The following information can be used to help your baby latch on and feed well. This approach is a good starting point when learning to breastfeed and is also helpful for addressing any and all breastfeeding challenges or concerns (including nipple pain, baby not getting enough milk from the breast, and blocked ducts, late onset decreasing milk supply and flow).
Keep your baby close by, skin-to-skin, as much as practical, and watch for early feeding cues (e.g. licking lips, bobbing or pecking on your chest, bringing hands toward the mouth). Offer the breast as soon as you see these cues – in other words, feed your baby on demand, whenever the baby is ready. Feeding by the clock results in difficulties in the short term and long term both. The earlier you put the baby to the breast once s/he is showing signs of hunger, the less likely the baby is to be frustrated or angry the baby, and thus, the more likely s/he is to take the breast calmly. Note, crying is a late sign of hunger. In fact, most babies cry when they are hungry.
How a baby takes the breast (latches on) can affect how well the baby gets milk and whether or not you will have nipple pain. See also latch quiz.
When latching babies in any position, these basic principles should always apply.
- Avoid waiting to latch the baby on. As soon as the baby is showing signs of hunger (rooting, sucking fingers, searching for the breast, latch the baby on to the breast.
- If latching in a cross-cradle or football position, place the webbed area between your index finger and thumb at the base of the baby’s head or on the neck. Wrap the four fingers under the baby’s face like a pillow. Keep the fingers together to support the weight of baby’s head. Watch this video, which makes it and what follows easier to understand.
- Use the side of your forearm to maintain pressure against the baby’s bottom/bum/butt. This will result in the baby’s coming to the breast so that the nipple automatically is pointing to the roof of the baby’s mouth. This video shows how pushing the baby’s bottom gets a more asymmetric latch without taking the baby of the breast.
- Align baby’s upper lip to the nipple, though this will occur naturally if you maintain the pressure against the baby’s bottom with the side of your forearm. Move the baby to the breast and not the breast the breast to the baby. The nipple should not be aligned with baby’s chin or between baby’s lips.
- If latching in cross-cradle, tuck the baby’s bottom half/bum tightly against your body with your elbow. Baby’s head should be tilted back slightly so the nose is up and the chin is away from his/her chest. Again, this should occur without thinking too much about it if you maintain the pressure against the baby’s bottom and have your hand under the baby’s face (not on his neck or on his shoulder).
- If baby is having a hard time latching or is hesitating, move mouth away slightly and then, run nipple along the baby’s upper lip, from one corner to the other, until baby opens wide.
- When latching you can support or shape the breast with your free hand. Be sure not to lift or move the breast towards the baby’s mouth – move the baby toward your breast instead.
- Hold baby close to you while breastfeeding.
Your view of baby when latched (cross-cradle position shown)
2. DRINKING AND SUCKING
- The baby is not receiving milk just because the breast is in his/her mouth and baby is making sucking movements
- When a baby is getting milk, the sucking movements will show a longer drop and “pause” in his/her chin. This pause that is visible in the baby’s chin means baby is getting a mouthful of milk. The longer the pause, the more milk the baby got.
- When the baby is sucking and not getting milk the chin moves down and up rapidly with no pausing of the chin at the maximum opening. See this video of a baby sucking but receiving little milk.
- When babies are sucking but not drinking, they either fall asleep at the breast (especially younger babies) or somewhat older (the baby in the video is 3 months old) they pull at the breast. Some babies will do one thing at one feeding and another at another feeding. Some babies will appear to look uncomfortable or “gassy”, “fussy”, or “squirming” at the breast when sucking without drinking. Usually they are not reacting to gas as babies really are not much bothered by gas: they are reacting to slower milk flow.
- When the baby is sucking with only occasional drinking, use the technique of breast compression to increase the flow of milk to the baby. Start breast compressions before the baby gets too sleepy or fussy.
- While the baby is sucking, use either hand to make a “C” shape to encircle the breast in any way that is comfortable for you.
- Keep your hand close to your ribs and away from the nipple and the baby’s mouth.
- Squeeze the breast firmly, but not so hard that it is painful.
4. SWITCH SIDES
When the baby no longer drinks even with compressions, and before the baby gets too sleepy or fussy, switch sides and repeat the process. It may be useful going back and forth from one breast to the other as many times as needed as long as the baby is doing some drinking. Keeping the baby drinking by compressing and switching sides should keep the baby happy and awake. This will help the baby get as much milk as possible and make the feeding efficient.
If supplementation is needed, the best way to give it is with a lactation aid at the breast. Please add the lactation aid as recommended by your lactation consultant and depending on baby’s drinking and behaviour at the breast. See also the “Lactation Aid” information sheet.
5. HOW TO KNOW BABY IS “DONE”
Ideally , the baby will fall asleep or pull away from the breast while drinking and not from sucking without drinking. If you are ending the feed and trying to unlatch your baby but she/he wants to stay on and continues to suck, then it’s likely that the baby still wants more. Add compressions or switch sides to help the baby continue drinking.
If the baby is full, he/she will generally be content when off of the breast (even if put down) and may or may not go to sleep. If in doubt offer the breast again and use compressions from the beginning and switch sides as needed to keep baby drinking.
The information presented here is general and not a substitute for personalized treatment from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or other qualified medical professionals.
This information sheet may be copied and distributed without further permission on the condition that you credit International Breastfeeding Centre that it is not used in any context that violates the WHO International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (1981) and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions. If you don’t know what this means, please email us to ask!
©IBC, updated June 2017, 2021
Questions or concerns? Email Dr. Jack Newman (read the page carefully, and answer the listed questions).
Make an appointment at the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic.