A: Latching your baby onto the breast correctly is a key component in successful breastfeeding, and proper positioning is extremely important. Because newborns have little or no head control, mom must support baby’s head while teaching her how to latch onto the nipple. I suggest either a cross-cradle or football hold, so you can hold baby’s head securely in your hand and can direct her head toward your nipple with a quick, firm motion the moment she opens her mouth widely.
Touching your nipple to the tip of baby’s nose and then downward toward the chin encourages your newborn to open her mouth. As soon as baby’s mouth opens widely, move her head to your breast, so her lips grasp as much of the areola as possible. The upper lip may rest just above the nipple, but the lower lip should grasp a large part of the areola. During suckling, baby’s tongue and lower jaw draw the milk out of the breast with a continuous undulating motion. If her mouth is not properly positioned, this motion can cause trauma to the nipple, which may lead to nipple soreness.
If baby is not latched correctly, especially if nursing causes pain in the nipple, gently break baby’s suction with your little finger in the corner of her mouth, take her off the nipple and then re-latch correctly. Sometimes, you will have to do this several times, especially if baby tends to slip off during a feeding. There may be a lot of repositioning and repetition, but eventually your baby will learn this new and wonderful skill of breastfeeding. Although it takes a fair amount of patience, it is definitely worth the effort.
—Kathy Boyls, MD, FAAP, pediatrician, mom of two and author of The Boyls Breastfeeding Method