Saturday, April 25, 2009

What You Need to Know Before You Breastfeed: Learning to Latch

Mothering is about teaching. The way we respond to our children and the way we act and react every day teaches our children about life. But there are also specific things we need to teach our children so that they can live healthy, happy lives. The first thing you will teach your child is how to latch on to your breast.

Latch is the word used to describe how your baby's mouth is attached to your breast. If your baby is latched correctly, nursing will be comfortable after the first few days (more on that later). If your baby is latched correctly, she will be able to easily access your milk, and her sucking will encourage your body to produce the right amount of milk for your baby. If you baby is not latched correctly, she will not be able to get enough milk, her sucking will wear on your nipples, your milk supply will not be established properly, and it will really all be downhill from there.

How can you tell if your baby is latched correctly? Here is a checklist of things to check for. Basically, if the baby is just sucking your nipple and you have a kind of pinched feeling in your breast, the latch is probably not correct. If you are still really, really sore after the first few days, when your skin seems to be over the initial chafing, suspect a bad latch.

For the first few weeks, every time you breastfeed, you need to check that your baby is latched on properly. If she is not, then you need to gently remove her from the breast, and start over. This will be frustrating. A hungry baby does not like to be removed from her food source, and she will cry a little. Which means her mouth will be wide open, and you can calm her down and encourage her to go back on the breast quite easily. Even though this will frustrate your baby, it is essential to the long term future of your breast feeding relationship. Like so many things in life, the short term aggravation is really, really worth the long term payoff.

It might be that the baby's top lip is open, but the bottom lip is curled in, rather than open, like its supposed to be. In this case, all you have to do is gently pull the baby's chin until her lip relaxes open.

Once you are a few days in, make sure you get to see a health nurse or lactation consultant or a doctor that actually knows about breastfeeding, so they can check that the baby is latching properly. If you are worried about something and no one is coming to see you, don't be afraid to drop in somewhere and just ask someone -- a doctor, a nurse, a lactation consultant, your friend who has nursed three kids, the local La Leche League leader -- if it looks right to them. This is not the time to be shy. This is the time to get things right.

Most of all, don't get discouraged. Don't get in a panic. Keep calm and carry on. And keep working on teaching your baby their very first lesson.

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