A Heartfelt Latch – What You Need To Know

by Jessica Martin-Weber

This post is generously made possible by Bamboobies

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That moment when they’re finally in your arms and you can count fingers and toes and sniff their head and stroke the softest cheek you’ve ever felt in your life, that moment is, whether you can feel it right then or not, when you heart is captured forever. Suddenly everything this little person needs from you, you are ready to do with all your heart. Comfort them, change them, bathe them, sing to them, and feed them, simple yet profound tasks of care are heartfelt acts of love.

No matter how your feeding journey unfolds, there is no doubt that every moment is fueled by love. Even if it is stressful at times. But it does help to know some of what you can expect, how things may unfold, and what you should know going into it. Love may be all you need but love with information and support is just so much more… well, lovely.

There’s a lot of information so we’re just latching onto one little tidbit for now here: the latch.

If you’re breastfeeding or planning to, you’ve probably heard a lot about the importance of a “good latch.” For some, that can create some anxiety about getting that good latch and a sense that doing so can be elusive so we wanted to help break it down a bit with 3 need-to-know tips about a breastfeeding baby’s latch.

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  1. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Many of us want manuals for everything, how-to guides so we avoid making mistakes and pursue the elusive perfection. You’ll find all kinds of diagrams, pictures, and descriptions of what constitutes a “good” latch. Step 1, step 2, step 3 and if you follow them exactly, voila! The thing is, that’s very rarely how it works with human beings, not even textbook babies.

It is really very simple: if it’s comfortable and it’s working, it’s a good latch.

If it isn’t comfortable and it isn’t working well, then it may not be a good latch.

Baby has plenty of wet diapers? Gaining weight? Good signs!

Baby has low wet diaper count? Difficulty gaining weight? Hmmm, not so good signs.

Mommy can feel her breasts soften a little with baby at the breast? Nipples doing well? Good signs!

Mommy has pain beyond initial latch through the feed? Nipple damage? Not so good signs.

There is a real possibility that your baby’s latch won’t look like the textbook “good latch”, there may even be clicking (though I’d get that checked out just in case anyway), but if it is working for you both then it’s not a good latch, it’s a great one!

A good latch is one that works for mom and baby!

  1. It’s a team effort.

Mom and baby make a dyad, a new team, and they have to work together. Which can be tricky since you barely know each other. But you also know each other better than anyone else. Working together can seem really complicated but don’t borrow trouble and remember that you’re both equipped to do this.

Given that one of the team hasn’t been around too long, that can get tricky sometimes, especially if there are other obstacles in the way such as jaundice.

What team work looks like in achieving that latch of your dreams:

Mom is in a comfortable position and has brought the baby to her level to her instead of leaning down to the baby.

Baby has wide open mouth.

Baby’s body is facing yours.

Chin will touch the breast, nose will be unobstructed, lips will be flared like a flange around the nipple taking in as much of the areola as possible.

Hold baby securely, a snug, close hold will help.

Pull baby in quickly when mouth is open wide.

If you can relax, try leaning back on some pillow, work together, and remember that first rule, it may all just surprise you.

If your baby is not able to do their part of the teamwork, it is time to seek out the support of a health care professional. Speaking with an IBCLC and your child’s pediatrician to identify the cause and options early can go a long way in getting on track to reach your breastfeeding goals.

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  1. If you’re hurting or even just worried, ask for help.

Once upon a time women feeding their babies was visible in our communities and while we’re shifting that way now thanks to the global village of the internet, we still don’t really see it regularly and not all that up close and personal. This has led to us entering our baby care days without much of an idea of what’s normal and even when to ask for help. In fact, it can be easy to start thinking we shouldn’t ever ask for help.

Can you imagine telling your child some day that their nipples may be in agony but they shouldn’t ask for help? Of course not! That would be cruel.

Thankfully, between the internet, hopefully some in-real-life friends, and health care providers, more and more we have resources to help us find our way. Ask in forums, watch videos (this “flipple technique” is helpful for correcting some common latch problems), and read resources (like this one and this other one).

If you’re experiencing anything more than an initial twinge of pain with breastfeeding your baby it may be a sign that something is wrong. Not that you’re doing something wrong or have somehow failed, but rather pain can be a common sign of a problem that with support may be able to be corrected. (There are some conditions that will lead to regular pain in breastfeeding such as Raynaud’s phenomenon.)  It is possible that a painful latch, a baby with too few wet or soiled diapers, low weight gain for baby, stabbing or burning feeling in the breast, or a fussy baby at the breast in combination with any of these issues could be an indicator that there is some problem to address. From tongue and/or lip tie to high palate to jaundice to any number of reasons that a mom and baby dyad would be experiencing difficulty, seeing an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) can help bring things together and set you and your team mate well on your way to reaching your breastfeeding goals.

And then you can get back to doing what you do best, holding them close to your heart and loving them completely.

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What helped you get a good latch?

Leave a comment below! We’d love to hear how you figured out what was best for you and your baby.

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Jessica Martin-Weber

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.
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