You might have heard of baby-led weaning… but did you know about something called baby-led latching?
Baby-led latching (sometimes called baby-led breastfeeding) is a breastfeeding technique where you let baby latch on their own, without assistance from you. The advantage of this is that it uses the innate feeding skills that he or she is born with, which can result in an effective, deep latch. If you think about it… other mammals do not help their babies latch on. Mom just lays there and the babies find their way! Human babies can do the same thing. Isn’t that amazing??
The goal with baby-led latching is to work WITH baby’s feeding instincts, and not against them. Sometimes, the amount of “help” we give baby and the breastfeeding positions we use are not providing baby with an opportunity to take advantage of these great feeding instincts that they have. This can result in breastfeeding problems like sore nipples or baby not getting quite enough milk.
A comfortable, effective latch usually looks like this:
– Baby’s head should be slightly extended, or tilted back.
– Baby’s mouth should be opened wide with the lips in a neutral or flanged out position
– Baby’s chin should be in contact with the breast and the nose should be free
Baby-led latching can help baby to get into the proper position so that they can achieve these things and have a great feeding!
You can start practicing baby-led latching from the minute baby is born. When placed skin to skin on mom’s chest immediately after delivery, baby will perform the “breast crawl” over a period of about an hour. The “breast crawl” is when baby moves towards the nipple using their newborn reflexes. The reflexes that babies use while find the nipple and latching include stepping, crawling, rooting, sucking, swallowing, hand-to-mouth movements, and movements of the head and mouth (Colson, 2008). Baby’s head might move side to side or up and down as they find their way. When they are ready, they will latch on, taking in a large mouthful of breast, which triggers the suck reflex so they can start getting breastmilk!
One really cool thing to note: It is believed that the smell of the nipple helps guide the baby towards it. One study found that sweat samples from the nipple-areola region of women during pregnancy and after childbirth contained a unique, distinctive pattern of compounds, which is “probably useful as a guide to nourishment” (Vaglio, 2009). The scent of our nipples can help baby to locate their food. Amazing!
The positioning used for baby-led latching is sometimes referred to as “biological nurturing” or “laid back breastfeeding.” Baby’s tummy should be right up against your tummy, as you are leaning back. This allows baby to laying in more of a face-down position while latching on, which helps to trigger those feeding instincts that they will use to get to the nipple and feed. It also can be very comfortable and relaxing for you, because of the recommended position that your body is in while feeding the baby (leaning back) and because baby’s position while nursing allows your body to support most of their weight, as opposed to your arms.
Even moms who have not been using the baby-led latching technique from the beginning or who have had to assist their baby with latching by holding and shaping their breast can apply the positioning principles of baby-led latching: skin-to-skin contact, leaning back, and having baby’s tummy right up against you. You can shape your breast to help baby latch on if you need to, and being in this tummy-to-tummy position while leaning back can make latching more comfortable and more effective!
Spending lots of time in skin-to-skin contact with your baby can provide for lots of opportunities for low-pressure latching in this position. Lots of eye contact and cuddle time while doing skin-to-skin can help you to identify baby’s early feeding cues and puts baby in close proximity to the nipple for frequent latching practice. All of these things help to make feeding a more positive experience for both of you, so babies who have been having breastfeeding difficulties or have been displaying frustration at the breast can really benefit from spending time in this position.
If you have questions about baby-led latching or other feeding positions or are in need of breastfeeding support of any kind, please reach out to us for a one-on-one consult! Sometimes, a second set of eyes can be helpful to help you figure out where you can tweak your positioning a bit to make feeding more comfortable for both of you.
Colson SD, Meek JH, Hawdon JM. Optimal positions for the release of primitive neonatal reflexes stimulating breastfeeding. Early Hum Dev. 2008 Jul;84(7):441-9. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2007.12.003. Epub 2008 Feb 19. PMID: 18243594
Vaglio S. (2009). Chemical communication and mother-infant recognition. Communicative & integrative biology, 2(3), 279–281. https://doi.org/10.4161/cib.2.3.8227