How To Get A Deep Latch

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Want to learn how to get a deep latch that is painless and protects your milk supply? This post explains what you need to know and how to do it! 

A deep latch while breastfeeding is very, very important—more important than many new breastfeeding parents realize. 

What They Don't Tell You About Breastfeeding

This is what they don’t tell you in the hospital. Our FREE guide will give you 12 breastfeeding secrets that will help you avoid common problems down the road. 

A deep latch does way more than just prevent nipple pain: It protects your milk supply!

The two main forces powering your milk supply are breast stimulation and milk removal. In other words, your breasts need to be stimulated well (and often) in order to maintain your milk supply long term. 

How to Get a Deep Latch that feels comfortable and protects milk supply

With a shallow latch, baby is latched on to the nipple and has relatively little breast tissue in his or her mouth. With a deep latch, baby has a mouthful of breast tissue. This gives the breast the stimulation it needs to send a signal to your body to keep producing an appropriate volume of milk (I say an “appropriate” volume rather than a “high” volume because the average breastfed baby takes in only 2-4 ounces per feed!).

Furthermore, when the nipple is deep in baby’s mouth, baby’s hard palate doesn’t crush the nipple, nor does his or her tongue rub on the nipple face. This means deep latches are also painless latches.

And it SHOULD be painless! Yes, it’s true that some discomfort in the early days of breastfeeding is normal, but significant pain is never normal—especially pain that persists for longer than about two weeks postpartum.

Our goal is a deep, comfortable latch. So let’s learn how to get one!

Difference between a shallow and deep latch

Here’s a breastfeeding secret for you:

Babies latch onto the breast the same way YOU bite into a burger.

Think about it. When you bite into a burger (or any type of large sandwich), you don’t just push it into your face. You first tilt the burger back, and maybe smush it down a bit so you can get our mouth around it. Then our bottom jaw meets the burger first, you open wide, and your mouth goes over the top. 

Latching onto the breast is a lot like biting into a cheeseburger or large sandwich

Babies latch onto the breast the exact same way

HOW TO GET A DEEP LATCH

Step 1. Bring baby to breast

Always bring baby to the breast, rather than bring the breast to baby. Bringing the breast to baby means you’ll wind up leaning or hunched over trying to get your breast close to baby’s mouth. Instead, bring baby’s mouth closer to your breast.

Create a pillow table at the level of the breast to make bringing baby to breast easier
In upright feeding holds (e.g. football hold, cross-cradle hold, cradle hold, etc.), try creating a “pillow table” at the level of your breast. This will make it easier to bring baby to the breast. You will feel less inclined to hunch over and bring the breast to baby.

The specific WAY you bring baby to breast will depend on which breastfeeding position you choose. I recommend starting with a laid-back breastfeeding position. If that isn’t working well for you, be sure to check out this post on how to make adjustments to a laid-back feeding position! If a laid-back position isn’t feeling right for you, a football hold or cross-cradle hold is what I’d recommend trying next (it tends to be more difficult to latch newborns in a cradle position). 

Laid-back breastfeeding
In a laid-back breastfeeding position, baby is already placed at the level of your breast!

Step 2. Create a “breast sandwich”

To help baby get their mouth around as much breast tissue as possible, create a “breast sandwich” by placing your thumb and pointer finger around the areola (the darker skin around the nipple) in a C or U shape. 

Create a breast sandwich to make it easier for baby to get his or her mouth around the breast

When you make your “breast sandwich,” you want to make sure that you think of holding the breast like a hamburger, not a taco. In other words, you want your fingers to be placed such that they aren’t in the way of baby’s mouth as he or she puts it around the nipple. 

With your other hand, support baby’s head by holding it at the base of the neck, behind the ears, like so:

Be sure to support baby by the base of the head behind the ears, not the back of the head

You want to avoid holding baby by the back of their head. Putting pressure on the very back of baby’s head can elicit a reflex that causes them to arch away from the breast, which we don’t want. Supporting baby’s head as shown above gives you better support and control of his or her head.

Step 3. Position your nipple so that it is pointing towards baby’s nose, upper lip, or the roof of baby’s mouth. 

This does two things. First, it makes it easier for baby’s lower jaw to come into contact with your breast first, which in turn helps them take in more breast tissue (i.e. get a deeper latch!). Second, it will cause your nipple to brush up against baby’s upper lip, which triggers a reflex that causes baby to open their mouth. This is what we want to see:

Baby's lower jaw should touch the breast before the upper jaw comes over the top of the breast

Step 4. Wait for baby to open their mouth WIDE before bringing baby over the top of the nipple.

Now this last step is the tricky part. You want to wait until baby’s mouth is open as wide as possible before bringing baby up and over the top of the nipple. If you move too early, before baby’s mouth is open wide, you’re not going to get a deep latch, and we need latch to be deep. A deep latch is not optional.

READ MORE: Does your baby never seem to open his or her mouth wide?

Wait for baby to open as wide as possible before latching on
Image reproduced with kind permission from Off to a Good Start: All You Need to Know About Breastfeeding © Public Health Scotland 2020

When you bring baby onto the breast, avoid pushing his or her head into the breast. Think of it more as a hug: You’ll hug baby towards you. This is going to cause baby’s mouth to come up and over the nipple because the lower jaw is already in place on the breast.

READ MORE: How To Find A Supportive Lactation Consultant (who can help you get a painless latch!)

And there you have it! 

Baby with a wide jaw latched on well to the breast
Note how wide baby’s jaw is, and how baby’s cheeks are rounded.

Image above reproduced with kind permission from Off to a Good Start: All You Need to Know About Breastfeeding © Public Health Scotland 2020

But you’re not done yet. You want to make sure baby has a deep latch. Now unfortunately, a latch that “looks” like a deep latch is NOT always a deep, comfortable, effective latch. That said, if the latch doesn’t look like a deep latch, there’s a good chance it isn’t deep. So it’s good to familiarize yourself with what a deep latch looks like. 

You can remember what to look for by thinking of the acronym L.A.T.C.H. 

L is for Lips

Are baby’s lips flanged out like fish lips, or at least neutral? You don’t want baby’s upper or lower lip tucked in. If a lip is tucked in, you can manually untuck it. But if baby keeps rolling the lip in, this can be a sign that baby isn’t latched on well. 

Make sure baby's upper lip isn't rolled in
This baby’s upper lip is rolled in. Try manually untucking it.

Babies sometimes roll their lips in because they are inappropriately relying on the lips to stay attached. Sometimes babies roll in the lip because of an upper lip tie. If your baby will not feed without tucking the upper lip in, it should be addressed with a lactation consultant.

A is for Angle

Baby’s jaw should be open at an angle greater than 90 degrees (an obtuse angle). At a wide angle like this, baby’s cheeks will probably be rounded and might obscure your view of the corner of their mouth. That’s a good sign. 

Baby's jaw should be wide open at an angle greater than 90 degrees
The breastfeeding parent had to move her breast away for the wide angle of this baby’s jaw to be visible. Baby’s rounded cheeks would have otherwise obscured this view. You do NOT need to hold your breast out of the way like this when feeding 🙂

Compare the deep latch in the photo above to the shallow latch shown below. Can you see the difference?

This is an example of a shallow latch
This baby’s upper lip is tucked in, and the angle baby’s jaw makes is not greater than 90 degrees. This is a shallow latch.

T is for Tongue

If baby isn’t latched on deeply, baby’s tongue will be positioned such that it rubs the face of your nipple (ouch!) or such that it compresses your nipple against the hard roof of baby’s mouth (ouch!). This can leave you with nipple pain, tissue damage, and/or “lipstick nipples” that are flat on one side. We don’t want this!

An example of “lipstick nipples”

Instead, if latch is deep, we would expect nipples to come out of baby’s mouth looking perhaps a bit elongated, but otherwise pretty normally shaped.

Note that it can take some time for damaged nipples to heal after correcting baby’s latch using the deep latch technique shared in this post. Things should begin to improve in 24-48 hours. 

C is for Clicking

When latched on deeply, babies form a seal on the breast. If you hear a “tch tch tch” clicking noise when baby nurses, that is the sound of the seal breaking, which can happen with a shallow latch. 

However, clicking doesn’t always mean baby’s latch is shallow. It can happen if you have a fast letdown, or if you have oversupply. Clicking can sometimes contribute to painful gas or reflux, and sometimes it doesn’t cause significant problems at all. 

H is for Head

When latched on deeply, baby’s chin should be touching the breast…

Shallow latch vs. Deep latch

…and baby’s head should not be tucked into his or her chest when latched/latching on. This baby’s head is tucked into his chest, and it is going to be more difficult to get a deep latch this way:

Baby latching on with his head inappropriately tucked into his chest

What if I can’t get a deep latch?

You are not alone! This is actually very common. I went through it myself! 

If you’re still having trouble getting a deep latch, I strongly encourage you to look for breastfeeding help. Be sure to check out this blog post to learn how to find good breastfeeding help in your area. 

And if you haven’t already, definitely take breastfeeding education class. My online breastfeeding course, Breastfeed With Confidence, is self-paced, affordable, and includes an accelerated version for parents who’ve already given birth, saving you a ton of time while giving you only the information you actually need to meet your feeding goals. 

What They Don't Tell You About Breastfeeding

This is what they don’t tell you in the hospital. Our FREE guide will give you 12 breastfeeding secrets that will help you avoid common problems down the road. 

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out our digital library of helpful resources that quickly teach how to avoid common breastfeeding problems and give you the peace of mind and confidence you need to meet your breastfeeding goals.

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