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Correcting A Shallow Latch

Mother laying on her side next to crying baby

Does your baby ever make a clicking noise while feeding at the breast? Is it associated with nipple pain or discomfort? Have you been struggling with your latch? Or have you been told that your baby doesn’t seem to be transferring well or putting on the right amount of weight? 


Extra noises or clicking sounds while a newborn baby feeds at the breast can be a sign of a shallow latch. While I do not like to use the terms “good latch” or “bad latch” regularly in my practice, a shallow latch does not set you up well for prolonged breastfeeding success. When a latch is shallow, a baby cannot create the needed seal and tongue motions to draw milk out of the breast. Essentially, they are kinking the garden hose, and while they may get some milk out, they will impair their ability to appropriately transfer full quantities of milk. This can slow their weight gain. It will also down-regulate your milk production because when milk is not pulled out, the breast will not create more. Your brain and breast will both start to think you do not need as much milk. 


Those extra clicking noises indicating a shallow latch are often also associated with nipple pain. An incorrect or shallow latch is one of the leading causes of nipple damage and painful breastfeeding. If not corrected, it can lead to early weaning or the cessation of feeding at the breast (some of these mamas will become exclusive pumpers). When the latch is shallow, the nipple is positioned in the front of the oral cavity instead of being directed to the back of the palate, and appropriately filling the oral cavity with nipple and areola. If the nipple is in the front of the oral cavity or palate, when the tongue moves up to push out milk, the nipple will be pinched and suction will be created at the incorrect portion of the nipple/areola. 


The first step when experiencing clicking noises or suspicions of a shallow latch is to reach out for help! Try to find resources that can help you to achieve a deep or proper latch. Your local IBCLC resources, the Le Leche League in your area, or your/baby’s medical providers can be a great place to start. There are also online resources and YouTube videos, in addition to more information on achieving a deeper latch in this blog post. 


The second thing you should do is protect your supply. If the baby has a shallow latch and is not transferring well, it can signal to your body to stop producing as much milk. As you are correcting the latch and transfer problems with a breastfeeding helper, you may need to add in additional pumping or hand expression to protect your breastmilk supply. This can also allow your nipples some rest from feeding at the breast so that damage can heal. 


The third thing (this is a close third to #2) is to fix your nipple damage. Here is a blog post about nipple care post-injury and further damage prevention. Many of these general tips apply to your nipple care routine even if you don’t have extensive damage. Taking care of your nipples is very important when breastfeeding. They’re your tools! Make sure to care for them and treat them right. Remember, marathon runners need to warm up and stretch before their big race!


What should a deep latch look like?


When preparing to latch a baby to the breast, you should be comfortable. Your body should not crane or strain, your arms should be supported, and you should have your legs comfortably under you (think sitting in a bed or criss-cross) or your feet should be firmly on the floor. Your baby should be tucked in close with their body facing yours. The baby’s head, shoulders, and hips should be in a straight line. Support their head well, avoiding the top of the head (think soft spot). Their body should feel well supported by your arms or a firm pillow, mattress, etc. When the baby approaches the nipple they should be directed nose-to-nipple for an asymmetric latch approach. The baby’s mouth should be opened wide and come up and over the nipple (this allows their jaw to relax properly and draw the nipple in deeply). This will allow their nose and chin to rest on the breast. Their lips should flare out, and the nipple should be drawn into the back of the hard palate, filling the oral cavity with areola/breast tissue. The baby’s tongue should be on the underside of the nipple, able to move, and use peristalsis to create the seal and pull out milk. When the seal is created, you should be able to hear sucking and swallowing. There should not be any extra clicking or other noises. Babies who are feeding with a deep latch are able to suck, swallow, and breathe at the same time. Newborn and infant noses are naturally a little flatter with wide-set nostrils to facilitate this. You may feel a tugging sensation but should not feel pain.


Whew! If that isn’t a dense paragraph, I am not sure what is! Try reading it a couple of times or getting someone to read it aloud to you so that you can close your eyes and visualize the deep latch. Here is my little acronym that also helps to provide the principles of a deep latch more simplistically. 


L - Lips flared out, wide open mouth >140

A - Asymmetric, nose to nipple, resting chin on breast

T - Tongue over gum line, pull nipple to “sweet spot”

C - Cheeks relaxed, body/head well supported

H - Hear appropriate suck/swallow pattern, no extra sounds


A deep or proper latch can really make or break a breastfeeding journey. It is worth the time and effort to make sure yours is effective. That way, we can get the baby well fed and avoid sore nipples for mom. I highly recommend having an IBCLC, healthcare provider, or breastfeeding helper check your baby’s latch and make sure the baby is transferring enough milk. Keep the deep latch principles in mind, and don’t hesitate to correct any sort of clicking noise during your breastfeeding journey. You got this, Modern Mama!



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