Breastfeeding Latch

Next to how early you start breastfeeding and how often you feed, baby’s latch is essential to breastfeeding success. A healthy full-term baby knows instinctively what to do at the breast. It’s important that baby be properly latched on to your breast. Otherwise baby isn’t getting enough nutrition and the feedings could be painful for you.  Let’s look at specific techniques that can be used when latching your baby to your breast.

Positioning and Latch

The position in which you hold your baby is crucial so experiment with several and see what works for you and your baby.  When a good position and latch are obtained, your baby feeds efficiently and your nipples stay healthy. Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience between mother and baby.

Good positioning helps eliminate many cases of sore nipples. But, if you do have soreness, American Pregnancy Association recommends using an all natural, soothing balm.

Recognize Baby’s Hunger Cues

Learn to recognize your baby’s early hunger cues, signaling that he/she is ready to feed.  Early cues include opening his mouth, moving his head side to side, sucking on hands and fingers.  Fidgeting and fussing at this time are also indicators that your baby is hungry but don’t wait for baby to cry. Crying is a late hunger cue and may make it more difficult to begin breastfeeding.

How to Get a Baby to Latch

These techniques plus proper positioning can help ensure a good latch:

  • Get in a comfortable chair with great back support to feed your baby. Using a stool to rest your feet on will help with good posture and prevent you from straining your neck and shoulders.
  • Use your breastfeeding support pillow if you have one. (And if you don’t, use whatever kind of pillows you can find to help support you and the baby.) A good breastfeeding pillow can make a huge difference in getting the baby in a proper position to latch on well.
  • Make sure your baby is tummy-to-tummy with you at all times.
  • Make sure you bring your baby to you, do not try to lean into the baby. Not only will this cause severe strain on your neck and shoulders, but it can affect the baby’s position.
  • Remember to keep your baby’s ear, shoulder, and hip in alignment, which will make swallowing easier.
  • The baby’s nose should be opposite the nipple.
  • You might need to hold your breast to help guide the nipple to your baby’s mouth. Grasp the breast on the sides, using either a “C” hold or “U” hold. Make sure to keep fingers far from the nipple so you don’t affect how the baby latches on.
  • Aim the nipple toward the baby’s upper lip/nose, not the middle of the mouth. You might need to rub the nipple across the top lip to get your baby to open his/her mouth.
  • The baby’s head should be tilted slightly back. You do not want his chin to his chest.
  • When he opens his mouth wide with the chin dropped and tongue down, he should latch on to the nipple. If he does not open wide, do not try to shove the nipple in and wiggle the mouth open. It is best to move back, tickle the lip again with the nipple and wait for a wide open mouth.
  • Try to get as much of the lower portion of the areola (the area around the nipple) in the baby’s mouth.
  • The baby’s chin should indent the lower portion of your breast.
  • Look to see if the baby’s bottom and top lip are flanged out like fish lips. If they are not, you may use your finger to pull the bottom one down and open up the top one more.

Positioning your baby to feed

There are many different positions that can work while breastfeeding. It is important to find one that is comfortable for both you and your baby.

Cross-Cradle Hold:

This position is often the most helpful for moms right after birth and until they get more confident in getting their baby latched on correctly. It feels awkward for many moms at first, but once they see how it allows them to use both their hands more effectively, moms get more comfortable with it.

You will use the arm on the opposite side you will be feeding on to hold and support your baby, while you use the hand on the side you are feeding on to support your breast.

Lay your baby next to you, tummy-to-tummy, with your opposite hand supporting the back of his head. You want to make sure you are holding at the neck, so you are just guiding the head. You will use the other hand (on the same side the baby is feeding from) to hold and navigate your breast and nipple. Once the baby is securely latched on, you can move your arms to the cradle hold.

Cradle Hold:

This position is often used after your baby is a few weeks old and you are more confident in your breastfeeding hold. Your baby lays across your front at breast level with his/her tummy toward your chest.  Your baby’s head will be resting in the crook of your elbow, on the same side, you will be nursing from. You will use the opposite hand to help hold your breast if you need to help get your baby latched on properly.

Football Hold:

Your baby will lay along your side under your arm, with your hand supporting the back of the baby’s neck. The baby’s bottom should bump up against whatever you are sitting in (back of the chair, couch, etc.) Make sure to bend the baby’s legs at the hip, so that he does not push his feet against whatever you’re leaning against, as this will affect how he will be able to latch.

This hold is really great for a mom who had a cesarean birth and for women with large breasts.


Lay your baby on his/her side with a pillow behind his back for support. You should also lay on your side facing your baby.  You might use a pillow behind your back or between your knees for support.  Your baby’s nose should be in line with your nipple.

There are other positions that can work for both you and your baby. Make sure that you and the baby are comfortable.  If not, try another position.

Signs that confirm a good latch:

  • The tongue is seen when the bottom lip is pulled down
  • Ears wiggle
  • There is a circular movement of the jaw rather than rapid chin movement
  • Cheeks are rounded
  • You do not hear a clicking or smacking noises
  • You can hear swallowing
  • Chin is touching your breast
  • When your baby comes off the breast, the nipple is not flattened or misshaped
  • Any discomfort ends quickly after getting the baby latched on
  • Your baby ends the feeding with signs of satiety/satisfaction. These signs include: the baby looks relaxed, “falls” off the breast, has open hands, and/or falls asleep.

Remember, breastfeeding should not be painful.  A good latch will help keep discomfort to a minimum.  When the baby has not latched on well, other problems can develop including cracked and sore nipples.  Once you get accustomed to positioning your baby and helping him/her get a good latch, breastfeeding can be a wonderful, pain-free bonding experience between you and your baby.

If you need further assistance, many hospitals have lactation consultants. Seek to work with a lactation consultant at the hospital or birthing center in which you deliver. If you are already home you can speak to your healthcare provider. You can also call the National Breastfeeding Helpline:  1-800-994-9662 or contact an independent lactation consultant.

Want to Know More?

Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. La Leche League International. Breastfeeding Info & Breastfeeding With Sore Nipples.

2. Breastfeeding: How to Breastfeed Your Baby. Renfrew, Mary et al, 2004.

3. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. La Leche League International, Ch. 4. </p