When I was pregnant with my first child, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It seemed so simple and natural. I never even considered that there was anything complicated about it. When it came time to feed my sweet baby girl for the first time, I brought her to my breast expecting that we would both just know what to do. Boy was I wrong! She couldn’t latch, and I had no idea how to help her. The nurse came in and grabbed my boob, squished it and kind of shoved my daughters mouth onto it. I was mortified! At least she was nursing, but it felt awkward and strange, and not at all like I thought it would. When I got home, I struggled to get a good latch, and the only example I had was what the nurse had “shown” me.
Unfortunately, this is the experience many women have. They are told that “breast is best”, they get a very basic intro to a proper latch and then are left on their own to struggle. They deal with sore nipples, a fussy baby, and worry that their baby isn’t getting enough milk. Often, women will feel guilty when breastfeeding doesn’t work out, and they decide to give their baby a bottle. They may even have friends and loved ones that contribute to this guilt, by insisting that breastfeeding is better for the baby.
It shouldn’t be like that. First, whether a woman chooses to breastfeed or bottle feed, she should be supported in doing what she feels is best for her child. No one else can make that decision for her. Second, if she does chose to breastfeed, she should have the proper support and education. Labor and delivery nurses are amazing people, but they don’t always have much training in breastfeeding support. The help of a lactation consultant or even a postpartum doula, can make the difference for so many women. There are a variety of ways to get a proper latch, and what works for one mother and child may not work for another.
Sometimes getting a good latch is just a matter of changing positions. Most women start out using the cradle hold, because this is the one we see most often in pictures or on TV. The baby’s head is supported in the bend of the mother’s arm on the same side as the breast they are nursing from. The mother uses her other hand to guide her breast into the baby’s mouth. This is a comfortable and effective hold, but usually works better after breastfeeding has already been established. Some positions that may be better for beginners are:
The cross-cradle hold: This is a variation where the baby’s head is supported across the mother’s body with the opposite hand from the breast they are nursing from. The mother uses the hand on the same side to guide her breast to the baby’s mouth. This hold gives the mother more control of her baby’s head, and makes it easier to guide the baby into a proper latch.
Laid back: The mother is in a semi reclined position with the baby tummy down on her chest. This position allows the baby’s weight to be supported by the mother’s body. The mother can use one hand to support the baby and the other to guide her breast into the baby’s mouth. The baby can be straight up and down, across, or diagonal across the mother’s body.
Football hold: In this position, the mother has the baby against the side of her body and supported by the arm on that side, with the baby’s head in her hand. The baby’s head is then lined up with the breast on the same side while the mother guides the breast to the baby’s mouth with the opposite hand.