Ah, the amazing maternal joy of — OW! What in the name of La Leche League is that kid doing to your poor boobs? That sweet, natural experience of breastfeeding can start to feel negative if your baby has a shallow latch. The great news is that with a little insider knowledge about how to properly latch a newborn, this problem has an easy fix.
A shallow latch is the technical term for “your baby isn't opening their mouth widely enough to nurse without causing you excruciating pain.” When a baby has a good latch, the areola should be in their mouth along with the nipple, according to the USDA's WIC Breastfeeding Support site. This allows the infant to nurse with little to no discomfort on the breastfeeding parent’s part.
If you and your baby do experience shallow latching, especially in the beginning of the feeding journey, just know that it’s completely normal — you may simply need some time to work out the kinks. “Every mother and baby fit together in their own way, some facing more complex challenges than others,” lactation consultant Natalie Ward, BS, IBCLC, RLC, previously told Romper.
If your baby will not latch properly, you should be able to work through it with a little bit of patience and expert knowledge. For everything you need to know about fixing a shallow latch, read on.
How to properly latch a newborn
Before you troubleshoot how to solve a shallow latch, you need to know what a proper latch looks and feels like. According to Ward, a successful latch "should be relatively comfortable, with any pain subsiding quickly and like more of a tug than anything else.” If you do feel pain, that’s a sign that something is not quite right yet.
"A simple way to remember good latch mechanics is tummy to mommy, nipple to nose, wait for the gape and pull the baby close," Cat Halek, IBCLC, tells Romper. While there are plenty of positions to choose from, in general, the baby should be turned to face your body and everything should be aligned — your baby's ear, shoulder, and hips — to make sure that they don’t have to twist their head to feed.
How to know you don't have a proper latch
First things first, if you feel pain, don’t continue to feed — you can always reposition or try a different technique until you get a comfortable latch. If you do feel pain, however, it might be due to a shallow latch. “When a shallow latch happens, your nipple will be pinched, squeezed, abraded, flattened, or blistered from the excessive suction being targeted at a tiny area of the nipple rather than applied to the whole nipple, as well as the baby’s tongue rubbing it like sandpaper,” Lynnette Hafken, IBCLC, a lactation consultant at Rockville Lactation and senior advisor to the Fed Is Best Foundation, tells Romper.
Hafken says some telltale signs of a shallow latch include a feeling of pinching in the nipple during feeding, a crack or scab in the shape of a line across your nipple, or your nipple looking flattened, pinched, or lipstick-shaped after a feeding. But don’t feel like you have to nurse through the pain. You can help fix your baby's shallow latch — and avoid frustration for both you and your child — with these expert tips.
How to fix a shallow latch
Dealing with a shallow latch can be frustrating, but it is totally possible to train your baby to properly latch during breastfeeding. If needed, a lactation consultant can help you sort this out and make your feeding journey easier — for you and your baby both.