A good latch is fundamental to breastfeeding. With a shallow latch, Your baby will have difficulty in effectively transferring the milk he/she needs while it also being a very uncomfortable experience for mom. But don’t worry! Even if it is a common problem among first-time mothers, there are some things that you can do. There are a lot of things you can do to correct a shallow latch while breastfeeding your baby.
How to correct a shallow latch when breastfeeding? Here are some ways that can help you achieve a good latch:
- Positioning techniques that promote a good latch such as cradle, cross cradle, clutch hold, koala/upright and laid back breastfeeding positions.
- Encourage baby to open mouth wide before latching
- Skin-to-skin contact
- U-shape breast compression
- Sandwich technique
- Unlatch and relatch
I will discuss more on these techniques that can help your baby get a better latch. I will also include the answers to some common concerns related to a shallow latch when breastfeeding.
How can I get my baby to latch deeper?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the position you use to hold your baby is an essential factor in breastfeeding. Proper positioning can promote a good latch. If this is obtained, you will be able to breastfeed smoothly and effectively. You can seek help from a lactation consultant for positioning techniques, but to start with, here are some positions you can use for your baby to latch deeper.
Use your opposite arm to hold and support your baby while also snuggling him close into you. You can use your free hand (the one that is located on the side where you will be breastfeeding) to shape or compress your breast making it easier for your baby to latch. This position is ideal for mothers with a small or premature baby. It can help mothers gain confidence at the beginning of their breastfeeding journey while also helping to correct a shallow latch.
This is the classic breastfeeding position where you hold your baby (on the same side where you are breastfeeding) behind his back and shoulders. His head is either resting on your forearm or wrist. You can use your opposite hand to help your baby get a good, deep latch. If your baby has a shallow latch, you can also use your free hand to compress the breast like a ‘sandwich’ if a shallow latch is still a concern. The cradle hold is more suited to the older baby and for mothers who have become more confident when breastfeeding their baby.
Football or clutch hold
This position can be helpful where a mother has a forceful letdown resulting in an abundant supply of milk. A forceful letdown can cause a baby to develop a shallow latch as one way of coping with an oversupply of milk. Adopting the football or clutch hold can help as it can enable your baby to control the flow of milk more easily.
Position your baby beside you, with the front of her body against your side. Place your hand under her shoulders and neck, and her body will be supported between your arm and the side of your body. You can use your opposite hand to support your breast, ideally in the shape of a ‘C’ hold to ensure your baby gets a good latch. This position is also helpful for mothers who had a C-section and those who have larger sized breasts.
This approach works with your baby’s natural instinctive reflexes, where he/she will find their way to the breast. Your baby will have more control when latching on, thereby preventing a lot of problems that can arise when choosing a mother led position. One of these can include a shallow latch resulting in a lot of discomfort for mum and her baby.
On your bed or couch, sit in a semi-reclined position while your baby is facing you. This is sometimes called the tummy-to-tummy or reclining position. You and your baby will determine the most comfortable position. Gravity brings your baby close against your body, ensuring there are no gaps or pressure points to make the position uncomfortable. This position also frees up your hands to let you comfort your baby or get yourself a refreshing drink!
The Koala hold encourages a full opening of your baby’s mouth, helping to facilitate a deeper latch. It can work well, particularly for babies with a tongue/lip tie or with poor muscle tone, which frequently results in a shallow latch. This position can be used on a newborn with the right supports or an older baby.
In a sitting position, hold your baby facing you. They can either be positioned straddling your thigh or by your side. Your arm (the same side you are feeding your baby) will support your baby. Your other hand can position or shape your breast to assist your baby to latch, particularly if it is to correct a shallow latch.
Mouth wide open
As Dr. Jack Newman says, “It is called breastfeeding, not nipple feeding.” Make sure your baby opens his mouth wide and latches onto the breast tissue rather than just the nipple. If your baby latches onto the nipple, breastfeeding will become very painful and uncomfortable during feeds. It will also make your nipples appear pinched and distorted.
Gently tickle your baby’s upper lip using your nipple. It will encourage your baby to open his mouth widely.
Skin-to-skin contact stimulates your baby’s innate reflexes to root and latch. With just his diaper on, place your baby on top of you while your upper clothing is either removed or placed away from your baby, ensuring he has full skin to skin contact. Allow your baby to locate your breast and open his mouth wide enough to latch.
U-shape breast compression
While in a laid-back position, position your baby so that his chin is toward your breast, and your nipple is pointing to his upper lip. Position your thumb and fingers in a ‘U’ shape using your free hand. Gently compress your breast so your baby can easily latch on and preventing a shallow latch.
When using this technique, make sure that your fingers don’t touch your baby’s face. This can stimulate your baby to close his mouth.
Imagine yourself taking a big bite of a sandwich. This is how your baby’s mouth should look like when latching on your breast.
Now apply the same principle while thinking that your breast is the sandwich. Gently compress your breast tissue, just behind your areola, and let your baby use that base to latch more deeply. Remember to keep your fingers towards the lower part of the breast well away from your baby so his lower jaw can get a good grasp of the breast.
Unlatch and relatch
If your baby has a shallow latch or when feeding becomes painful, it is better to unlatch your baby and try again. Stimulate your baby’s upper lip using your nipple to encourage him to open his mouth wide. You can gently unlatch and relatch so your baby will achieve a deeper latch leading to a better breastfeeding experience for you and your baby.
Can baby still get milk with a shallow latch?
When your baby has a shallow latch, he may get some milk, but not enough to satisfy his needs. A good latch is vital for the effective transfer of milk. With a shallow latch, some babies may also suffer from colic due to the ingestion of gas along with breast milk. An uncorrected shallow latch will eventually affect a mother’s milk supply.
Why does my baby make a clicking sound while nursing?
A clicking or smacking sound while nursing is an indication of a shallow latch. If your baby is well-latched, you shouldn’t hear this noise while nursing. Instead, you can see rapid circular movements on his jaw and hear him swallowing.
Other signs that indicate a good latch include seeing his tongue when you pull down his lower lip, wiggling ears, rounded cheeks, and his chin is touching the breast. Your nipple must not flatten or appear misshapen after nursing. Most importantly, breastfeeding should be comfortable. Any discomfort should disappear once your baby gets a good latch.
Other Helpful Tools to Correct a Shallow Latch
Remember, there are no rules for each mother-baby relationship. Even if your position and latch do not look similar to what is written in textbooks or to what your consultant has instructed, the ultimate test is whether it is effective and comfortable for you and your baby.
There are some breastfeeding aids that can help you achieve an effective latch and positioning are:
- Comfortable breastfeeding chair. Choose a chair that can support your back while breastfeeding.
- Footstool. A footstool can elevate your lap and your baby so that you don’t need to lean down. Leaning or hunching down to your baby can lead to an ineffective latch while also being very uncomfortable. Instead, bring him to the breast.
- Breastfeeding pillow. This can support your baby’s head and back. The pillow makes it a lot easier for you to position your baby and help him get a good latch.
- Nipple cream. Sore nipples are common during the first few days. Nipple cream can help soothe sore and cracked nipples.
You can experiment on the various positions and techniques until you find what will work best for you and your baby. If your baby is feeding effectively while gaining the recommended weight, and if nursing is comfortable for you, then it is assumed that your baby is latching and breastfeeding effectively.
If you are having trouble correcting a shallow latch, you can always seek help from a lactation consultant or a health care provider near you. Getting a good latch can take time and practice. Remember, every breastfeeding experience is unique. What worked for others may not work for you. With constant practice, you will be able to correct a shallow latch and be able to breastfeed your baby more effectively.