Common Latching Problems and What to Do About Them

Common Latching Problems

As natural as breastfeeding is, it’s still a learned skill for both you and your new baby. Even if this isn’t your first baby, nursing has a learning curve as you figure out latching and feeding with this particular newborn. Latching problems can cause pain and frustration, and a poor latch makes it harder for the baby to drink milk effectively. Here are some common problems and what to do to fix them.

Shallow Latch

When your baby is latched correctly, your nipple is positioned far back in her mouth, at her soft palate. That’s why a correct, deep latch doesn’t hurt–your most sensitive skin is far away from hard gums (or, later, teeth).

A shallow latch that puts your nipple between the baby’s gums or banging against the hard palate hurts! It’s also hard for your little one to get a good sucking rhythm and draw milk from the breast.

Pain, a white crease on your nipple, or a nipple that slants like a tube of lipstick are signs of a shallow latch. Start your breastfeeding session off right:

  1. Position baby comfortably (cradle, cross-cradle, and football hold are popular)
  2. Brush your nipple against the baby’s top lip so he opens his mouth wide
  3. Aim your nipple toward the roof of your baby’s mouth
  4. In a good latch, your baby’s lips will flare outward, and his chin (and possibly his nose as well) will touch your breast

Flat Nipples

Flat or inverted nipples can sometimes be tricky for a baby to latch onto. A few possible solutions are:

  1. Make your hand into a “C” and compress your breast slightly (like a hamburger) so you’re offering a smaller surface area for baby to latch onto
  2. Try pumping for a minute or two before feeding to help “pop” your nipples out
  3. If flat nipples are a persistent issue, talk to a lactation consultant about using a nipple shield

Try not to stress yourself out. Your breasts and nipples continue to change after your baby is born. Even if you have flat or inverted nipples at first, feeding your baby may change your nipples over time, encouraging them to be more prominent permanently.

Large or Engorged Breasts

Latching onto a large or milk-engorged breast can be challenging, especially if your baby is premature, has Down’s syndrome, or has a small mouth.

Using the “hamburger” compression trick described above can help for large breasts. Offering a smaller, more defined surface for latching can make the process simpler. Also, don’t worry if your baby’s nose is pressed into your breast while she’s nursing. She’s still getting air.

If you’re engorged, it may be too painful to compress your breast. Pumping or hand-expressing milk for a couple of minutes may ease some of the engorgement so you can latch your baby. You can try feeding a little earlier next time if possible, so you don’t have to go through uncomfortable engorgement again. If you have a strong let-down of milk, you can pump for a few minutes first, or you may learn over time that one breast lets down a little slower than the other, and may be a better side to start on.

Tongue Tie or Lip Tie

If you feel around with the tip of your tongue, you’ll feel a thin tissue on the underside of your tongue that connects it to the bottom of your mouth. A similar membrane connects your lower lip to your mouth/gum area.

Babies with a lip or tongue “tie” have this tissue positioned too far up or forward, shortening the amount of lip or tongue that’s free to move. This can restrict the baby from being able to position lip or tongue correctly for a deep latch.

Your pediatrician or a lactation consultant can help diagnose a tie. If your baby has one, the pediatrician may recommend a quick procedure to cut part of the tissue to allow better freedom of movement and easier breastfeeding. Read more about tongue tie here.

Jessica Sillers
Jessica Sillers is a parenting and finance writer whose work has been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn, Headspace, and more. As a new mom herself, she’s passionate about helping other parents find the community and support they need. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading, and hiking.

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