Getting the proper latch can make or break your breastfeeding experience. Our step-by-step guide will help you do it right.

Nursing may be the most natural way to feed your baby, but it’s not innate. Both you and your new­born will need to learn how to breast­feed and, truth be told, the first few days and weeks of breastfeeding can be tough. Your commitment to nurs­ing and getting support—from your partner, family and friends or a pro­fessional—all play into how successful your experience will be (see “Nursing Know-How Starts Now,” pg. 106). But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of nursing, it’s all about the latch.

Description: Description: Both you and your new¬born will need to learn how to breast¬feed

Both you and your new­born will need to learn how to breast­feed

“When you get down to the tech­nical aspects of breastfeeding, the latch is the No. 1 key to success,” says Shari Criso, R.N., M.S.N., C.N.M, B.C.L.C., a board-certified lactation consultant and creator of the Simply Breastfeeding DVD. A good latch means pain-free nursing for most. Plus, when your baby is latched on correctly, he’s able to draw the most milk from your breast, so he’ll be well fed after every nursing session and your breasts get the message that they need to keep producing milk— a boon for you and your baby.

If nursing isn’t working for you or your baby, don’t fret. Here are three com­mon newbie challenges, and how to fix ’em:

1. Painful nursing

Continuous pain throughout the feeding is the sign of a bad latch. It may hurt initially when your baby latches on, but then the pain should quickly subside. If nursing hurts, first break the suction by placing your finger in between your baby’s lips and your skin, then gently remove your baby from your breast and try for a better latch.

2. A fussy baby

If the baby keeps pulling off and on, or wiggling around, he’s probably not comfortable. Check that he is on his side, with his shoulders aligned with his hips, and prop him up with an extra pillow if necessary. If he’s still fussy, he may need to be burped.

3. Back pain

If you’re feeling back pain, you’re likely leaning forward. Sit up straight and reposition your baby so he is level with your breast. You want the baby to come to your breast, rather than leaning over to bring your breast to him. Using a small stool under your feet to lift your knees higher than your hips will also help you sit tall and take the pressure off your lower back.

Nursing know-how starts now

As a mom-to-be, now is the time to start lining up the support you need for nursing. Talk to your husband or partner and your close family and friends about your desire to breastfeed, take a breastfeeding class for expectant moms and, to ensure you’ll have extra help on hand if you need it, get the name and number of a local lactation consultant. Ask your OB-GYN or a trusted friend for a recommendation or go to the International Lactation Consultant Association (iica.org) to find one in your area.

3 steps to the getting the best latch

First things first: Get comfortable. Sit down and place a firm pillow on your lap; you can use a pillow designed specifically for nursing or a regular pillow. Lay your baby on his side, with the front of his body facing you; his head, shoulders and hips should be in a straight line and his mouth should be level with, and directly in front of, your nipple. If he is too low, stack another pillow on your lap. You want the baby to come to your breast, rather than leaning over to bring your breast to him.

Step 1 - Determine which breast

Description: Description: Step 1 - Determine which breast

Step 1 - Determine which breast

You’ll be feeding from and hold your baby using your arm on the opposite side of your body. Using the hand on the same side as the chosen breast, place your fingers under your breast, your thumb along the side, and lift it up and forward (much like the effect of a push-up bra). With your opposite arm, pull your baby close to you, tilt his head back slightly and tickle his lips with your nipple until he opens his mouth wide.

Step 2 - Help your baby

Description: Description: Step 2 - Help your baby

Step 2 - Help your baby

Get as much of your breast as possible into his mouth by placing his lower jaw on first, well below the nipple.

Step 3 - Tilt his head forward

Description: Description: Step 3 - Tilt his head forward

Step 3 - Tilt his head forward

Placing his upper jaw deeply onto your breast; the goal is to get your nipple as far back into his mouth as possible. Make sure he takes the entire nipple and as much of the areola as he can into his mouth. Keep your fingers under your breast to help your baby stay latched on correctly; if your arm starts to get tired, prop it up with an extra pillow.

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