six months that are recommended.
For many women, the trouble starts early, as the same study found that 92% of mothers said they had trouble with breastfeeding within the first three days after giving birth. A lot needs to go right for successful breastfeeding, and the mothers in the study reported issues with nipple confusion, pain, and their baby preferring the feel of a bottle.
Latching issues are very common for new mothers and can be discouraging without a good support network in place. At Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics, we’re committed to doing everything we can to support mom and baby, including lactation consulting.
Our in-house lactation consultant, Marjorie Eiland, CRNP, CLC, is a board-certified pediatric nurse practitioner and expert on helping mom and baby establish breastfeeding. In this blog, Nicolette Marak, MD, discusses common difficulties with latching, how a lactation consultant can help, and signs that a baby has successfully latched.
When the latch is not quite right
The most obvious sign of a poor latch is nipple pain, as the baby is chewing on the nipple rather than gumming the areola.
This chewing motion can often be heard as a clicking sound, as the baby is only sucking and not latching on. Beyond pain and clicking noises, a baby who cannot latch can be seen fussing, chewing, rooting, gaping, or turning red from frustration.
What causes latching difficulties?
Latching difficulties can be attributed to the mother, the baby, or both. Babies who are fussy or sleepy may not be interested in latching or may be too overstimulated to focus on eating. Additionally, babies who are born with a tongue-tie or are born prematurely may have trouble getting a good latch.
On the mother’s side, women with large nipples, large or engorged breasts, or flat or inverted nipples may find that it’s hard to get their child to latch. Some of the challenges, including for moms with large nipples, may fade as the baby grows.
The role of a lactation consultant
Simply put, a lactation consultant is someone who undergoes specialized training and certification to offer support, advice, and guidance to mothers who chose to breastfeed. They are experts at helping moms with painful nipples and milk supply issues.
They can also help find breastfeeding positions that work for mom and baby, including those that help the baby get a good latch. Lactation consultants are typically needed during the first few weeks after birth, when babies are still learning how to breastfeed.
Signs of a good latch
Every mother and baby may have different signs of a good latch and successful feeding. However, there are some common signs of a good latch, including:
- The latch is comfortable and pain-free
- Baby’s chest and stomach rest against the mother’s body so that the baby’s head is straight, not turned to the side
- Baby’s chin touches the mother’s breast
- Baby’s mouth opens wide around the breast, not just the nipple
- Baby’s lips turn out
- Baby’s tongue cups under the breast
- Mom can hear or see swallowing
- Baby’s ears move slightly
Many moms find that their baby latches best in a quiet, calm place with low lighting.