Breastfeeding can be a painful experience when your little one refuses to latch deeply. Learn what to do when the baby pulls back to a shallow latch.
You know how important a correct latch is to successful breastfeeding… except your baby didn’t exactly get the memo.
She starts with a proper latch, but after a minute or two, pushes back and slides into a shallow one. You find it difficult to keep latching and unlatching, especially when you’re half asleep. She’ll even close her mouth tight during a shallow latch, making it hard to slip your finger in to break the suction.
Because she has a difficult time sucking the breast milk in a shallow latch, she’ll suck harder than ever, making the pain unbearable. Instead of long, deep gulps, she smacks her lips.
And the few times you do manage to keep her in a deep latch makes you feel stuck in the same breastfeeding position. Any slight motion—reaching for your phone, shifting your seat—messes it all up.
What happens if your baby refuses to latch deeply? What are a few tricks or positions to correct a shallow latch that many newborns fall back on?
When your baby pulls back to a shallow latch
Ensuring a deep latch is essential for continued success and enjoyment, especially in the early days of breastfeeding. No one wants their nipples tugged several times a day, especially with nipple pain, clogged milk ducts, or mastitis.
The first place to start is with a lactation consultant or your baby’s pediatrician. They can pinpoint particular problems like a tongue tie you might never have known.
That said, many moms have experienced a shallow latch and, thanks to a few tweaks and changes, have been able to turn things around. Take a look at these tips to see if they can work for you. As one parent said about the article:
“This was a very helpful article! I’m having exactly this problem and using your tips is helping prevent my baby slipping into a shallow latch. Thank you!” -Ekaterina
1. Nurse your baby reclined
One of the biggest reasons your baby’s latch is shallow may be because of an oversupply of milk. With a quick letdown of milk, she’d rather pucker like fish lips and take a few sips than feel like she’s guzzling so much.
A simple trick is to nurse her reclined. Sit on a recliner or a chair that allows you to lie down at a slight angle. Then, place her on top to nurse, using gravity to help her develop a deep latch. And since milk won’t be gushing out at this angle, she might feel less inclined to slip back to a shallow one.
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2. Hand express or pump beforehand
Another way to handle a heavy milk supply is to hand express or pump before you plan to nurse your baby.
The shower is a perfect place to hand express milk, with no cleanup to deal with and the warmth of the shower to help. Or, you can also pump for a few minutes on each breast to help ease the engorgement that could be contributing to your baby’s shallow latch.
3. Use the exaggerated c-hold position
Certain breastfeeding holds can help support your baby to a deeper latch. The exaggerated c-hold is one example.
Cup your breast with your hand, with your thumb at the top and the rest of your fingers beneath. Make sure that your fingers are outside the areola—the dark part of your breast—as this is where you want her mouth to go.
Then, “push” your breast down with your thumb, and with the other fingers, pull and lift the nipple, as if it’s pointing upward. This makes the entire areola more accessible for a deeper latch. It can also help to hold baby’s head and neck with your other hand in place and prevent her from pulling back to a shallow latch.
Lastly, make sure that your baby’s stomach is pressed against your tummy instead of facing up. She should be facing you, not the ceiling.
4. Practice the sandwich hold
One way to approach breastfeeding is to imagine your breast as a sandwich and your baby about to take a bite of it. Just as you wouldn’t nibble on a sandwich, neither should your baby.
Instead, “flatten” your breast as if it was a sandwich, and make sure that his mouth is wide open to take it in. His lower jaw and bottom lip should be beneath the base of the sandwich. And flattening it a little can also prevent your baby’s lips pursing together in a shallow latch.
You can try this with a football hold or a cross cradle one. And have a nursing pillow handy so that you have the proper support to focus on the latch (and not on carrying him).
5. Pull your baby’s chin down
With a shallow latch, your baby’s chin and mouth are closed tighter than if her mouth and jaw were wide open. To help her develop a deep latch, pull her chin down to encourage her to open her mouth.
Slip your finger between her chin and your breast and gently pull her chin down. This can hopefully give you more room to insert more of your breast into her mouth.
Learn 5 reasons your baby keeps unlatching (but is still hungry).
6. Dry your breast and your baby’s mouth
For some moms, slipping back to a shallow latch happens because the surface is too wet. To make a shallow latch less likely, pat your breast dry before you nurse so that her mouth is more likely to stay in a deep latch.
Then, give her lips a quick pat with a burp cloth as well. With a drier breast and mouth, she might hopefully stay latched onto more of your breast than slipping back to your nipple.
The breastfeeding journey isn’t always as easy as you initially imagined, what with sore nipples and bleeding blisters from a bad latch.
To prevent a shallow latch in the first place, try nursing on a laid-back position, using gravity to help your baby take more of your breast. This, along with hand expressing or pumping beforehand, can also ease a quick letdown that an oversupply could be contributing to.
Then, use the exaggerated c-hold or the sandwich hold to allow more of your breast into her mouth. If you see her starting to slip back into a shallow latch, pull her chin down to encourage a wider position. And finally, try keeping your breast and her lips and mouth dry to make her less likely to slip back to a shallow latch.
And with enough effort, hopefully, this time she gets the memo that a shallow breastfeeding latch isn’t the way to go.
Get more tips:
- When Breastfeeding Hurts (Even with a Good Latch)
- 4 Reasons Your Baby Never Seems Satisfied After Breastfeeding
- When Does Breastfeeding Stop Hurting?
- When Your Baby Nurses for an Hour and Is Still Hungry
- Baby Feeding Every Hour (And Not Sleeping, Either)?
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This was a very helpful article! I’m having exactly this problem and using your tips is helping prevent by baby slipping into a shallow latch. Thank you! Loving your book bundle too!
Nina Garcia says
I’m so glad to hear that, Ekaterina! Thanks for letting me know.