Ask Judy: How Can I Get My Son To Latch On?

Dear Judy, Do you have any tips besides using a nipple shield to help my infant son to open his mouth wider to get a better latch? I’ve tried a nipple shield but I’d like to get away from using it. Alaina F., Pittsburgh PA

Hi Alaina,

Why do you think he isn’t latching properly? Do you think it is because your nipple isn’t sticking far enough into his mouth? Is that why the nipple shield helps? It is important for your nipple to stick far enough into his mouth so that you stimulate his suck reflex. The shield can help with this, but should only be used as a last resort.

The best way to get a wider latch is to have your son approach the breast with his nose perpendicular to your nipple so that his chin hits your breast first. This will enable him to open wide and take the rest of your breast in. It is sometimes hard when babies are little and breasts are large. I have also found that rather than trying to “sandwich” the whole breast to get him to take it, try just sandwiching your areola and let him take that in. That way he will be able to get a portion that fits in his mouth and can draw the rest in himself. As he gets larger, he will get better at latching too.

It is important to take him off and correct the latch whenever it isn’t right so that you don’t develop bad latch habits. I would avoid using the nipple shield unless it is determined that you really need it. It can cause nipple confusion and you really don’t want to have to deal with that unless you have to.

If you get him to latch wider and he still isn’t drawing you in enough or sucking efficiently, then his suck reflex may not be stimulated properly. If the shield helps with this, there are some other things you can try to get the same effect without a shield.
– Pump for a few minutes before you try to latch him on, this will draw out your nipple and enable to him latch with better efficiency
– Wear a breast shell in your bra in between nursing sessions – this will also help to draw out your nipple so that he can later easier.

If all else fails, you may have to resort to the nipple shield, but I highly recommend a visit to the Breastfeeding Center to meet with a lactation consultant before going that route. There is also the possibility of tongue tie or other things that may interfere with getting a good latch. They can help diagnose the problem in person and they are covered by most health insurance companies.

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