Updated December 7th 2021
How are you supposed to know if your baby has a good latch when the most common thing you hear about breastfeeding is that it can hurt? While it’s common to hear this because yes, some people do have painful experiences, breastfeeding should not hurt. There should never be a time where you’re tightening up your body, bringing your shoulders to your ears or holding your breath in anticipation of the latch. If you’re experiencing that, your baby does not have an optimal latch.
What’s more important to me than what a latch looks like is how it feels. I ask every parent I work with how the latch feels. The latch could look pretty good from the outside but if you’re in pain, or uncomfortable or it’s causing damage to your nipples, then it’s not a good latch and something needs to be adjusted.
I spent weeks breastfeeding a baby with a painful latch. The latch was shallow so not only did it hurt but he was hardly removing any milk which wasn’t allowing my body to create a full milk supply. I know how frustrating, defeating and uncomfortable it is to nurse a baby with a less than ideal latch.
So let’s go through some of the most common reasons your baby’s latch might not be ideal.
1. You are in pain
Breastfeeding should be enjoyable and comfortable, not painful; no matter what your mother-in-law says. A painful latch means we can improve something. In the first few days/week your nipples might be tender. Mild soreness or tenderness can be normal provided pain goes away after a few seconds of your baby being latched, the pain doesn’t last the entire feeding, doesn’t show up after the feeding has ended and there are no concerns over milk supply or weight gain.
If you’re dreading feeding or pumping due to pain or if you’re holding your breath while your baby latches, there’s a reason for your pain and you deserve to get skilled support. If someone tells you pain is normal or dismisses your concerns, that’s a red flag to find someone else knowledgeable in lactation.
2. Your nipples are coming out pointed
When your nipples come out of your baby’s mouth as a different shape, this means the nipple is not reaching to where it should. Your baby’s tongue needs to lift the nipple and draw it all the way to the back of their mouth. When this doesn’t happen, the nipple is being compressed against the roof of your baby’s mouth (the hard palate).This is likely causing you pain and creating a white compression stripe on your nipples. Sometimes you may have a pointed nipple, like the tip of a pencil, in which case you should also reach out for specialized support.
If your nipples are not coming out rounded, it’s very likely your baby has a shallow latch. Why they have a shallow latch needs to be determined by a lactation consultant. It could be their positioning at breast, it could be related to their oral function or something else.
3. You don’t hear or see any swallows
Seeing or hearing your baby swallow is one of the signs your baby is getting milk. They may not be swallowing because they have a shallow latch. A deep latch is required for your baby to be able to remove milk. A shallow latch can reduce the amount of milk they are able to drink.
If your baby is not swallowing, they are not removing milk. This could be due to your supply or it could just be because of their latch. This will not only affect their weight gain and growth but will also negatively impact your supply and may lead to a reduced production and require supplementation. Hearing a baby swallow sounds like a soft “K” sound. When looking for swallows, you can watch their chin, jaw and ears. When they move rhythmically, milk is being swallowed. Here’s a video of what swallowing looks like.
4. Baby’s chin is not touching your breast
Or their nose is pressed into your breast. Their chin needs to be against the breast for a deep, effective latch. If their chin is not, it’s likely a shallow latch which will also be painful and reduce milk removal. For your baby to get a deep latch, they need to “lead with their chin” as you’re bringing them to the breast. This allows their chin to touch the breast first which encourages a wide latch.
Keeping your baby very close to you (touching tummy to tummy) will help their chin to touch the breast as they open their mouth to latch.
Why might this be happening?
Your baby’s latch could be shallow for several different reasons. It could just be how their body is positioned and some small adjustments can make the difference. Baby’s born prior to 37 weeks can have some challenges coordinating the suck-swallow-breathe pattern babies need to eat. Sometimes babies have physical restrictions such as lip ties, buccal ties or tongue ties that are affecting their ability to get a deep latch. Sometimes babies have tension in their bodies from delivery or oral restrictions. Sometimes low muscle tone can affect a baby’s ability to latch. All of these situations require the skilled support of a lactation consultant to help you get to the root of the problem and then provide you solutions.
To recap, if you’re in pain and/or your nipples are a different shape after feeding and/or your baby isn’t swallowing much during feeds and/or their chin isn’t often on the breast, they likely do not have an ideal latch. It’s best you work with a lactation consultant to pinpoint exactly what’s going on so you can get tailored support specific to you and your baby.
If you have questions, join Breastfeeding Mavens. My free community where you can connect with other moms who are feeling just like you.
Campbell, S.H., Lauwers, J., Mannel, R., & Spencer, B. (2019). Core Curriculum for interdisciplinary lactation care. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
La Leche League International (LLLI). (2021). Pain: General. Retrieved from: https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/pain-general/
Newman, J. & Pitman, T. (2014). Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Wilson-Clay, B., & Hoover, K. (2017). The breastfeeding atlas (6th ed.). Manchaca, Tex.: LactNews Press.