Your baby’s mouth placement on your breast is what makes the difference between a shallow latch and a deep latch. A deeper latch makes for successful breastfeeding, and a shallow latch makes for sore nipples and a lot of pain.
If you are having intense or prolonged pain when your baby’s mouth latches onto your breasts, then you most likely have an improper or shallow latch. Without a deep latch, you will have a tough time getting your infant the milk they need, creating an adequate milk supply, and keeping yourself from nearly unbearable pain.
If this sounds like your experience so far in your breastfeeding journey, then you need to know how to fix a shallow latch as soon as possible. This article will teach you how. Also, be sure to consult with your lactation consultant for more support and tips.
A Bad Latch and Pain Causes Early Weaning
A shallow latch that is painful for the mother, as opposed to a deep latch that is usually pain-free, is responsible for many mothers deciding to wean their child earlier than they had initially planned.
No one wants to hurt every time they feed their baby, and popping the nipple of a bottle in their little one’s mouth becomes a more attractive option to some moms.
Often, a new mother can’t tell how to assess a baby’s latch properly, and they assume that as long as they can latch the baby, they are doing it the right way.
Most new moms are seen by a lactation consultant while still in the hospital after delivery. Still, it can be challenging to retain all of that new information while recovering from just having had a baby. Asking to be shown a deep latch technique is often not at the forefront of a new mom’s mind.
Therefore, many moms decide that they are simply “bad” at breastfeeding, not producing enough milk, or are in too much pain to continue, so they quit. Most of the time, the issue is nothing more than a shallow latch.
Proper breastfeeding latch and How to fix a shallow latch
A baby’s mouth should cover a large area of the breast to create a good latch, not just the nipple. A shallow latch occurs when the baby’s hard palate is making contact with the nipple instead of the soft palate. This means that there is pressure and pain when the baby sucks to get the milk out.
Deep Latch Technique and Positions
There are many ways to ensure that your little one is latched correctly. Several factors all work together, and the breastfeeding tips outlined below can take you from a painful, incorrect latch to a deep, proper latch.
Baby’s Mouth and Face
One of the easiest ways to tell if baby’s latch is deep enough to eliminate pain and produce good nipple feeding is to look at baby’s face when latched.
Baby’s Bottom Lip
Always latch the baby’s lower lip first, followed by the upper lip. This creates an anchor and gives your baby a starting point, or anchor, in which to position their mouths. A proper latch involves the lower lip being away from the nipple, on or even past the areola. The lower lip being farther away from the nipple will help to ensure that there will be a deeper latch.
Then, with baby’s mouth wide open, you can help to position the upper lip.
Baby’s Top Lip
After you’ve got the bottom lip placed where it needs to be, compress the breast as flat as possible and allow the baby to position the upper lip over the nipple. Allow your little one to open their mouth widely on their own, without manipulating their face or mouth, as they will need to do this independently.
A good latch is one in which you can’t see any of the nipple when the baby is latched.
When figuring out the best way to get a good latch, many mothers try to move the nipple down to their infant’s mouth. This can be downright painful in the long run.
Instead, aim your nipple towards the baby’s nose, making your infant come toward the nipple and position the face where it needs to be for a good latch and a proper suckle.
The chin of your little one should face the breast. The chin is important because the face and head of your baby often follow where the chin is pointing. If you manipulate the baby so that the chin is facing your breast, on the same side you plan to be nursing from, then the head of baby will be facing the right way, and your nipples won’t be pulled on and in pain.
The way you hold your baby when baby takes the breast is essential. A bad latch can occur simply because your baby is prevented from latching deeply due to the position they are held in.
There are several different positions that you can try to increase the milk flow and milk supply as well as decrease pain.
Imagine how a football player holds a football when he gets possession of it and starts running it down a field. Sort of tucked under his arm and against his side, right?
This football hold is also an excellent breastfeeding position you can try. Lactation consultants often suggest this hold, as it allows for a lot of control and restriction of movement and head thrashing from baby.
To demonstrate how you would do it, let’s imagine that you will nurse from the left breast. Sitting up, you would then bring baby up against your left side, turned slightly inward, toward your body. Baby’s head should be at breast level while baby’s body is snugly tucked under your arm.
Another great position in this gauntlet called breastfeeding is the side-lying position. This is an excellent position for a large chested mother or one that is recovering from a c section and needs to spend time in bed or taking it easy.
Both you and baby should lie on your sides, facing each other, with baby’s upper jaw and mouth at breast level. Your baby then simply has to lean the head forward, and you can either help baby to self latch, or you can position the breast yourself so that your little one can get more milk, all while causing you less pain.
This position is great for skin-to-skin contact and will allow for the mother to help get the breast latched deeply enough so that milk flow stays sufficient for baby.
In this position, you put your baby across your lap, on a breastfeeding pillow, or just on your body. The mother is usually sitting up to do this. For example, you would latch the baby onto the right breast, with the infant’s body extending across your own body, to the left side of you.
As mentioned, this is great for skin-to-skin contact, especially when you place baby on your body rather than on a pillow. Skin-to-skin contact helps baby bond with you better, giving comfort to a sometimes stressful situation.
This hold is also sometimes referred to as a cradle hold.
When does breastfeeding get easier?
Breastfeeding is something that takes a lot of practice to get good at. While it is true that some babies and mothers are naturals at it, most new moms have to work at it, especially in the early weeks when they are also still recovering from labor and delivery.
Patience is a virtue, as we all know, and if you do everything you can to position baby, make sure each time that you have a good latch, and seek help when needed (especially in the early days of motherhood), you can breastfeed with ease in no time.
The more willing you are to ask for help when needed, and the more patient you are with your own body and your baby, the faster you will get the hang of it. For some moms, breastfeeding quickly becomes an easy task, while other moms struggle with it for the entirety of the journey.
There is no quick fix for all of the issues that can come up in taking care of and feeding your baby. But learning a good position that is also a comfortable position and getting your latch down so that you can make enough milk to satisfy your little one’s hunger is most of the battle.
When your baby is delivered, and you inform your doctor or consultant that you plan to choose breastfeeding as your feeding method, often, they will check the baby for lip and tongue ties.
Lip ties are when a small and tight band of connective tissue restricts lip movement within the upper jaw. Breastfeeding can be difficult for a baby with a lip tie because getting a deep enough latch can be challenging. The baby is often unable to get the upper lip high enough from the rest of the mouth to make nursing a positive experience.
Tongue ties involve the same sort of connective tissue, but underneath the tongue and onto the lower jaw. They also make it difficult for a good latch on the breast. Babies with a tongue-tie cannot extend the tongue to really take in enough of the breast to feed properly, especially in certain positions.
The Remedy for the Tie
If your baby has a tie, which can range in severity, a quick procedure can remove that connective tissue from the equation, which will help the baby to latch better, and for more milk to get to the baby.
A simple snip under light anesthesia can be done and will help to make nursing far more pleasant for both mom and baby.
Latching Done Right
Many mothers appreciate a clear sign that they are properly latching their babies. You can lookout for things that can help you recognize that the baby’s mouth is positioned correctly for optimal feeding.
The top and bottom lips of your baby should be visible. Lips rolled outward from the mouth, resembling a fish’s mouth, is a sure sign of a good latch. This signals that baby has the breast-deep into the mouth and can that feeding can proceed with ease.
Baby is Gaining Weight
If your baby is steadily putting on weight, there’s a good chance that you have a good latch. When breastfeeding isn’t working due to poor latching, it’s easy for your baby to lose weight fast.
If you notice that nursing isn’t putting any weight on your little one, or if your baby is losing weight even while feeding or nursing often, then you need to get help. Maintaining and increasing weight is very important for your little one to thrive and develop properly.
You Can’t See Nipple
If you are latching your baby and cannot see your own nipple, or most of the areola, then it usually means that your baby is latching deeply enough for nursing success. To get this every time, just make sure that the baby opens its mouth at its widest point before firmly latching or closing over the breast.
It Doesn’t Hurt
Every new mom has some soreness of the nipples initially as her nipples get used to being wet all of the time, sucked on constantly, and manipulated by a very tiny mouth. However, once your body gets used to this, it should no longer hurt to nurse babies.
Breastfeeding without pain is one sure sign that you have a good latch on the nipple.
If you have tried everything we mentioned in this article and you are still having difficulty with breastfeeding, give yourself some grace and time. Sometimes breastfeeding just doesn’t end up being the right thing for you and your baby and that is completely okay. There is nothing wrong with trying different feeding options. The most important thing is that your baby is healthy and being fed.