Breastfeeding Trouble? 7 Signs There Might Be a Problem With Your Baby's Latch

The way your baby latches onto your breast to nurse can make or break your breastfeeding experience—for both you and your baby.

Breastfeeding Latching Issues NAR studio/Shutterstock
A good latch is essential for your baby to get enough milk and avoid pain and complications from breastfeeding for you. But with so much breastfeeding information out there in online parenting support groups or even at in-person playdates by well-meaning moms, it is hard to wade through and find out exactly what a good latch means.  But don't worry: Just watch out for these seven signs that there is something wrong with your baby's latch.

1. You're experiencing nipple pain

Contrary to popular belief, pain is not a normal part of the breastfeeding experience.

"When the baby first latches, a new mother may feel a pull and a little discomfort but any pain is showing there is a problem with latching," says Deedra Franke, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. While you may experience some discomfort, pain should be a red flag that you need to have a talk with a lactation consultant.

2. Your nipples are cracked and bleeding

"Even in the beginning, when we are first helping mom's latch, we look for the nipple to be soft and round," explains Kathy McCoy, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Many women believe that some cracking and bleeding is normal during those first few weeks of breastfeeding—and it is one of the most common complaints given by women who stop breastfeeding. But according to Franke, it isn't actually normal, and any cracking and bleeding experienced while breastfeeding should be addressed by board-certified lactation consultant at the very first sign of trouble, before the damage to the nipple becomes too severe, making breastfeeding painful and putting you at risk for infection.

3. Your baby's lips are curled under

Any time your baby is at the breast, her lips should be flanged out, according to McCoy. If her lips are curled under, or it looks like she is sucking her lips into her mouth with the breast, this will create breastfeeding problems like pain for mom or inefficient milk transfer for baby.

How to Get a Good Breastfeeding Latch

4. You have "lipstick nipple" when your baby unlatches

If your baby's mouth is not wide open when she latches on the breast, this creates a shallow latch—which can be uncomfortable for you and make it hard for your baby to get enough milk, McCoy says. One big sign your baby has a shallow latch is something frequently called "lipstick nipple," meaning that when your baby unlatches from your breast, your nipple is flattened much like a tube of lipstick.

5. Your breasts don't feel full by day six

It is normal not to feel milk in your breasts the first few days after delivery. That first milk is colostrum, which is produced in smaller amounts, but provides all the nutrients your infant needs. Full-feeling breasts are a common sign that your milk has come in after you give birth. If you aren't experiencing a fullness in your breasts and if you aren't able to express milk, your baby may not be latching well.

"Her breast should starting filling between day three and day five," McCoy explains. "So, if not by the morning by day six, that is a kind of red flag and we ask mom to at least call a lactation consultant and ideally see a lactation consultant."

6. Your baby gains weight too slowly—or loses weight

Weight loss or slow weight gain by the end of the first week can be a sign that your baby isn't latching.

"We don't want the baby to lose more than 10 percent of its birth weight, and we would like to see the baby back to birth weight by the end of two weeks," explained McCoy. She recommended watching for six or more wet diapers each day by the end of week one, as well as a change in the bowel movements from dark meconium to the yellow, seedy poop expected from exclusively breastfed infants.

7. Your baby seems to have a hard time breastfeeding

If you suspect there is something wrong with your the way your baby is nursing, consult with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant. They can help you correct any minor nursing setbacks and get your breastfeeding relationship back on track.

“Many babies have latch and suck issues beyond two weeks.  A visit with a lactation consultant can guide and support you through those early weeks,” says McCoy.