The breastfeeding journey is a unique and amazing bonding experience between a mother and her baby. However, it can also present various challenges that may take some time and patience to overcome.
One crucial aspect of successful breastfeeding is mastering the art of proper latching. Initially, both the mother and the baby might have a steep learning curve to achieve an effective latch.
This process often requires the support of lactation consultants and other professionals, as well as perseverance from the mother herself.
Understanding and addressing issues like a shallow latch is essential to ensure the baby’s ability to suck effectively, establishes a good milk supply, and prevents sore or chafed nipples.
There are various techniques that can help to correct a shallow latch, but it is important to remember that it may take some time to perfect.
As with any skill, practice and persistence are key in achieving a comfortable and successful breastfeeding experience for both mother and baby.
What is a Latch?
A latch refers to the way a baby’s mouth attaches to the mother’s breast in order to extract milk. While this may seem simple, it is actually a skill that needs to be taught to the baby.
Newborns possess some reflexes to help them latch properly, but typically lack the head control and strength required to latch independently.
By understanding the importance of a good latch and supporting a deep latch, the baby can learn to latch independently, or “self-latch,” by the time they are 2-3 months old.
It is essential to note that during the initial stages of breastfeeding, it is quite common to need to latch and re-latch the baby multiple times until a proper latch is achieved.
The Importance of Achieving a Proper Latch
Ensures Effective Sucking for the Baby
A proper latch plays a vital role in a baby’s ability to effectively draw milk from the breast.
By obtaining a deep latch and splaying their lips outward, a baby can generate the appropriate suction, stimulating letdown and thoroughly emptying the breast during feeding without causing discomfort to the mother.
Fosters a Healthy Milk Supply
A good latch helps a baby suck efficiently, which translates to adequately emptying the breast during each feeding.
This leads to a milk supply that naturally builds up in harmony with the baby’s needs. Since milk supply operates on a supply-and-demand basis, this ensures that the mother’s body produces an adequate amount of milk as required.
For instance, cluster feeding (continuous feeding for several hours, typically during growth spurts) exemplifies supply and demand in action, with the baby’s constant nursing encouraging the mother’s body to increase milk production.
Protects Against Sore Nipples and Minimizes Breastfeeding Pain
At times, a baby may be able to extract milk effectively, but at the expense of the mother’s comfort.
A proper latch not only supports the baby’s sucking abilities but also prevents the mother from experiencing sore or chaffed nipples.
If the baby’s latch is shallow, their lips aren’t curled outward against the breast, or they’re pulling to extract milk, the mother may experience considerable pain.
It’s essential to bear in mind that although some soreness is normal in the early stages of breastfeeding, it shouldn’t be a painful experience overall. Soreness, chaffing, or lacerations indicate that the baby’s latch requires evaluation.
Also, an improper latch that impedes the baby’s ability to suck effectively and empty the breast may lead to additional breastfeeding complications like clogged milk ducts or mastitis.
What is a Shallow Breastfeeding Latch?
A shallow breastfeeding latch occurs when the baby only sucks on the mother’s nipple instead of taking most of the areola into their mouth.
This can lead to insufficient milk flow and discomfort for the mother.
Comparing Good Latch and Bad Latch
In order to determine if your baby has a good or bad latch, it is recommended to consult with a lactation consultant or attend a breastfeeding support group.
A professional can observe the feeding and suggest necessary adjustments for a better latch. Here are some signs to help you identify a good or bad latch:
Signs of a Poor or Shallow Latch:
- Baby only latches onto the nipple.
- Cheeks sucking in while nursing.
- No swallowing sounds or visual cues.
- Smacking sounds while trying to extract milk.
- Lips curled in or under.
- Pain worsens rather than decreases.
- Baby’s weight gain is insufficient or they’re not having enough wet diapers.
Signs of a Good Latch:
- Baby latches deeply, taking in about an inch of areola.
- Lips curl outwards against the breast.
- Chin is against the breast, nostrils are free.
- Deep sucking and swallowing are audible and visible.
- Tongue is on the underside of the breast, visibly sticking out of the lower lip.
- Breasts feel less full after feeding.
- Baby is gaining weight.
How to Fix a Shallow Latch?
There are several strategies that can help correct a shallow latch:
Use the Deep Latch Technique.
Achieving an optimal latch goes beyond just the baby’s instinct; it’s a collaborative dance between mother and baby.
The Deep Latch Technique plays a pivotal role in guiding this dance to success.
This technique is not just about holding the breast; it’s a comprehensive approach that considers the breast’s orientation, the baby’s head support, and the precise positioning of the nipple.
By holding the breast in a specific manner, aligning the baby’s head at the right angle, and ensuring the nipple targets the baby’s upper palate, mothers can facilitate a latch that is both deep and comfortable.
This method not only aids in preventing shallow latches but also ensures that the baby draws milk effectively while minimizing any discomfort for the mother.
One of the foundational steps in addressing and possibly preventing a shallow latch begins moments after birth with skin-to-skin contact.
Often termed “kangaroo care,” placing the newborn directly onto the mother’s bare chest immediately post-birth has shown to stimulate the baby’s natural instinct to ‘root’ and search for the breast.
This instinctive behavior significantly aids in promoting an effective latch as the baby will innately gravitate towards the breast, positioning themselves for a deep latch from the outset.
The closeness also induces the production of oxytocin in the mother, colloquially known as the “love hormone.”
This not only strengthens maternal-infant bonding but also aids in the milk letdown reflex, preparing both mother and baby for a successful breastfeeding session.
Beyond the immediate benefits, prolonged skin-to-skin contact in the subsequent hours and days post-birth can reinforce these natural latching behaviors, making the baby more adept at achieving a proper latch.
By integrating this practice early on, mothers can create an environment conducive to correcting or even preventing shallow latches from the beginning of their breastfeeding journey.
Experiment with Different Breast Holds
The manner in which a mother holds her breast can greatly influence the success of her baby’s latch.
Given the uniqueness of every mother-baby duo, the ‘one size fits all’ approach often falls short.
A mom might find that supporting her breast in a particular manner, factoring in its size and shape along with the baby’s mouth structure, can facilitate a deeper and more comfortable latch.
Techniques such as the C-hold, where the breast is cradled using the thumb on top and the rest of the fingers below, or the U-hold and V-hold, which change the positioning of the fingers and thumb, offer different avenues of support.
Through trial and exploration, mothers can determine the hold that seamlessly complements their anatomy and their baby’s latching style, paving the way for a more effective and comfortable breastfeeding experience.
Try the Flipple Latch Technique
The flipple latch, also known as the exaggerated latch, is an effective method for achieving a deeper latch.
It involves guiding the baby’s head, aiming the nipple towards their nose, and flipping their top lip up against the breast.
Also known as Biological Nurturing, this approach involves the mother reclining back so that the baby is lying on her, chest-to-chest.
This position uses gravity to assist the baby in latching deeply and can be particularly beneficial in the early days of breastfeeding.
When in Doubt, Re-latch and Try Again
If the latch is not deep and proper, don’t hesitate to try again. It’s normal to need to re-latch your baby several times when you’re first learning.
To re-latch, break the suction by gently sliding a finger into the corner of the baby’s mouth, press against the side of your breast to release the suction, and remove your breast. Then, attempt latching once more.
Correcting a Shallow Latch May Require Patience
Keep in mind that addressing a shallow latch might take some time, as you and your baby are learning to breastfeed together.
Developing muscle memory for a proper latch can vary from one baby to another. Be consistent and do not hesitate to re-latch your baby if it isn’t right, even after multiple attempts.
Seeking in-person support can be helpful when encountering challenges with breastfeeding and latching. Lactation consultants and breastfeeding support groups are valuable resources for dealing with breastfeeding issues, particularly shallow latches.
- Be patient and consistent in your efforts
- Re-latch your baby as needed
- Consider seeking assistance from professionals or support groups
Remember, you and your baby are in this together, so stay positive and take it one step at a time.