How to Spot a Shallow Latch When Breastfeeding
Latching difficulties during breastfeeding are often a big source of frustration for nursing mothers and make nursing harder for everyone involved. Sometimes your latch feels fine, sometimes it hurts and you have no idea why. You may not be entirely sure how to tell exactly what's going on. In this blog post, I'll help you understand how you can tell what a shallow latch looks like and some key strategies you can try at home to make it better.
What is a shallow latch and why does it happen?
A shallow latch occurs when a baby's mouth has mostly just the nipple or the nipple and very little areola in their mouth when they start feeding, and your nipple is at the very front of their mouth. Shallow latches happen when either the baby doesn't open their mouth widely before they latch or they slide shallow back onto just the nipple after feeding has begun.
When a baby has a shallow latch, it pinches the nipple. This not only causes pain for you, but it also makes feeding harder for your baby.
The most important thing to do is that if your baby is having a shallow latch over and over again, it’s not necessarily something you did wrong. How you position your baby is what sets them up to be able to get a deep latch, but what your baby does when they are latched just tells a story about how well they can feed. In particular, it gives us information about how well all of the muscles of the tongue can move.
Here are 3 Ways to Tell If your Latch Is Shallow.
1. How your nipple entered into your baby’s mouth
If your baby is chewing, sucking or slurping your nipple into their mouth, then you probably have a shallow latch. Your baby’s goal isn’t to get a deep latch. It’s to feed as soon as they can. They are going to start sucking as soon as the nipple touches their tongue, and that means your nipple will end up towards the front of their mouth.
2. The position of your baby’s bottom lip.
After your baby has latched, take a look at the location of their bottom lip. You might need to gently pull their cheeks back to see what’s going on. The closer the lip is to the center of your areola, the shallower your latch will be.
We want the nipple to be at the very top of your baby’s mouth when your baby’s mouth is open wide. When that happens your baby’s lip will be close to the bottom of your areola. If the bottom lip is in the center of the areola, then your latch is shallow, even if it doesn’t hurt.
3. There is no pain when latching.
If your baby is gaping widely and getting lots of tissue in their mouth, then latching isn’t likely to hurt. If latching is causing pain - even if it goes away after 6-7 seconds, then that’s a good indication that your nipple is getting pinched during the feed process.
How to Help
Feed early and slow down the latching process. The most important thing you can do to make sure your baby gets their best latch is to feed early in their hunger cycle.
The less hungry a baby is when you are latching them, the less frantic they are going to be during latching. When they are frantic and tense, their mouth will be frantic and tense, and their mouth won’t be able to open widely. If that happens, it’s not a big deal. You can always latch your baby, let them calm down, and then relatch them again.
The other important thing you can do is to make sure you are using the biological cues that are programmed into their brain that help them know what to do during latching. The cue that tells them what to do is located on their chin. When you get your baby’s chin planted before latching then they can open their mouth widely before the nipple enters their mouth.
Often what happens is that we get in a big hurry to help our baby latch. As soon as our baby open’s their mouth, we try to put our breast into their mouth as quickly as possible.
Latching doesn’t have to be a hurried process unless your baby is really upset. It's better to get the chin planted and wait for your baby to open their mouth. This will help you get a much deeper latch. For more instructions on how to get your baby to have a deep latch, make sure you check out my PDF on latching.
If you think your baby has a shallow latch or they slide shallowly after latching, then reaching out you your local lactation consultant can be very important to help make sure you are able to have a breastfeeding relationship that feels good to both you and your baby.