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 can start to feel negative if your baby has a shallow latch. The great news is that a shallow latch is easy to fix with a little insider knowledge.
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 nurse with little to no discomfort on Mom's part.
“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,” says Lynnette Hafken, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Rockville Lactation and senior advisor to the
Fed Is Best Foundation, in an interview with Romper.
Hafken says some tell-tale 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.
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.
“Go back to the basics for feedings with skin-to-skin,” says Lisa Hays, RN, IBCLC, lactation consultant at
Baptist Health, in an interview with Romper. “Lay your naked infant with only a diaper on your chest. Cover him with a blanket so he won’t get cold. When he becomes hungry, he will root and be ready to breastfeed.”
“Not only is the mouth in a suboptimal position when baby is screaming, it is almost impossible to latch a baby when they are frantic,” adds Hafken. “Starting when your baby is calm will give you the time and concentration you need to focus on your baby’s latch. Otherwise you’re both going to end up crying!”
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. There’s the "laid-back" technique, which means you recline with your head propped up and both breasts exposed and 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. Hays recommends the cross-cradle hold.
“If baby is latching to the right breast, then mom holds the right breast and her left hand is on the back of the infant’s neck and shoulders. Bring baby to the right breast when he opens wide, pointing the nipple to the roof of the mouth,” she explains.
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.
“Imagine taking a bite from a giant overstuffed sandwich,” says Hafken. “Note the position of your head and lower jaw. First you would squeeze the sandwich a little to make it fit into your mouth well, then you would approach the sandwich with your lower jaw slightly under it. Finally, you would hook your lower jaw under the sandwich and clamp on with your upper jaw. This is how a baby takes the breast. It is important to squeeze your breast in the direction of your baby’s mouth; you wouldn’t try to bite into a sandwich with the bread perpendicular to your mouth because that would be impossible.”
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.
“You may see the nipple in the side of the infant’s mouth, which means the latch is shallow,” says Hays. “Sometimes the infant just has his bottom lip tucked inward. Gentle touching the chin can bring the bottom lip out. Some moms who try this may hear a quiet pop sound and report the latch feels better instantly.”
5 Change Your Aim
Hafken recommends trying to aim your nipple towards the roof of the baby’s mouth when getting them to latch.
“The ideal position for your nipple to end up is at the junction of the hard and soft palate,” she says. “If you feel with your tongue, the soft palate is up behind the hard palate, back towards your throat. That’s pretty far back, but that is the sweet spot where your nipple is protected and the milk can flow freely.”
6 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.
“Tongue ties and upper lip ties may also interfere with a baby's ability to breastfeed correctly,” says Hays. “Sometimes babies just have to grow into the mom’s larger nipples. If you’re not able to breastfeed, then you can always pump and feed expressed breast milk until your baby will latch correctly.”
Experts: Lisa Hays, RN, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Baptist Health Lynnette Hafken, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Rockville Lactation and senior advisor to the Fed Is Best Foundation