Learn the Latch: Breastfeeding Tips

Nursing shouldn't hurt, but sometimes it does. Sensitivity and tenderness are normal, but painful nipples are a sign the baby is not breastfeeding correctly. By improving how the baby latches onto the breast, moms can get back to nursing pain-free.

Several steps can be taken:

  • Make sure the mother's back and shoulder are relaxed and comfortable.
  • Keep the infant close to the mother and bring the child up to the breast instead of bringing the breast to the infant.
  • Use the thumb and index fingers to gently cup the child's neck by the ears, and allow the head to tip back to latch. The hand shouldn't be behind the baby's head.
  • Ensure the infant's chin is touching the areola beneath the nipple, so the jaw latches first. Align the chin over the middle of the infant's chest. The nose should be away from the breast.
  • Place the nipple close to the nose or rest the nipple on the upper lip, as the infant will respond to this contact by tilting the head back and opening the mouth like a yawn or cry.

With a proper latch, the mother should feel a tugging sensation and hear or see the infant swallowing.  Immediately following breastfeeding, the nipple will appear oblong or compressed on the tip.

Trouble starts when the infant has a shallow latch in which only the nipple is grasped in the mouth. The mother will experience a continuous pinching pain as her infant nurses and she will not see or hear frequent swallows. 

Nipples may blister, crack or bleed if the latch is not corrected quickly. If the infant isn't getting enough milk due to a shallow latch, sufficient weight may not be gained and the mother's milk supply may decrease.

Sometimes, the problem might be with the anatomy of the baby's mouth. A tongue-tie is an abnormally developed band of tissue beneath the infant's tongue that limits mobility and prevents a proper latch.

Nipple pain resulting from breastfeeding should not be an everyday occurrence, but with practice and small adjustments, the techniques associated with latching will become easier and more comfortable for mothers and their infants. I encourage anyone struggling with breastfeeding to seek assistance from lactation consultants in their community.

Try this Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookie recipe

Roseanne Waldron is a registered nurse and certified lactation consultant at the Neugarten Family Birth Center at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck. The center offers prenatal breastfeeding classes and a breastfeeding support group weekly on Fridays. For information, call the birth center's lactation department at 845-871-3365 (TTY: 1-800-421-1220).