Open Wide: How to get a baby to open wide when latching.
I feel like I have to wait for my baby to cry before I try to latch, what can I do?
This is a common question! We have learned a lot of exciting things about the reflexive and learned behaviors of newborns. In response to this new research, even lactation consultants have changed the way we support baby’s latch.
Ten years ago: We may have been quicker to ‘stuff’ the breast into the mouth, even tug on chins to pull mouths more open. We understood that babies needed to open wide, but we didn’t understand the importance of EVERYTHING leading up to the moment of latching and into feeding.
Today: We now know that effective feeding ‘involves the toes to the nose’ and that your baby is designed to go through a sequence of events that ends in a satisfied feeding.
One of the amazing things we have learned more about is the breast-crawl:
- If you put your infant skin-to-skin on your belly when you are reclining, your baby will start to pull and push and cycle with their knees, legs and feet in an effort to crawl to the breast. The back muscles contract and the shoulders lift as your baby moves up to the areola. Their hands may push against your chest on either side of the breast as they lift their head and then bob to locate the breast.
- The sensory feedback of your warm skin and the smell of the nipple/milk will cause your baby to salivate, lick, and root.
- The head comes back and the mouth gapes open, moving onto the breast and taking the areolar tissue and nipple into their mouth.
What we see happening in these feeds is:
- How capable the baby is
- The importance of sequence.
Swaddling and feeding?
If a swaddled infant is placed near mom’s nipple, none of these steps can occur because baby’s hands and feet are wrapped inside. Your baby may or may not latch productively.
A simple intervention is to let your baby use all of their natural reflexes to do it themselves, from start to finish.
We may think it’s helpful when the nurse at the hospital grabs your baby and your breast and then pushes the breast into the open mouth. In reality, it’s the PROCESS that your baby needs, especially early on.
I suggest observing your baby. Watch them do their ‘baby thing’. Let your newborn decide when to latch rather than feeling like you’ve got to find that right moment to “put” your breast in their mouth, or “pull” them closer to you.
Always go for the earliest feeding cues: lip smacking, tongue motions, hands up at their mouth, head turning to side as though looking for something (they are!), sucking. Try not to wait for later cues such as crying. Babies lose their ability to organize if they progress to crying. It’s ok—we can’t always get to them so quickly! Just soothe them and then try for nursing.
You don’t always need to lie back to feed, but this position allows for the best unfolding of baby’s reflexive behaviors. It can be a helpful position to encourage a baby to open wide, almost like a resetting of this movement into nursing. When we listen to babies, we find we can become more flexible. You can explore different positions such as “cradle”, “football” or “sidelying”. Your comfort and baby’s behavior will tell you how it’s working!
Suzanne Colson researched and introduced this approach of Laid-Back breastfeeding:
Another great video showing the approach into getting back onto mom:
Your baby learns to run by first learning to walk; to walk by first crawling; to crawl by first learning to roll over, sit up, then pull themselves up. Nursing is learned through movement in their little bodies and lays the foundation for all the movements to come. A sound foundation for healthy development—neurological and physical—is laid in these early feeding relationships.
It is recommended that you see a Lactation Consultant if:
- You are experiencing any discomfort or pain with nursing
- You have sore, cracked or damaged nipples
- Your baby is not gaining adequate weight
- There is less than optimal transferring of milk or you are not sure how much your baby is getting
- Your baby cannot easily achieve a wide latch
A Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) has the expertise to support and investigate underlying causes to ensure successful breastfeeding and ongoing oral development. Other lactation professionals and health care providers will be able to offer advice/support, and an IBCLC can collaborate with your health care team. This information does not replace the advice of your Lactation Consultant or other health care providers.
Birthways’ IBCLCs offer Warmline phone support, breastfeeding clinics, and home consultations available to support mothers breastfeeding, pumping, combination feeding, through weaning. Please reach out if you are in need of support.