Reposted with permission from StarGate Libraries
Latch is the term used to describe the technique of placing one’s lips and tongue over the nipple and areola in order to suckle milk from the breast. Latching is relatively simple in practice; however, when mis-performed it can reduce the effectiveness of the breast’s natural ability synthesize and express milk, and in some cases, prevent lactation altogether.
It is a common misconception is that inside the female breast is some sort of large reservoir from which milk has to be sucked. In reality milk is made in the breast to supply the needs of the person who is suckling, and there is never more than a few drops inside the breast at any one time.
Engorgement, (painful swelling of the breasts), is caused by a build up of body fluids, not from too much milk. Hard suckling only results in a sore mouth and sore nipples and does not increase milk flow. When the technique of latch is mastered, removing milk from the breast and expressing it into the mouth becomes, quite possibly, the easiest part of inducing lactation.
The process of milk being moved from the mammary glands, through the milk ducts, to small milk sinuses beneath the nipple and areola occurs automatically as a result of the milk ducts being stimulated by the hormone, Oxytocin.
Once the milk sinus is filled, it is a simple process to express the milk into the mouth by suckling. The ease by which the mammary system can move milk to the nipple from the mammary glands may be observed during a phenomena known as, spontaneous let-down reflex. When a nursing mother is engorged and needing to be nursed, it isn’t uncommon for her milk to spontaneously let-down at the sound of a baby crying. When this occurs, milk may spontaneously drip from the nipples, causing embarrassing wet spots on her dress or blouse.
Because of differences in the size and shape of each woman’s breasts, nipples, and areolas, the exact technique of ‘latching on’ may vary somewhat from couple to couple.
To ‘latch’ correctly, the lips must be sealed against the areola, rather than just around the nipple. Sucking the air from the mouth will pull the nipple and a portion of the areola back onto the tongue far enough, where it can be pressed against the roof of the mouth.
The natural reflex of the tongue pressing against the roof of the mouth while swallowing, squeezes the milk sinuses behind the nipple, expressing milk into the mouth. Suckling is accomplished by a pulsation of rhythmic sucking, moderate squeezing of the nipple and a portion of the areola by the tongue, and occasional swallowing.
As a couple becomes experienced with adult nursing, suckling becomes rhythmic and relaxed. Here is a tip which will help you understand how latch and suckling is accomplished.
Place your index finger about half way back on your tongue, then seal your lips around your finger. Now suck all of the air out of your mouth and swallow. Notice as you swallow, your tongue presses your finger against the roof of your mouth. It is the combination of vacuum in the mouth and pressure from the tongue that squeezes milk from the nipple, rather than sucking alone.