Oh, that sweet mother-baby bonding experience we call breastfeeding! To create the liquid of life and use it to make your child grow and thrive! 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 can quickly turn into an eternity of pure hell if your baby has a shallow latch.
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, explained the USDA's WIC Breastfeeding Support site. This allows the infant to drink heartily with little to no discomfort on the mom's part.
Why do some babies have trouble latching? "It depends on many factors: maternal, baby, or both together, or positioning," NY-based certified lactation consultant Jane Weiser, Ed.D, RN, IBCLC, RLC, tells Romper. "Generally, feedings will be painful for the mother if a baby has a shallow latch. Long feedings [with a shallow latch] will generally reduce the overall milk supply, and the baby will not gain weight."
"It's the baby's job to latch," Danielle Downs Spradlin, IBCLC, RLC, founder of Oasis Lactation Services in Eden Prairie, MN, tells Romper. "It’s the mother’s job to provide body stability. A good latch feels like gentle tugging on the breast and baby gets plenty of milk and has many poopy diapers daily."
When breastfeeding becomes a struggle, many moms decide to give it up altogether. As studies cited in the journal Pediatrics reported, sore nipples, difficulty breastfeeding, and inadequate milk supply were among the top reasons mothers gave for ending breastfeeding before 4 weeks. Moms who stopped nursing between 4 and 8 months also reported lack of confidence in their ability to provide enough milk.
You can help fix your baby's shallow latch — and avoid frustration for both you and your child — with these expert tips.
1. Feed before your baby becomes frantic.
The calmer your baby (and you!) are, the easier it is to establish a deep latch right from the start. Whenever possible, start feeding at the first signs of hunger, suggested the Lactation Consultants of Central Florida. Smacking their lips, turning their head from side to side ("rooting"), and putting a hand to the mouth are a baby's way of saying, "Time to eat!" For newborns, it's wise to be ready to nurse as soon as they wake up.
2. Find a good position.
Depending on your preferences, try one or more positions to see which is both comfortable for you and helps your baby latch well. Spradlin recommends the "laid-back" technique, which she demonstrates in this video. While you recline with your head propped up and both breasts exposed, place your baby face-down on your stomach. Support their neck as the baby begins to root, then guide their head toward your nipple as their mouth opens.
The cradle hold is another common technique for moms, per What to Expect; in this position, you support the baby with the arm on the same side as the breast you're using. Make sure your baby's stomach is up against yours, rather than turned toward the ceiling. Another position that may be comfortable if you've had a c-section is the football hold. Here, your baby's head faces you while their back rests on your arm.
3. Try the "sandwich" technique.
With your free hand, gently squeeze your breast so your hand resembles a "u" and is pushing your areola forward, a position sometimes called a "C hold" or "V hold," explained Very Well Family. Tickle your baby's mouth with your nipple and wait for them to open wide, then bring your baby toward your breast. This gives you better control over the latch.
4. Look at your baby's mouth.
A baby who's latching deeply should have a mouth that resembles a fish's: open wide, with lips far apart and turned out and cheeks rounded. They should have both the nipple and most of the areola in their mouth. In a shallow latch, the baby's lips are turned inward and almost meet. You might also hear a smacking or clicking noise when the baby eats.
5. Talk to a professional.
In some cases, a medical condition such as tongue-tie may interfere with an infant's ability to nurse correctly. If you've tried these fixes and your baby is still latching poorly, don't hesitate to get help. "Whenever a parent suspects a feeding issue they should contact their doctor and IBCLC breastfeeding professional for assistance," says Dr. Weiser.
Adds Spradlin, "There’s a lot of pressure for new moms to figure it out on their own, but for all other fields of health care, women are told to go see a specialist. Lactation care is basic health care."