Unlocking the Latch: What it means when your baby slides shallow

Breastfeeding baby with a shallow latch



Sliding shallow isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom of something not working as it should. You can’t fix it by changing your latch position, but you can help address the underlying reason why it’s happening to make sure feeding is as easy for your baby as it’s supposed to be.


Does your baby slide shallow after you get a good latch, and you aren’t sure why or how to help?

There isn’t much that’s more frustrating to a new parent who is just trying to figure out how to latch, than finally getting a latch feels good, and then having your baby slide shallow right away.

How to help is a good news/bad news answer.

The bad news is that you can’t stop your baby from sliding shallow by just changing your latching position. The good news is that you can work on addressing why they are sliding shallow so that they won’t need to anymore.

Before we jump into how to do that, I want to give you some background information about the “why” so the “how to help with a shallow latch” makes sense.

Some Background on Latching

Latching isn’t something you do for your baby. It’s something you do with your baby. Your job in the latching process is to help get your baby into position to get the best latch that they can, and then keep them safe while they are doing it. Your baby’s job is to do the actual latching.

What they do during the latching process gives you a lot of helpful information.

Think of your baby’s latch as a window into what’s going in inside their mouth during the feeding, specifically, which muscles they are using to feed and how well they can use them. When your baby can use all the muscles in their mouth in a balanced way and you set them up for a deep latch, they keep that deep latch because it’s the easiest way to feed.

This isn’t different from your body. If you have access to all of the muscles in your core, you will naturally use them, because it’s easier for your body when you can use all of your muscles together, as opposed to some muscles having to work more to make up for the muscles that aren’t able to work.

Understanding Shallow Latching

So now let's get back to how to help the shallow latch.

Babies slide shallow for a few different reasons, but they all usually are an indicator that the baby isn’t able to or doesn’t want to use the back muscles of their tongue during that feeding.

The back muscles of the tongue are important for feeding because those are the muscles that allow a baby’s tongue to lift and then drop during the feeding process. You can read more about the process in this blog.

If a baby can’t use those back muscles, then they compensate by using the lips, the front of their tongue, and/or their jaws during feeding, and sliding shallow makes it a lot easier to use just those those muscles.

If you have a fast letdown, then your baby might be sliding shallow because using the back of their tongue actually speeds up the flow, and that’s not what they want to happen.

Tracking when your baby slides shallow can be helpful to puzzle together why they are doing it, and that’s important to know to understand how to help.

⭐️ #1: Babies that slide shallow but then get a deeper latch.
If your baby slides shallow immediately during the letdown, but after you have been feeding for a few minutes, and you latch and relatch them, and they can keep a deeper latch, then it’s probably just that the letdown is fast in that moment,

Expert Tip:

If this is what’s happening, experiment with changing your position so you are reclined backward, once you are already latched to help make it easier for your baby to feed. You don’t need to be in a super reclined position for this to work, just enough for gravity to help slow your flow down.

⭐️ #2: Babies that are sometimes shallow and sometimes deep
If your baby sometimes stays deep and sometimes slides shallow during different feedings, that’s like just an indication of what’s going on in that moment during the feeding. If they can use the back of their tongue some of the time, they can use the back of their tongue, and it’s likely just a situational issue.

Expert Tip:

They could be gassy or uncomfortable, and when you are using your core muscles to try to push gas through your body, for example, you also can’t suck and swallow at the same time. Try to attention to what’s going on with your baby’s comfort during the feedings when their behavior is different, and see if find something that’s consistent. Addressing that is where your solution lies.

⭐️ #3: Babies that always slide shallow no matter what
If your baby latches and then slides shallow every time you latch, that’s a good indication that’s a good indication that they can’t use the back of their tongue very well, and they are sliding shallow to position themself for what muscles they can use. This is an indicator that your baby has

Expert Tip:

This can be an indicator that your baby has some oral function challenges, even if your baby is gaining weight well and latching doesn’t hurt. Here's a list of professionals who can help you understand and assess your baby’s oral reflexes can help you get a better idea of what’s going on inside their mouth.


To Recap

Helping to fix your baby’s sliding shallow isn’t something you can change in the movement and it isn’t happening from something you are doing wrong. Sliding shallow itself isn’t the problem. It’s the symptom, and how to make it better depends on understanding why it is happening in the first place. Getting help from a feeding professional can help you figure out the root cause, especially if you have other indications that feeding is harder for your baby than it’s supposed to be.



Want more information about what your baby’s latch is telling you? Take my online latch quiz and see if your baby has other red flags for feeding issues, and click here to find a list of feeding professionals who can help you get to the root of your baby’s feeding issues.



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