Young mom nurses her newborn baby while in the child's nursery.
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6 Ways To Fix A Shallow Latch

Lactation experts share tips.

Originally Published: 

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 experience of breastfeeding can start to feel less-than-sweet 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 is likely fixable.

What is a shallow latch?

Shallow latch is the technical term for what happens your baby isn't opening their mouth widely enough to nurse without causing you pretty major discomfort or even pain. A shallow latch can lead to nipple damage, too, which is as bad as it sounds and can interfere with your nursing experience. When a baby has a good latch, the areola should be in their mouth along with the nipple. 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, 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 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.

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, Hafken says. 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


Feed before your baby becomes frantic

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The calmer your baby (and you) are, the easier it is to establish a deep latch from the start. Whenever possible, start feeding at the first signs of hunger. 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 they’re hungry.

“We know that the rooting reflex is related to feedings, specifically breastfeeding, but even bottle-fed babies in the early period will rub their face to try to find the source of feeding, because that source evolutionarily would be the nipple, and they need to find that,” Dr. Laura Sinai, a board-certified pediatrician, explained to Romper. “Parents can use that fairly accurately as a sign that a baby is hungry.” For newborns, be ready to nurse as soon as they wake up.

“Not only is the mouth in a suboptimal position when baby is screaming, [but] 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.”


Find a good position

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Depending on your preferences, try one or more positions to see what is comfortable for you and helps your baby latch well. 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,” Hays says. If you feel that Baby has latched in a way that’s shallow, don’t be afraid to pop them off and try again.

The cradle hold is another common technique; 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.


Try the “sandwich” technique

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With your free hand, gently squeeze your breast so your hand resembles a "U" and is pushing your areola forward, a breastfeeding position sometimes called a "C hold" or "V hold.” 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.”


Look at your baby’s mouth


One of the biggest tips to help newborn latch is to pay attention to their mouth. A baby who's latching deeply should have a mouth that resembles a fish: 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.

“If you see the nipple in the side of the infant’s mouth, that 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.”


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.”


Talk to a professional

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Even breastfeeding parents that have a relatively easy time with nursing can use help, and if you’re struggling at all, lactation consultants can be hugely helpful. In some cases, a medical condition such as a 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.”

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.


Natalie Ward, BS, IBCLC, RLC

Cat Halek, IBCLC

Lisa Hays, RN, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Baptist Health

Dr. Laura Sinai, M.D., board-certified pediatrician with Pediatrics At Home

Lynnette Hafken, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Rockville Lactation and senior advisor to the Fed Is Best Foundation

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