Correct Breastfeeding Latch Problems Before They Harm Your Milk Production
Babies who are not latched correctly are inefficient at removing milk and when the milk isn’t removed completely, milk supply decreases. The classic sign of a poor latch is sore or damaged nipples. I struggled with this with my second child. When she was born, she had a tiny mouth and a very tight jaw and she was very reluctant to open her mouth wide enough to take in enough breast. If it hadn’t been so painful, her wide open gape would have been funny – it was like trying to shove a cucumber into a pencil sharpener! Her nickname during this time was “fish lips”. Despite my best efforts, “fish lips” caused enough friction to damage both nipples to the point of bleeding.
To make matters worse the bleeding upset her stomach and she violently threw up blood one night. It was all over her and me. I didn’t think her tiny stomach could hold everything that came out of her. It was one of the scariest experiences I’ve had as a parent!
Even though I had previously nursed a child for two years and was extremely confident going in, I still had a tough time getting the correct breastfeeding latch. It took two visits from a lactation consultant along with jaw massage and jaw stretching exercises on my little newborn’s tiny mouth to get things back on track – although her fish lips were very cute they needed to go away, right away. By the time we got it resolved, my milk supply had already dropped.
If you have damaged or sore nipples, it’s highly likely a poor latch is to blame. It really is important to get the correct breastfeeding latch right away. The longer a poor latch goes on, the more baby gets used to that type of latch, and will want that poor latch each time he nurses because it feels right to him. The sooner it is corrected the easier it will be to fix, and the more everyone will enjoy breastfeeding.
Getting the correct breastfeeding latch is also important because when nursing is painful it can create some psychological road blocks that can further compound low milk supply. First, mothers who find nursing painful tend to put off nursings as long as possible, because it hurts! When dealing with low milk supply it’s imperative to nurse frequently, and any delays are going to make the situation worse. Second, painful nursing can inhibit the letdown reflex, making nursing less productive, and more frustrating for baby. Third, a poor latch has an impact on how effective milk removal is. For those who have heard that your nipples just need to toughen up, and want to just get through the pain, it’s not just about the pain. When baby’s mouth is not far enough back on the breast they are not compressing enough of the areola and the milk ducts underneath for proper milk expression. With a poor latch baby will not be getting enough nutrition, nursing sessions will take longer than they need to, and your breasts will not get stimulated enough to keep up production.
So what do you do if you suspect you need to correct a latch problem?
- Do not decrease your feedings in an attempt to heal the nipples – that will just decrease your milk supply further – and they don’t really heal any faster – as long as you fix the latch.
- Become educated about how to ensure a good latch. There’s loads of information online about how to get a good latch. Here’s just one video to get you started, but a quick search on YouTube will show you several others:
- Hire a lactation consultant to come to your home and guide you. Often times the one on one consultation of a certified lactation consultant is worth its weight in gold as she can see exactly what your baby is doing, and she can use her hands to help you fix the problems that are specific to you and your baby.
- Insist on a good latch every time you breastfeed, and make sure that the latch is maintained throughout the entire breastfeeding session. If it’s not a good latch, or the latch starts to slip part way through the nursing session slide your finger in along side your nipple to break the suction and get baby to release the nipple so you can try again. Sometimes it would take 10 minutes of latching and de-latching with “fish lips” until we finally got a good latch that would work. But it was well worth the extra effort.
- Unfortunately latch problems and nipple pain are very common, and many mothers are led to believe that it is normal, but if breastfeeding is painful for you, it is very important that you get help and correct breastfeeding latch problems right away. The great news is that once babies learn a proper latch they usually like it because they get more milk quickly, so it’s a very strong reinforcement. Once you and baby get it figured out the problems start to resolve quickly. It is worth the struggle of getting a correct breastfeeding latch.
Share your struggles and triumphs with getting a correct breastfeeding latch in the comments below!