For nine months, feeding your baby has been as easy as opening your own mouth. Nursing a newborn, though, is hardly child’s play. And this can be terrifying for a new mom: Your infant’s entire existence, after all, can depend upon getting milk from sore, chapped nipples into a crying, moving target. At a certain point, if you are able to get any latch at all — even if it’s a bad, painful one — you’re willing to white-knuckle through the discomfort, relieved that your baby is getting some sustenance.
But to achieve longterm breastfeeding success, you need to fix your latch technique, according to the founder of Montclair Speech Therapy Lori Caplan-Colon, who specializes in feeding disorders and has over 18 years of clinical experience in speech therapy. In an interview with The List, Caplan-Colon empathized with new moms who struggle to feed their babies. “Oftentimes, mothers have these images of easy and successful breastfeeding when their little one arrives. When it doesn’t come so easy, mothers can feel guilty and anxious,” she said. “This creates a cycle of challenges as mom is feeling anxious. She isn’t able to task analyze what may not be working right.”
It will be worthwhile to take a step back and assess whether you and your baby are dealing with three common problems with latch, Caplan-Colon added. “Setting mom up for success will create that important mother/baby dyad and facilitate later positive feeding outcomes,” she explained. Here is Caplan-Colon’s advice for trouble-shooting feeding time.
You might have latch issues because you're nursing in an uncomfortable position
You might not think your comfort is all that important when you’re nursing — maybe just getting object A into object B seems like a lofty goal in those hectic first few weeks — but your nursing success actually depends upon it, Caplan-Colon said. “If the mother is not comfortable, it will be awkward and the little one will sense this. Mom should get comfortable. The use of low stimulation, calming music, and a comfortable chair will support this,” she said.
Once you’ve settled in your rocker or recliner, let your baby know it’s time to eat. “Provide a gentle stroke to the baby’s cheek to elicit the rooting reflex where the baby will turn toward the nipple,” Caplan-Colon advised. “Once baby turns, you can stimulate the baby’s lips with nipple to allow for a wide-open mouth to allow the baby to pull the breast in — not just the nipple. The goal is to get the baby to take in not only the breast nipple but surrounding areola as well.” You can squeeze the nipple area so it more easily fits, she added.
And just as you need to be comfortable to breastfeed, so does your baby, Caplan-Colon pointed out. “Do not force the baby’s head,” she urged. “If the child doesn’t get a firm hold, release then try again.”
Your baby may not be securely latched on if the mouth isn't sealed on the breast
Another common cause of latching difficulties is the baby isn’t sealing his or her mouth to your breast. “Too often, because of the way we hold babies, the child latches from the side and doesn’t get a secure hold or effective flow,” Caplan-Colon explained. “This can lead to discomfort for both mother and infant.” To address this challenge, make sure your baby’s head is in the right position, she added. “Nestle the child’s head squarely facing the nipple and guide the latching from there. Baby’s chin and the tip of the nose should be touching the breast and the lips should be flanged out — like a fish — instead of being tucked in.” Once those details are in place, “let the feeding begin,” Caplan-Colon said. “Once you’ve got the proper latch, your baby will fall right into the rhythmic suck-swallow-breath pattern of suckling.”
If your baby is feeding, but you feel like your nipples are being chewed, or you’re otherwise uncomfortable, take another look at your latch, Caplan-Colon said. “Break the seal and try again.” If you experience continued pain, have difficulty with latching, and transfer, contact a lactation consultant for support,” she said.
There are anatomical issues that can cause latching problems
If you’ve figured out how to hold your baby while nursing and get a good seal, but you’re still running into problems, it might have to do with the way your nipples are shaped. In fact, said Caplan-Colon, “Many women have flat or inverted nipples. This poses a challenge for the infant who is looking for a protruding nipple as a guide.” Does this mean women who have flat nipples can’t nurse? Not at all! “Fortunately, there are ways to address this issue,” Caplan-Colon said, citing, “Everything from employing different positions to doing a session of pre-feed pumping.” She added, “There are also plastic shell accessories, worn in the bra between feeding sessions, which can help the nipples stand out.” Before you start buying special lactating equipment, though, Caplan-Colon recommends this low-tech tip: “Simply massaging the areola before nursing or pumping prior to nursing to elongate the nipple can usually assist with latch.”
Another possibility could be related to your baby’s mouth. “Structural anatomical deficits can exist that reduce a baby’s ability to latch,” Caplan-Colon noted; this is something she and other experts in her field assess and can help manage.
So how will you know whether your baby is successfully latched on? “Your best indication that you’re having success is a content baby who is satisfied with the latching and flow of breast milk,” Caplan-Colon said.
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