How to Correct a Shallow Latch When Breastfeeding

Establishing a proper latch is one of the most important parts of successful breastfeeding. However, many new mothers struggle with getting their babies to latch correctly. A shallow latch is one of the most common breastfeeding problems. If your baby has a shallow latch, they are not able to get a deep enough grasp on the breast tissue and nipple. This can lead to painful feeding sessions, sore and damaged nipples, low milk supply, and poor weight gain for your baby.

The good news is that correcting a shallow latch is possible with some patience, education, and practice. This comprehensive guide will provide mothers with everything they need to know to troubleshoot breastfeeding latch issues and get their babies latching deeply for comfortable, effective feeding sessions.

Key Takeaways on Fixing a Shallow Latch

  • A shallow latch prevents the baby from getting enough breast tissue in their mouth, resulting in nipple pain and milk transfer issues.
  • Identifying a shallow latch early and correcting it quickly is important to avoid early weaning and other breastfeeding problems.
  • Improving latch involves positioning the baby correctly, aiming their nose at the nipple, waiting for a wide open mouth, and bringing them quickly onto the breast.
  • Seek assistance from lactation consultants to assess latch and provide hands-on guidance.
  • Be patient through the learning process – it may take some time for mother and baby to find the best latch position.
  • Keep sessions short and feed frequently if latch needs improvement to avoid nipple damage.
  • Use nipple shields only when necessary and with proper fitting to gradually transition back to direct latching.

What Does a Shallow Latch Look and Feel Like?

In order to fix an improper shallow latch, you first need to understand what a shallow latch looks and feels like in contrast to a deep latch. Here are the key signs:

Appearance of Baby on Breast

  • Baby’s mouth only covers the nipple, not much of the areola
  • Lips turned out or flanged
  • Excessive gumming or chomping motions
  • Chin not touching breast

Appearance of Nipple After Feeding

  • Nipple looks compressed or misshapen
  • Creased or blanched nipple
  • Friction blisters or wounds on nipple or areola

Sensations During Feeding

  • Pain when baby initially latches
  • Nipple pain continuing throughout feeding
  • Breast pain from baby excessively gumming
  • Nipple feeling stripped after feed
  • Audible clicking noises as baby sucks

Baby’s Feeding Behaviors

  • Fussing or repeatedly pulling off breast
  • Feeding frequently but for short periods
  • Very lengthy feeding sessions
  • Falling asleep quickly while feeding
  • Poor weight gain

Mother’s Milk Supply

  • Breasts never feel emptied after feeding
  • Decreased milk volume over time
  • Plugged ducts or breast infection

If you notice several of these signs, it likely indicates your baby needs to correct their shallow latch to feed more effectively.

Causes of a Shallow Latch

Why do some babies fail to latch deeply onto the breast? There are a few common reasons for this breastfeeding problem:

Anatomical Factors

  • Flat or inverted nipples can make it harder for baby to grasp
  • Large breasts or engorged breasts can make it difficult for baby to get a deep latch
  • Short mom’s nipple, short baby’s mouth or small chin
  • Tongue-tie or lip-tie in baby limiting mobility

Positioning Issues

  • Baby’s body is not turned in close to mom’s body
  • Baby’s head, neck, and back alignment is not straight
  • Baby is too low or too high on breast
  • Baby approaches breast at wrong angle

Latching Habits

  • Baby fails to open mouth wide for latch
  • Baby does not flange top and bottom lips outward
  • Baby latches just on nipple instead of breast
  • Baby clamps down on nipple with gums

Outside Factors

  • Sleepy baby
  • Overly hungry, frustrated baby
  • Mom’s forceful pushing of baby onto breast
  • Pressure to breastfeed quickly in public

Figuring out what unique factors are at play for your baby can help you troubleshoot and correct the shallow latch. Don’t hesitate to ask lactation consultants for guidance.

Consequences of a Shallow Latch

While it’s common for babies to take some time to perfect their technique, letting a shallow latch go uncorrected can lead to the following breastfeeding problems:

Nipple Pain and Damage

  • Nipple blisters, cuts, grazes from friction
  • Bleeding, scabbing, vasospasm in nipples
  • Nipple infection like thrush due to damage
  • Severe pain leading to breast refusal or early weaning

Low Milk Supply

  • Poor milk transfer from shallow sucking
  • Baby not stimulating breasts effectively
  • Decreased prolactin release from nipple pain
  • Plugged ducts or mastitis from milk backup

Poor Weight Gain

  • Baby not getting enough milk with each feeding
  • Burning extra calories trying to feed
  • Failure to regain birth weight
  • Slowed development and growth

Gastrointestinal Issues

  • Excessive swallowing of air leading to gas
  • Colic caused by imbalance of foremilk/hindmilk
  • Dehydration, constipation, or green stools

Fatigue and Emotional Distress

  • Stress, dread, anxiety about nursing sessions
  • Postpartum depression worsened by problems
  • Ongoing sleep deprivation from frequent feeds

Ideally, you will be able to identify and remedy latch problems in the first few weeks to avoid these complications. However, it is never too late throughout breastfeeding to correct technique.

Tips for Achieving a Deep Latch

With some focused effort and consistency, you can coach even young babies to latch properly. Here are helpful techniques:

Optimize Baby’s Position

  • Hold baby tummy-to-tummy facing your breast with nose level to nipple
  • Keep baby’s head, neck, and back in straight alignment
  • Make sure baby’s body is turned in close with hips flexed
  • Support head, neck, and shoulders but avoid forcing baby

Target Latch at Nipple-Areola Junction

  • Brush baby’s lips gently with your nipple to stimulate rooting
  • Wait until baby’s mouth is wide open before moving closer
  • Aim top of breast so nipple angles to roof of baby’s mouth
  • Pull baby onto breast once mouth wide – avoid pressing head

Allow Baby to Draw In Entire Nipple

  • Initial latch should not hurt – reposition if nipple damaged
  • Upper lip must flange on top areola, lower lip on bottom
  • Listen for rhythmic suck-swallow pattern vs. clicking sound
  • Check for widening and hollowing of cheeks during sucking

Keep Sessions Short Initially

  • Limit to 5-10 mins per breast if nipple sensitive at first
  • Allow time for nipples to heal before extended feeding
  • Use gentle massage and Bryer cream to heal damaged skin

Try Laid-back “Biological Nurturing” Position

  • Lean back comfortably, bring baby tummy-down onto chest
  • Allow baby to use instincts to crawl, bob head to find breast
  • Gravity helps baby latch deeply onto ample breast tissue

Feed on Demand Frequently

  • Increase frequency to encourage practice with latch
  • Offer both breasts each session to prevent lopsidedness
  • Watch and respond to early hunger cues vs. late cues

Consult Lactation Support

  • Seek in-person evaluation of latch by lactation consultant
  • Attend breastfeeding support groups and classes
  • Get suggestions for positions that work best for you

With some patience and consistency helping your baby optimize their latch, you will likely see nipple pain and discomfort decrease significantly. Always seek extra assistance if struggling.

When to Use Nipple Shields Temporarily

If you have severely damaged nipples, you may need to use nipple shields temporarily to allow healing before resuming direct breastfeeding. Here are some key points:

Correct Fit is Crucial

  • Measure nipple diameter to select right size shield
  • Try different brands to find one that conforms closely

Apply Properly Before Feeding

  • Center shield over nipple-areola complex
  • Ensure nipple is extended into cone of shield
  • Apply small amount of milk to rim to help baby latch

Check for Milk Transfer

  • Pauses should be brief with audible swallowing sounds
  • Look for milk in tubes and dripping from shield
  • Check weight gain to confirm baby transferring enough

Limit Usage Time

  • Use for shortest time needed to allow nipple recovery only
  • Gradually try to wean off shields completely when possible

Clean Properly After Each Use

  • Wash in hot, soapy water and air dry well
  • Consider replacing shields weekly to avoid germ buildup
  • Carry extras when leaving home in case one lost

With proper usage, nipple shields can provide temporary relief and protection without undermining your breastfeeding goals long-term. Always discuss with lactation consultants first.

Breastfeeding Hold Positions to Improve Latch

Experimenting with different breastfeeding positions can often help find the best option to get a deeper latch for you and your baby. Here are some to try:

1. Cradle Hold

  • Most common and natural hold for many moms
  • Support baby’s head with forearm, his body along yours
  • Good for premature babies or those with poor head control

2. Cross-Cradle or Transitional Hold

  • Baby cradled with head in opposite hand
  • Allows good view of baby’s mouth and nipple
  • Can provide more leverage adjusting baby’s position

3. Football or Clutch Hold

  • Useful for mothers recovering from C-section
  • Baby tucked underarm, body supported along forearm
  • Leaves one hand free to manage breast

4. Side-Lying Hold

  • Allows mother to rest comfortably in bed
  • Baby’s tummy facing yours, shins tucked against you
  • Gravity can help baby latch deeply

5. Laid-back or Biological Nurturing Position

  • Mother reclines, baby lies tummy-down on top
  • Baby has natural control finding breast
  • Deep latch encouraged by ample skin contact

Take your time exploring which holds allow your baby to open wide and get more breast tissue in their mouth for effective, pain-free feeding.

Working With Lactation Consultants

One of the most helpful resources for correcting breastfeeding latch issues is working one-on-one with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Here is how they can help:

  • Observe full feeding session and identify any shallow latch habits
  • Suggest customized holds for your anatomy and baby’s preferences
  • Evaluate baby’s oral structure for tongue/lip-ties interfering with latch
  • Perform weighted feed to check milk transfer amounts
  • Provide hands-on help getting optimal latch while feeding
  • Recommend nipple shield sizing and proper usage
  • Give tips to heal nipple damage like Lanolin cream
  • Screen for other complications like reflux or mastitis
  • Check weight patterns and adjust feeding plans as needed
  • Offer ongoing support and encouragement through challenges

Having access to skilled, trained lactation support from the start can help identify and remedy shallow latch problems early before they worsen. Many consultants offer virtual video visits if unable to meet in person. Always seek help from an IBCLC for breastfeeding concerns rather than generalized advice.

Gradually Transitioning Off Nipple Shields

If you needed to use nipple shields as a short-term tool to allow nipples to heal, be strategic in phasing them out to return to direct breastfeeding when possible:

  • Begin limiting sessions with shield (e.g. first daily feed only)
  • Try shield only on most problematic breast first
  • Offer breast without shield when baby is calm and mildly hungry
  • Stimulate rooting reflex then quick latch without shield
  • Limit shield use to very beginning of session then remove
  • Try shield use every other day, then every third day, and so on
  • Take it slowly to avoid frustrating baby or damaging nipples

Stay patient and keep troubleshooting latch issues during this process. With time, your baby should adapt back to direct nipple feeding without reliance on shields.

Getting Back on Track with Breastfeeding

If you have been struggling with latch problems for many weeks or months, it is never too late to reboot and get breastfeeding back on course. Here is how:

  • Commit to at least 2 weeks of focused effort on improving latch
  • Meet with lactation consultant to identify issues
  • Treat any nipple damage compassionately but thoroughly
  • Feed baby before ravenous to avoid frantic latching
  • Try laid back and side nursing positions
  • Limit pacifier use and bottle exposure
  • Consider frenotomy if tongue or lip-tie present
  • Attend La Leche league meetings for support
  • Celebrate small wins and be patient with pace

With determination, education, and support, many mothers are able to overcome early breastfeeding obstacles. A shallow latch can be corrected at any stage – do not lose hope! Your lactation consultant can help develop a customized plan to help your baby learn to latch deeply.

Troubleshooting Common Breastfeeding Latch Challenges

While correcting any shallow latch takes time and consistency, you may face some common recurring issues needing targeted troubleshooting:

Challenge: Baby fusses and pulls off breast repeatedly

  • Try different holds to get optimal angle to nipple
  • Break suction gently before removing from breast
  • Calm baby completely before re-latch attempt
  • Offer short bursts from both sides to satisfy

Challenge: Nipple slips out of baby’s mouth

  • Ensure baby has large mouthful of breast tissue
  • Drop your breast from baby’s mouth instead of pulling
  • Point nipple upward toward roof of mouth
  • Gently press in on both sides of breast to keep nipple extended

Challenge: Baby falls asleep quickly at breast

  • Feed in quiet alert state vs. overly sleepy/calm
  • Pump or hand express some milk before starting breast
  • Compress and massage breast lightly to stimulate baby
  • Avoid pacifiers and swaddling right before feeding
  • Undress baby down to diaper and tickle feet to waken

Challenge: Baby gets frustrated, cries at breast

  • Offer breast at earliest cues of hunger before escalated
  • Limit feedings to 5-10 minutes if overly upset
  • Soothe baby’s head and body while latching vs. forcing
  • Try laid back position so baby can control latch
  • Switch to bottle or pacifier to calm, then retry breast

Challenge: Clicking sound while baby is latched

  • Indicates shallow seal – gently break suction and relatch
  • Point nipple more upward into baby’s mouth
  • Ensure lips flanged outward over areola
  • Lightly press sides of breast to keep deeper latch

Stay observant of patterns to identify the specific issues interfering with your baby’s latch so you can respond with targeted solutions. With commitment and support, optimal latch is within reach.

Breastfeeding Latch FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about troubleshooting breastfeeding latch problems:

How long should it take to correct a shallow latch?

It often takes 2-4 weeks of consistent effort to see major improvements in correcting a shallow latch. However, you should see some gradual progress after 1 week if you are actively working on proper technique during each session.

How do you fix severely damaged nipples from poor latching?

First allow nipples to air dry after feeds, apply breast milk directly to wounds, and use soothing gel pads to protect nipples between feeds. Limit feeding time if it is too painful. Temporary use of high quality nipple shields and milk expression via pump may help allow healing before resuming direct breastfeeding.

Does nipple confusion from bottles cause shallow latch?

Possibly. Introducing bottles too early before breastfeeding is established can sometimes interfere with proper latching technique. Try to wait 3-4 weeks before bottles and pace bottle feeding to mimic breast when needed.

Can tongue-ties cause persistent shallow latch?

Yes. Both tongue and lip-ties can restrict a baby’s ability to flange lips outward and get enough breast tissue in their mouth despite repeatedly correcting technique. Consulting about the possibility of frenotomy surgery to snip ties may be warranted.

Will using a nipple shield eventually correct latch?

Not usually. Nipple shields are considered a temporary tool that allows healing but does not necessarily teach deeper latching technique. It is still important to address positioning and proper flanging when using one. Work gradually with a lactation consultant to transition off shields.

Conclusion

Achieving a proper, pain-free latch is one of the most fundamental but challenging steps for breastfeeding success. While shallow latching is common early on, leaving it unaddressed can undermine your breastfeeding goals for you and your baby’s optimal health and development.

With adequate education on ideal latching technique, experimentation with positioning, assistance from lactation experts, commitment to consistency, and patience through the gradual learning process, a shallow latch can be corrected. Keep supporting each other through the obstacles, celebrating small victories, and tapping into available resources so you can eventually overcome challenges and meet your breastfeeding intentions.

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