Helping to Get Breastfeeding Off to a Good Start: Latch
Rita Brhel, Hastings, Nebraska
After years of supporting mothers at all stages of breastfeeding, I’ve learned that there are four key areas to focus on to get breastfeeding off to a good start: milk supply, latch, frequent access to the breast, and skin-to-skin contact. Let’s explore latch.
Frequent breast milk removal is key to building a good milk supply, and so is a good latch. Latch is how baby’s mouth fits on the nipple. A good latch makes for good milk transfer. A poor latch makes for poor milk transfer. A baby with a good latch will be more likely to be satisfied and to be able to build up or maintain a mother’s milk supply. A baby with a poor latch is less likely to do so.
It’s generally easy to figure out if baby has a good or poor latch. A poor latch can be painful. While some initial tenderness is common in the first few days after birth, this tenderness goes away in the first seconds after a good latch, and then goes away for good after a few days to a week. Sometimes, a poor latch causes an ongoing discomfort beyond a week; sometimes, a poor latch causes bleeding and cracked nipples. Either way, pain while latching is a sign to seek help from a La Leche League Leader.
Seeking out information and support before baby’s arrival is an excellent way to learn about a good latch. Attend a series of La Leche League meetings to provide you with both information and support. If La Leche League isn’t available in your community, often hospitals or other health organizations offer classes. At some local hospitals, lactation consultants offer classes to all women who are in their third trimester. My first baby was an early preemie, so I didn’t get to take the class. I didn’t have a clue about getting my baby to latch and decided to exclusively pump. With my second baby, I was able to take the class, and it made a difference. It was all about latching, and then when I delivered, breastfeeding wasn’t such a mystery to me.
That’s not to say it’s always easy. I had more severe latch issues with my third baby, but because I recognized the importance of a good latch and of seeking help to attain it, I was finally able to overcome the sore nipples that might have otherwise convinced me to quit. My baby self-weaned at three and one-half years old. Of all the accomplishments in my life, full-term breastfeeding may be the highest on my list.
To find a La Leche League Group near you, go to www.lllusa.org/locator/.