One of the first thing many breastfeeding courses will mention is to make sure that your baby has a deep latch. But how do you know if your baby has a shallow latch or a deep latch? And if the latch is shallow, how can you fix it?
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What is a Shallow Latch
A shallow latch is when a baby doesn’t get enough breast in their mouth. It often looks like they are nipple feeding instead of breast feeding. For most parents, it is very uncomfortable and in some cases can actually cause damage to the nipple.
In a proper latch, the baby pulls in breast tissue and massages it with their tongue, squeezing it against the roof of their mouth. With a shallow latch, the nipple gets squeezed instead. Not only is it painful, but it usually results in less milk removal as well.
Why It Happens
There are several possible reasons. There may not have been an ideal position when initiating the feed. This is often the case if the shallow latch happens just occasionally.
If your baby didn’t open their mouth wide enough at the beginning of the feed, the resulting latch could be shallow.
Another reason for a shallow latch is if you have an oversupply or a fast let down, your baby may be trying to slow the milk down through a more shallow latch.
If there is some kind of oral restriction, your baby may be unable to open their mouth enough or take in enough tissue to get a deep latch. This may be the case if the latch seems to always be shallow and you are unable to fix it. In these cases, it is very important to work with someone.
Signs of a Shallow Latch
Sometimes a shallow latch is very obvious. It looks like your baby is just sucking on the tip of your nipple or their mouth is barely open. Other times it may not be so clear. Here are some things you can look out for:
- pain during feeding
- a clicking sound
- your baby’s lips aren’t turned out
- milk is dribbling out of your baby’s mouth
- you can see a lot of your areola during the feed
- your nipples are cracked, sore or bleeding
- your milk supply isn’t increasing (during the beginning of a breastfeeding journey) or it is decreasing
- your nipple looks flat or slanted (sometimes referred to as lipstick nipple)
Tips for a Deeper Latch
- Start with the basics: make sure your baby is in a good position at the beginning of the feed. You should be tummy to tummy with their body in a straight line facing you. Line up their nose with your nipple. Wait for them to open up their mouth very wide before allowing them to latch. If it still feels shallow, use your pinky to break the seal and try again.
- Try a new position. If you have an oversupply or a fast let down, a laid back or reclined position tends to work well. Side lying position can promote a good straight line for your baby, setting them up for success.
- Shape your breast. If needed, you can compress your breast a bit with your hand making a U or C shape. This can help your baby get more breast tissue.
- Try to stay relaxed. Your baby can sense your stress. If you are overly worried, it can lead to a poor feeding experience. Some parents may notice a bad latch during the holidays or travel when they are in situations with increased stress.
- Often times we think of babies opening their mouths in a symmetrical way, but that’s not really how it works. Instead, you can have your baby place their chin on your breast and then hinge open their mouth from there. This often results in a deeper latch. The visual I use is that they look like the Canadians in South Park, if that helps. The bottom half of their head stays still while the top half moves.
If your latch doesn’t feel right, even if it looks ok, it can be helpful to work with an IBCLC. A bad latch can lead to a decrease in milk production. Plus if it’s uncomfortable, you’re not going to enjoy it.
Krystyn Parks is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Consultant who specializes in feeding children. She has a Master’s Degree in Nutritional Science from California State University Long Beach. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and has been registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration since 2013.