5 Tricks for Latching with Flat Nipples
If you have flat nipples, then latching your baby can be a bit more challenging. In this blog, I’m going to tell you how to know if you really have flat nipples, help you understand why it's harder for babies to latch, and what you can do to make that easier.
1. Start feeding early
2. Help your baby get the ‘it's time to feed memo’ by making sure they go through all the steps their brain needs to cue up the different feeding muscles.
3. Add shape to your nipple to provide more sensory input to make your nipple firmer. 4. Activate the sucking muscles by letting them suck on your figure.
5. Experiment with dripping small amounts of breast milk down above your nipple.
6. Use a nipple shield.
So what are flat nipples?
Flat nipples are nipples that are just short. They don’t stick out very far past your areola…and this is different from being *small* which would be nipples that may have a narrow base but stick out far in relation to their size.
Flat nipples are 100% biologically normal nipples, and absolutely perfect for breastfeeding, but it can make it harder for your baby to latch in the beginning, and I’ll talk more about that in a little bit.
If you are pregnant and reading this, and have flat nipples, then don't panic.
Plenty of babies can nurse with flat nipples without a problem so you don't need to write your nipples in as the villain in your story before your baby is even here. You just need to put an asterisk next to it, so you can keep it on your radar as a reason why, *if* it happens.
The reason that flat nipples can make latching tricker is that when a nipple is short, especially if your nipple is *short AND soft*, it sometimes doesn’t provide as loud cue to your baby’s brain to say “start to suck.
If your baby’s brain doesn't get that memo, they may go through some of the latching processes, but then when it’s time to start sucking, they just don’t know what to do. Then they get frustrated and upset, and then you get frustrated and upset, and then everything everywhere all at once falls apart…and the hungrier your baby is the faster this happens.
So, what are you supposed to do if you have flat nipples and your baby is struggling to latch? You just help their brain figure it out.
When you are working with a baby that’s struggling a bit with latching, give yourself SO MUCH EXTRA time by feeding your baby way *before* they are hungry IF you can, so if you are working on helping your baby learn to latch, make sure you give yourself plenty of extra time, and practice when everyone is calm.
1. Cue up the feeding muscles.
The first thing you need to do is to make it super clear to your baby’s brain that it is You need to help make it super clear to your baby’s brain that it’s time to suck. One of the best ways to do that is to make sure you are going through their reflexive ‘set list’...which is the step-by-step map the brain uses to get help organizing and cue up the muscles that are needed to feed, in the right order.
The ‘set list’ your baby’s brain uses is rooting to get the nipple aligned, seeking (or looking up) to get the chin planted, seeking to open wide, and THEN sucking. So, the very FIRST thing you want to do is to make sure your baby can do as many of the reflexes before that suck step as possible so their brain knows *it's time* to suck.
Sometimes, this process is enough, because it just helps their brain organize what to do, particularly if you practice when you both are calm.
2. Make your nipple firmer.
If they go through those reflexive steps and get there and still don’t quite know what to do, then the next thing you can do is to make your nipple feel firmer. The way you do this is to shape your breast a little bit.
You gently squeeze behind your nipple, on your breast, or areola if yours are a sand dollar size or bigger, to make the nipple firmer. You aren’t trying to make your breast smaller to fit into your baby’s mouth. You still want your baby's mouth to open super wide…the squeezing here is just to make your nipple firmer so that when your baby goes through their reflexive steps, the cue is stronger.
You are going to do the exact same thing you did before, which is to get your baby into position to help their brain go through the steps to find your nipple and organize to feed, but the difference is that you are going to actually shape your breast as they are latching.
Where to put your hands is going to be really specific for your anatomy, and something you are going to have to experiment with…but know you can’t do this wrong. Keep in mind that latching is supposed to be a collaborative relationship, where everyone does their part, and we always want to be empowering our baby to do as much of this as they can.
How you and your baby get your best latch is your discovery waiting to happen.
The balance here is that the closer your hand is to your nipple, the firmer your nipple will be, but the more it may interfere with your baby’s mouth. So, you have to find the sweet spot. Where you put your hands is something you can experiment with. Remember, no matter where your hands are, the goal is to work to a latch where your baby is coming to your body, instead of putting your breast in your baby’s mouth.
3. Help them organize their suck
If you helping your baby go through their feeding “set list” so they are organizing their brain AND you are shaping your nipple AND they still aren’t latching, then there are a couple more things to try.
You can try getting your baby into position and using your finger to help them suck, and then once they are sucking on your finger, you can offer them your breast. You can do the same thing with a bit of milk from a bottle, feeding them in the position close to your body.
4. Add a little bit of milk
You can also add to this by using a syringe, and dripping a few drops of milk down your breast while your baby is there. I love the curved tip syringes for this because you can make them flat on your breast.
Your goal here is to just drip a little bit of milk down to give your baby the idea to start sucking. This works best with babies that are almost there…and just need a little extra something.
With the syringe approach, you definitely need a second set of hands AND it's only a little bit of milk - if you put too much, then the whole area will be wet, and that can make latching harder.
5. Experiment with a nipple shield
If your baby isn't able to latch with any of the methods above, or either one of you is feeling upset in the process, then you can experiment with using a nipple shield. You just want to make sure it's the right one for your body.
Remember that you get to experiment and you can't do it wrong, because there is no wrong for your baby. Latching isn't a light switch you either know how to do or don't. It's a recipe to figure out for you and your baby.
If your baby is struggling with latching or you are using a nipple shield to latch your baby, then you can also reach out to an IBCLC, like myself, to help you figure out the roadmap for your baby. If you have already reached out to an IBCLC and it didn't help, that doesn't mean there isn't help available for you. It just means that the person you worked with didn't have the right skills for you