The breastfeeding bond you are creating with your baby is incredible. The gift you are giving to them and yourself is unmatched.
But let me tell you, mama: I know that breastfeeding is challenging.
It takes a while to find your groove with your baby, regulate your supply, and correct a shallow latch while breastfeeding.
No much how time you had spent preparing for breastfeeding, it will take some time to master that skill.
Breastfeeding is a skill so many think will be innate, but actually comes with a steep learning curve for you and for baby. It’s an act that you and baby need to learn together. Often with the support of lactation consultants and other professionals.
It’s important for you to know that it’s completely normal to face challenges in your breastfeeding journey.
Especially in the beginning!
Learning how to correct a shallow latch is essential for your milk supply, comfort, and a successful breastfeeding journey. Let’s learn all about proper latching for breastfeeding today.
What is a Latch?
A latch, in short, is how baby’s mouth attaches to your boob to extract milk. This seemingly simple concept is actually a skill that your baby needs to be taught. Babies are born with reflexes to help them latch properly, but mostly lack the head control and strength to latch independently for some time.
However, by learning why a good latch is important and what you can do to support a deep latch, your baby will learn to latch independently or “self-latch” by the time they are 2-3 months old.
As you learn about latching baby and how to correct a shallow latch, keep in mind that in the beginning it is very common to have to latch and re-latch baby repeatedly until a proper latch is achieved.
Why is it important to get a proper latch?
A proper latch is essential to successful breastfeeding.
There is no way around it.
And the latch is often at the root of many breastfeeding obstacles mamas face in the beginning of their breastfeeding journeys.
Why exactly is a proper latch so important? Let’s look more in depth.
Helps baby to suck effectively
A proper latch helps baby to effectively extract milk from the breast. By achieving a deep latch with their lips splayed out, baby can produce the proper suction to stimulate a letdown and completely empty the breast during a feeding, without causing mom any pain or discomfort.
Establishes a good milk supply
When baby has a good latch and can suck effectively they are able to adequately empty the breast at each feeding.
With this in place, your milk supply will build in proportion with baby’s needs. Milk supply works on the principles of supply and demand.
So, by emptying your breast at each feeding, your body gets the signal to produce more milk.
When baby cluster feeds (feeding nonstop for a few hours, often during a growth spurt), this is an example of supply and demand at work.
Your baby’s constant nursing helps your body learn to ramp up the supply to keep them satisfied.
Prevents sore or chaffed nipples and reduces breastfeeding pain
Sometimes, baby is able to effectively extract milk but at the cost of mom’s comfort. A proper latch not only supports their sucking abilities, but also protects you from sore or chaffed nipples.
If baby’s latch is too shallow, their lips aren’t curled out against the breast, or they are tugging to extract milk, you will be in pain!
Remember, some soreness is expected in the early days of breastfeeding but for the most part, it should not be a painful process. Soreness, chaffing, or lacerations are a clear sign that baby’s latch needs to be evaluated.
Furthermore, an improper latch that is impeding baby’s ability to suck effectively and empty your breast can lead to other breastfeeding complications such as clogged milk ducts or mastitis. Ouch!
What is a shallow breastfeeding latch?
Now that you know why a proper latch is so important, let’s talk about what a good (and bad) latch looks like.
A shallow breastfeeding latch is when baby takes only the nipple into their mouth, rather than all or most of the areola.
Additionally, a shallow latch involves baby sucking with mostly their lips, rather than their whole mouth and tongue, and often results in pulling or tugging at mom’s nipple.
Good latch vs. bad latch
The best way to determine if your baby has a good breastfeeding latch or bad one, is by having a lactation consultant watch your baby feed.
Most communities have free breastfeeding support groups run by certified lactation consultants that can help you with this.
Often, by watching you feed for just a few seconds, an experienced LC can teach you the necessary adjustments to help your unique baby latch better.
But, I know that getting out the door with a newborn can be challenging, and that your local support group might not meet again for 5 days.
In the meantime, here are the telltale signs of a good latch vs. a bad latch (source):
Signs of a poor or shallow latch:
- Baby is only latching onto your nipple instead of taking most of the areola into their mouth
- You see baby’s cheeks sucking in as they try to nurse
- You do not hear or see baby swallowing
- You hear smacking sounds as baby tries to extract milk
- Your baby’s lips are curled in or under, rather than being splayed out against the breast
- You are experiencing pain that is worsening instead of improving
- Baby is not gaining weight, is losing weight, or isn’t having adequate wet diapers
Signs of a good latch:
- Baby is latching deeply, meaning they are taking your nipple as well as about 1 inch of your areola/breast into their mouth while nursing
- Baby’s lips are curled out against your breast (fish lips!)
- Baby’s chin is against your breast, and their nostrils are free
- You can see and hear deep sucking and swallowing
- Baby’s tongue is on the underside of your breast, maybe visibly sticking out of their lower lip. The tongue is helping in milk extraction
- Your breasts feel less full after a feeding (this is especially true in the early weeks of breastfeeding, and may become less apparent as your supply regulates)
- Baby is gaining weight
How to fix a shallow latch?
If you’re here and you found yourself nodding along to the signs of a poor or shallow latch above, don’t fret!
Determination and knowledge are the two most important tools for breastfeeding success. You can fix a shallow latch; you just need to know how.
Here are 5 strategies that can help you correct a shallow latch:
1.Deep latch technique
This technique is all about helping baby get a deep latch on your breast. The Pump Station and Nurtury, describes how to complete the deep latch technique perfectly with these steps:
- With the hand that is not supporting baby, hold your breast in a c-hold (described below) to flatten your breast, almost like a sandwich
- While you are holding the breast in one hand, support baby’s head with the other hand, putting your thumb at one ear and your middle finger at the other ear. Tilt baby’s head back slightly
- As their head is tilted and chin is pointing up, aim your nipple to their upper lip (or even toward their nose)
- When baby instinctively opens their mouth very wide, scoop your breast into their mouth by placing their lower jaw on first
- Next, gently tilt their head onto the breast, allowing the upper jaw to make contact. Keep your c-hold on your breast. Your baby’s lower jaw will be positioned more deeply than the upper jaw
- Once baby seems to have good suction, you can let go of your c-hold and continue to support baby’s body and head
*This technique is best achieved with the football, cradle or cross-cradle holds and will be easier with the support of a nursing pillow.
Breastfeeding latch video
Here is a breastfeeding video that shows you how to get a deep latch while nursing.
2.Try different breast holds
Often, when we hear about latching baby the focus is on different breastfeeding positions (which we will address below), but have you heard about breast holds?
Holding your breast in certain ways with the hand that’s not supporting baby can be a very helpful way to support your breast and achieve a deeper and better latch. (source)
Breastfeeding using the C-hold (aka the palmer grasp, or U-hold when tilted)
- Hold your breast in the palm of your hand
- Position your thumb on the top of your breast
- Curl the rest of your fingers around the bottom of your breast, forming the letter “C”
- Use this hold to flatten your breast and keep your fingers/hand positioned slightly behind your areola
This breast hold can be used by all mamas and is a great way to control the movement and position of your breast as you help baby latch with your other hand.
Breastfeeding mothers with large breasts, and mamas of babies with small mouths will find this hold particularly helpful.
Breastfeeding using the V-hold (scissor hold)
- Put your nipple and areola between your pointer finger and middle finger (like scissors)
- Your thumb and pointer will be on the top of your breast
- Your middle, ring and pinky will be on the underside of your breast
- Make sure the scissor shape of the pointer and middle finger is wide and positioned behind the areola
This hold is most useful for mamas with smaller breasts, or large hands.
3.Try the flipple latch technique
The flipple, or exaggerated latch, is a great strategy for achieving a deeper latch with any baby, and especially in babies with tongue and lip ties.
The Milk Megperfectly describes how to do the flipple latch technique:
- As you get ready to latch baby, make sure their head is tilted upwards and bring your nipple to their nose. This motivates them to open their mouth very wide
- When their mouth opens wide, try to get as much of the bottom part of your areola into baby’s mouth via their lower jaw
- When they latch on, use your finger or thumb to flip their top lip up against your breast
4.Try different feeding positions
Sometimes, knowing the right breastfeeding position to use can make all the difference in getting a good latch.
Certain positions are better for newborns, because they give you greater control in positioning baby and supporting them as they learn to latch.
Adding a nursing pillow also will give you more flexibility in using your hands to support your own breast and control baby’s head.
Best positions to getting a good latch with your newborn:
- Crossover hold
- Football hold
- Laid back/biological nursing
- Cradle hold (using the opposite hand to help with latching)
5.When in doubt, re-latch and try again
This last tip should be used in conjunction with any and all of the other strategies.
Now that you know what a proper latch should look like, anytime baby does not achieve a deep and proper latch you need to try again.
It is not uncommon to need to re-latch you baby 3-5 times while you are first learning how to get a proper latch.
In order to re-latch baby, you need to get them off the breast by breaking their suction. To break baby’s suction and unlatch them you need to:
- Put a finger (often the pinky) into the corner of baby’s mouth and gently slide it in
- Get your finger between their gums and press against the side of your breast. This will break the suction
- When baby opens their mouth in response, remove your breast
- Try latching again!
Correcting a shallow latch will take some time
It’s important to remember that correcting a shallow latch can take time. Your baby is learning how to breastfeed in real time with you, and creating the muscle memory for a proper latch will take some babies longer than others.
Use the tips in this article, be consistent, and always re-latch baby if the first (or fifth) time baby doesn’t get it quite right.
In-person support can be essential when you are facing challenges with baby’s latch or breastfeeding in general.
A lactation consultant or breastfeeding support group is a great place to turn with any and all of your breastfeeding issues, especially a shallow latch.
Have an additional tip, question, or want to share your story of correcting a shallow latch? Chime in below!