The signs of a good latch

How do I know that my baby is latched properly?

Latched properly, a baby will be mostly settled and breastfeed normally. The breast should be held in the baby’s mouth by a strong suction. The baby’s lips may be hard to see because they will be close to the breast, but they should not be folded back into the mouth. If they are, they should be gently pulled out. The baby’s nose should touch the breast but not be blocked by it. In the first few weeks after birth, mothers may feel nipple pain as the baby latches, even if the baby is latching properly.

A) Describing a good latch

Latching happens when the baby brings the nipple and the tissue just behind the nipple (the nipple root) into the mouth and creates suction to hold them in place.

A baby who is latched well will:

  • Hold the breast in the mouth with a strong suction.
  • Have lips that are resting, or in a turned-out position (flanged), on the breast.
  • Have the nose touching or slightly squished into the breast.
  • Not have the nose blocked by the breast.
  • Be settled and not agitated, although occasional upset from choking or tummy cramps is normal.
  • Have a normal breastfeed.

Having the baby in a good position at the breast is important, as poor positioning can affect the latch.

B) Ensure that the baby’s lips are not folded back into the mouth

Babies breastfeed with their lips flanged when the breast is very full or resting on the breast if it is softer.

The baby’s upper or lower lip can become folded into the mouth, if the baby’s mouth is not open enough when latching. This can happen occasionally. If you notice this, gently tease the lip out of the baby’s mouth with your finger and ensure that the baby opens a little wider the next time.

If your baby always has lips curled in when breastfeeding, see your health-care provider. It is possibly a medical problem including:

  • Weakness of the facial muscles which can be caused by:
    • Problems of the nerves of the face (Bell’s palsy or Moebius syndrome)
    • Down syndrome 
  • A prominent lip-tie affecting the upper lip

C) Poor latch is only one cause of nipple pain

Mothers frequently have nipple pain, and even nipple damage, during the first few days and weeks after delivery. This should be addressed and is not a reliable sign of a poor latch. Indeed, newborn babies who latch well and suck hard can often cause pain as the nipple adapts to breastfeeding.