Breastfeeding Latch

A good breastfeeding latch doesn’t cause you pain and allows your baby to get enough milk to support healthy weight gain. You can help your baby get a good latch by finding a comfortable breastfeeding position and making sure your baby’s mouth is open wide enough. A breastfeeding medicine specialist or lactation consultant can help.

What is breastfeeding latch?

Breastfeeding latch, or simply latch, refers to how your baby’s mouth attaches to your nipple and areola when breastfeeding (chestfeeding). Your baby needs to latch on to your breast to begin taking in milk and gain nourishment. Exactly what a good breastfeeding latch looks like can vary. So, don’t pressure yourself to have a so-called “perfect latch” (there’s no such thing).

Breastfeeding experts advise finding a comfortable position for breastfeeding and using simple measures to help your baby latch. But if your baby has certain medical issues (like tongue-tie), latching on for breastfeeding might be more challenging. Plus, every baby is different. What’s easy for one parent to do might be harder in your situation. And that’s OK. It’s just a matter of finding what works best for your baby.

If you’re having difficulties with getting your baby to latch, don’t give up. And don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Talk to a breastfeeding medicine specialist (a medical doctor with advanced training in breastfeeding management) or lactation consultant. These healthcare professionals can offer tips on how to get a good latch.


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What factors affect breastfeeding latch?

Many different factors influence how well your baby can latch on for breastfeeding. These include:

  • Your baby’s positioning at your breast.
  • The depth of your baby’s latch (how much of your breast they take into their mouth).
  • Your baby’s developmental stage, including whether they were born early.
  • The anatomy of your baby’s mouth and jaw.
  • Medical conditions affecting your baby, including reflux and congenital (present at birth) conditions like tongue-tie.
  • The size of your breasts and nipples.
  • Your milk supply and rate of milk flow.

With all these factors at play, be kind and patient with yourself and your baby. In an ideal scenario, your baby would latch on automatically and happily suckle away. But if that doesn’t happen, it’s OK. Difficulties with getting your baby to latch are very common, and it’s not a failing on your part. A healthcare provider can help you identify what’s affecting your baby’s latch and how to adjust.

Good vs. bad latch

A good breastfeeding latch:

  • Allows your baby to get enough milk to support healthy weight gain.
  • Is comfortable for both you and your baby.
  • Doesn’t cause you pain.

If you’re experiencing nipple pain, a current or past improper latch is often to blame. What this typically means is that your baby’s only latching on to your nipple. Healthcare providers call this a shallow latch.

With a shallow latch, your baby’s mouth abnormally presses on your nipple and causes pain. In fact, their mouth should cover not just your nipple but also about 1 to 2 inches of your areola asymmetrically. This means more of the areola on the bottom is taken into baby’s mouth than the top, with the nipple aiming for the roof of baby’s mouth. Making sure your baby’s mouth is open wide enough can help them latch on properly.

It’s important to know that nipple pain can result from many causes besides a poor latch. These include:

Talk to a healthcare provider if you have any pain with breastfeeding. Don’t wait or put up with it. They’ll identify the cause and tell you what to do to feel better.

How can I get a proper breastfeeding latch?

The first step toward getting a good breastfeeding latch is finding a comfortable breastfeeding position. What’s most comfortable depends on your preferences, your anatomy and your baby’s anatomy.

Regardless of the position you choose, some general latching tips always apply:

  1. Make sure your baby is close to you with their ear, shoulder and hip in a straight line. Your baby should be well-supported so that you can easily bring them to your breast (and not bring breast to baby). Grasp your breast just behind the areola with a c-shape hold, almost like you’re holding a sandwich for your baby to eat.
  2. Guide your baby toward your nipple.
  3. Let your nipple gently tickle your baby’s upper and bottom lip, aiming the nipple toward baby’s nose. Doing so will help your baby open their mouth widely. It should look like they’re yawning.
  4. When your baby’s mouth is open wide enough, place your breast into their mouth, with your nipple aiming for the roof of their mouth. This encourages them to latch onto your areola (not just your nipple). You want your baby’s chin to be touching your breast.
  5. Once your baby latches on, don’t let go of your breast yet. Hold it with your fingers for around 20 seconds. This gives your baby time to begin sucking on their own. Then, you can let go.

Should I use a nipple shield?

In most cases, the answer is no. A nipple shield is a silicone device you wear over your nipple to help your baby latch on. It’s a temporary solution that helps in select situations.

For example, if your baby was using only bottles and never latched to your breast before, a nipple shield can help them transition to direct breastfeeding. Another example is if you have inverted nipples.

If you’re using a nipple shield, you should work with a lactation specialist closely in order to have a plan to discontinue the shield as soon as possible. This is because a shield can be associated with decreased transfer of milk and decreased supply with continued use.


When should I see a healthcare provider?

Call a breastfeeding medicine specialist or lactation consultant if:

  • You have pain associated with breastfeeding.
  • Your baby won’t stay latched on, making it difficult or impossible to give them enough milk.
  • Your baby pushes away when trying to latch.
  • You have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding.

Your provider will help you work through any issues you’re facing. Breastfeeding has many benefits for you and your baby. So, don’t get discouraged if your baby isn’t latching on or nursing as easily as you’d hoped. These are common roadblocks that most people can overcome with a little extra support from healthcare professionals.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

If you’re wondering how to get a good breastfeeding latch, you’re not alone. The main thing to remember is that there’s no such thing as a perfect latch. What’s ideal for you and your baby depends on many factors, and you’re the best judge of what feels comfortable and right. But if you’re experiencing pain or difficulty with breastfeeding, it might be time to take a closer look at your baby’s latch to see if you need to make adjustments. Your healthcare provider is there to support you in this journey.

Care at Cleveland Clinic
Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 10/15/2023.

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