Despite what you have been told, the perfect latch requires more than just putting your nipple into your baby’s mouth. While there are many ways to latch your baby onto your breast, this description is what I consider to be the “perfect latch.” It is perfect because it results in the most efficient milk transfer, which predicates every other outcome in breastfeeding. If your baby cannot latch on correctly and transfer milk efficiently, then none of the “rules” of breastfeeding apply. In fact, if your baby is not latched on correctly, following those “rules” will most likely lead you to failure and frustration.This is a general overview of the perfect latch:
- Finding the breast: At birth, your baby navigates mostly through smell and touch. Therefore, skin-to-skin contact right after birth is the first step in bonding with your baby. Your baby can “smell” where to go.
- Gape reflex: The gape reflex refers to the over-wide opening that a newborn can do. It is not a simple mouth opening. It is almost a dislocation of the jaw, so your baby can hold her mouth in a wide open position and keep it that way without effort. With a normal gape, your baby should be able to open so wide that she can fit most of your areola in her mouth and form a seal. Your nipple should sit deep inside her mouth, far away from moving parts. At birth babies can either do this, or they cannot. It doesn’t change, stretch or grow. (see Challenges)
- Latching on: When your baby latches onto your breast it should feel GOOD. Not just good, but amazing! With a proper latch, your baby’s mouth stimulates touch receptors on your areola which send a message to your brain to release a hormone called oxytocin. This results in a feeling of euphoria and bonding with your baby. It also releases half of your milk supply, making milk transfer even easier for your baby.
NOTE: If you are having pain when your baby latches on, and adjusting the positioning does not alleviate the pain, then she has a shallow latch due to a restricted gape. No matter what anyone tells you, they cannot tell by looking that the latch is correct. It is something that YOU can feel, and it feels painful. Latching should feel good.