What is a Shallow Latch & How Do I Fix It?

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Sore, cracked bleeding nipples.

Crushed, crimped nipples.

Painfully “strong” suck.

Dreading the next breastfeeding

Baby who never seems satisfied.

Baby’s weight gain is slow despite breastfeeding “all the time.”

What do all of these things have in common?  All of these symptoms may be caused by a shallow latch.

A shallow latch is one where the nipple does not get to the back of baby’s palate. Instead, the nipple is being crushed against the hard palate or the gums.

To get an idea of where your nipple should go in your baby’s mouth, try this exercise:

  1. Put the tip of your tongue behind your top teeth.
  2. Now slide the tip of your tongue back, along your hard palate until you get to the soft palate way in the back of your mouth.
  3. The tip of your tongue has just traveled back in your mouth along the path your nipple should travel in your baby’s mouth.
  4. Often the simplest way to make this comfortable deep latch happen is simply by leaning back comfortably in bed or comfortable chair, placing baby against your chest, skin to skin,  and gently supporting  your baby as he/she bobs around and self-attaches.

    However, if this simple method does not get you the comfortable latch you are looking for, you can get a bit more technical and manage baby and nipple to get that deep, comfortable, efficient latch.

    Another way to get a deeper latch

    Remember as I described above, the goal is to get your nipple up to your baby’s upper palate, and then back to the soft palate.

    Let’s assume you are going to latch your baby onto your left breast using the cross-cradle hold. This means you will support your left breast with your left hand, and you will hold your baby  along your right arm, cradling baby’s neck in the “C” of your right hand. – DO NOT hold onto the back of baby’s head as you don’t want to accidentally push his/her head into the breast. In this position, as you bring baby on, you will be pressing her between her shoulders, along her spine, and her bottom. This will pull her body towards you, and will allow her head to lean back. This way, she will come to the breast chin first, keeping
    her nose free.

    Meanwhile, let’s look at your left hand and left breast. Support your breast in a “U” shape, with your thumb on the outside edge of your areola, and your four fingers on the right side of your breast – reach for the middle of your chest with those four fingers., keeping them as far away from the areola as possible. To your baby, who is lying on his/her side, the “top” of the breast is the left side of your left breast.

    Now, the goal is to get baby to “reach” over the nipple with his/her top lip, dropping her lower lip and tongue down as far as possible AWAY from the nipple.  We call this big wide mouth, “the gape.”

    To get your baby to gape, position the nipple so it is ABOVE her/his upper lip. Remember how we started our tongue’s path to the back of your mouth with the tip of the tongue going up to your hard palate? That is what we want your nipple to do – point up to baby’s hard palate, actually at a right angle to your breast. Sounds a bit crazy, but if you do this, baby will respond with a big wide gape.

    So, holding your baby in cross-cradle, supporting your left breast thumb on outside of breast, fingers on the opposite side – press down gently on your areola with your thumb. Do you see how your nipple points off a bit to the left?  That’s perfect!

    Now line up the tip of your nipple, above baby’s upper lip. Your nipple is pointing at the tip of baby’s nose. Be patient while your baby puzzles this out. She/he may fuss a bit, and put hand to mouth, but if you are PATIENT, your baby will eventually give you that wide gape.

    When you get the gape, move quickly to hug your baby tightly into you. Remember, you are hugging as much of her/his body into you as possible, without pushing on the head.

    The first few times you do this, your baby may be surprised and back off. No worries. With some patient practice he/she will learn quickly and will soon be giving you that wide gape before you even get the nipple to nose.

    Looking at all of these instructions may be very overwhelming at first. Ask your partner to review this also and then help you
    to go through each step until you feel confident.

    A good, deep latch allows baby to get plenty of milk, and is totally comfortable for you.

    If your nipples are already sore, it will probably take 48 hours or so before they feel healed.

    Always ask yourself, “is this more comfortable than the last latch?”  If the answer is yes, then you are making great progress.  If the answer is no, then don’t hesitate to break the suction in baby’s mouth and take him or her off. Then you can start again.

    Leaving the baby on with a shallow latch does not allow the baby to get a satisfying amount of milk, and does not help your nipples to heal.

    Sometimes it is helpful to have a lactation consultant observe the latch, and help you to get more comfortable.

    If you would like a consultation to help you achieve a comfortable latch, please feel free to register and schedule an appointment with me at Milk on Tap.  I look forward to meeting you and your baby, and to helping you achieve your breastfeeding goals.


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2 Comments
  1. Robin 2 months ago

    Great info!! Thanks for the reminder about patience. When baby is crying, sometimes I don’t want to take the time for a good latch. Hopefully, I can retrain her she since she’s only 3 weeks.

  2. Sarah Shaw 1 month ago

    Thank you so much for this article! Ijust had my first non painful feed thanks to you. I had been doing everything before the c hold of his head and u shape of the breast but your descriptions showed me I was holding head to high rather than shoulders and breast not quite right either. Can not thank you enough!

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