Saturday, April 30, 2011

Positioning and Latch-on

We spend an awful lot of time discussing latch-on and positioning. I recently looked at the wording in a pamphlet that was explaining how to "properly position" an infant for breastfeeding...the standard cradle, cross-cradle, football and side lying positions were explained along with all the directions, "elevate feet to ensure legs are level and turn infant tummy to baby in crux of arm...hand must be placed behind head...etc, etc..."Really?! I was exhausted after reading all the rules and regulations of breastfeeding. I am also not surprised when the formula companies patiently describe the above scenario and take great satisfaction at using directions from lactation experts in their written material. We supply many of the information used by the companies trying to paint breastfeeding as difficult and exhausting.

When infants and moms are left skin-to-skin following birth, often spontaneous breastfeeding occurs within and hour to 90 minutes. No panic, no readjusting, no mandatory pillows...just baby and breast in proximity. Remind mom to stay in her comfortable, "laid back" position and place baby vertically on her body. We see a "baby crawl" and latch. Yet, when well-meaning attendees attempt to "position" the baby, they often interfere with the natural progression and bonding time. Reclined breastfeeding is not anything new. Lactation books explained this years ago, but somehow we lost contact with our instincts and tried to control the experience, or perhaps the medications administered during labor inhibited instincts. More about the laid back position and biological nurturing can be found at

With that said, there are situations and scenarios when assistance is necessary and imperative. A baby with Down Syndrome will definitely benefit from the Dancer Hold.
If poor muscle tone makes it difficult for your baby to latch on well, try supporting your baby's chin and jaw while nursing using the "Dancer Hold." (The name of this position was coined by Sarah Coulter Danner, RN, CPNP, CNM, IBCLC and Ed Cerutti, MD. "Dancer" comes from the first letters of their last names (Dan + Cer).) Hold your baby with the arm opposite the breast you'll be offering. Using the hand on the same side as the breast you are offering, cup your breast with your thumb on one side of the breast, palm beneath, index finger pointing outward, and the other three fingers on the other side of the breast. Use your index finger to support your baby's lower jaw while nursing. As your baby's muscle tone improves through breastfeeding and maturity, he will become able to support himself and breastfeed more effectively.
Although laid-back is effectively used with cesarean births, some moms are concerned about the feet touching the incision. If a mom wants the baby on her side, there is nothing wrong with instructing on the "football hold." Remember, as lactation consultants, we desire to protect the breastfeeding relationship and construct a plan that is agreed upon with the mother. She is autonomous and we must respect that.

As the baby ages, there is little talk about positioning and latch. Babies will eat in any position and adjust well to change. The initial information we give mom should include the point that breastfeeding is natural and babies know how to do baby skin-to-skin following delivery and enjoy the bonding time...position the baby vertically and use your hands to guide and direct as he begins to crawl to the breast. Also, timing is not that crucial. Babies have spent the hours leading up to birth at the "all-you-can-eat buffet." They do not come out starving. Allow the baby time to adjust to the new surroundings and relax.

Moms do need to know that breastfeeding should not be painful. Latch is an issue if no milk transfer is occurring or if mom is experiencing pain. Lactation Consultants can help by observing a feed. Observe a complete feed. Watch mom's breast, the position of the areola in the infant's mouth, the rhythm of the feed, listen for swallows, check to make sure the infants lips are flanged and then observe mom's nipple following the feed (it should be round and symmetrical and not pinched or wedged).

Observation is a lactation consultant's best tool. Look for clues to the mystery of pain like where the nipple is damaged, how severe the damage is, the length of the feeding, the baby's demeanor following the feed--all of these are clues.  Lactation Consultants are detectives. Watch, look and listen--a phrase we all learned in kindergarten--is the best advice I can offer anyone in or entering the field of lactation.

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Christy Jo Hendricks, IBCLC Doula

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