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How to fix a painful latch when breastfeeding your newborn

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

Is it normal to experience a painful latch when breastfeeding?

The short answer? Yes and no. A painful latch when breastfeeding your newborn is common, but determining whether or not it is normal requires more nuance. As you learn to breastfeed, it is expected that you will experience some discomfort as you learn how to latch your baby. Both you and your baby are learning a new skill, so if you don't know proper breastfeeding positions or techniques for latching, it could be possible to feel discomfort. But when your baby has a good latch, you should not feel ongoing pain. A little discomfort at first is normal as you begin conditioning yourself to new sensations, but nipple soreness when breastfeeding shouldn't be considered normal. In this blog post we will discuss how to fix a painful latch.

mother breastfeeding newborn Is it normal to experience a painful latch when breastfeeding

Table of Contents

Are sore nipples and a painful latch normal when breastfeeding

What is a good latch

Fixing a bad latch when breastfeeding

Common Reasons for a bad latch

How a lactation consultant can fix a bad latch

Should I use a nipple shield if breastfeeding hurts?

What is a good latch?

Before we begin, we need to understand what IS normal. A good latch BOTH looks and feels good. Often times I hear pediatricians or lactation consultants tell a mom that the latch looks good, so there's no issue. They don't take into consideration how the latch FEELS. A good latch will LOOK like this: Asymetric latch, chin touching breast, wide mouth, includes areola/breast (not just nipple), top lip neutral or flanged. This latch is typically best achieved with your baby in a proper breastfeeding position (belly to body, ear-shoulder-hip in alignment), and using a technique like the "Flipple" technique or "Nipple to Nose" in addition to a C-hold or U-hold on the breast.

Breastfeeding latch tip proper breastfeeding position means baby's ear shoulder and hip are in alignment and the baby's belly is toward the mom's belly like in this cartoon

As I said, some degree of discomfort is normal due to learning a new skill. On the flip side, various things like your nipple shape or baby's ability to nurse can lead to painful breastfeeding and sore nipples. If you are experiencing the following symptoms, your pain during breastfeeding probably is not normal:

  • White nipple

  • Creased Nipple

  • Mis-shapen nipple (looks like lipstick)

  • Chomping/Chewing sensations when baby is nursing

  • Brusising, chapping, cracking, bleeding nipples

All of these symptoms are signs your baby is not properly latching.

Fixing a bad breastfeeding latch

Step one to fixing a "bad latch" is to make position adjustments and practice latching techniques. If this isn't helping you should call a lactation consultant to help you determine the cause for painful breastfeeding.

Common Reasons for Bad Latch

There can be many reasons for a bad latch and sometimes the reasons can combine to make a complex situation. Some common reasons for a bad breastfeeding latch include:

  • Tongue Tie

  • Lip Tie

  • Torticollis

  • Tension from physical birth trauma (especially in Large for Gestational Age babies, babies who had a shoulder dystocia during birth, needed foreceps/vacuum extraction, etc)

  • Improper Breastfeeding Positions and latching techniques

  • Jaundice / Sleepiness

  • Prematurity / Early-Term Birth

  • Nipple Shape of Mother

  • Oversupply / Forceful Letdown

  • Spending time in NICU with tubes in mouth, bottle feeding, etc.

How a Lactation Consultant can fix a bad latch

Typically, a lactation consultant will assess your breasts, your baby's oral structure (tongue function, sucking skills, etc), your baby's nursing habits. After performing this assessment she may have a better understanding of why your baby is struggling to latch effectively and feed efficiently. Then she will make recommendations about feeding techniques, suck training exercises, pumping recommendations, bottle feeding recommendations, using a nipple shield, seeing a chiropractor/cranio sacral therapist, or another specialist.

Should you use a nipple shield if breastfeeding hurts?

Many times when mothers experience a bad latch and nipple soreness while breastfeeding their newborn, they will be told to use a nipple shield. A nipple shield can sometimes be a great tool for remediating breastfeeding skills, however, there are some issues with nipple shields.

  • you need to make sure the nipple shield is the right size

  • depending on feeding issue, it may not actually help baby

  • nipple shields can negatively impact milk supply/milk transfer

  • Nipple shields can encourage baby to latch differently and not learn good breastfeeding skills and habits

If you plan to use a nipple shield while breastfeeding a baby with a bad latch, please make sure you are working closely with a lactation consultant using the nipple shield as a tool instead of a solution.

If you want to learn more about achieving a good breastfeeding latch when your baby arrives, be sure to check out this FREE ONLINE BREASTFEEDING CLASS NOW!

If your baby is already here and you're looking for help with a bad latch, see if you qualify for a FREE VIRTUAL LACTATION CONSULT now!

Image of newborn baby breastfeeding green background with white text overlay says how to fix a painful latch when breastfeeding your newborn


Virtual Lactation Consultant provides insurance covered telehealth breastfeeding help

Jaimie Zaki is an IBCLC (international board certified lactation consultant) and mother of 4 who provides insurance covered virtual lactation consultations for breastfeeding and pumping mothers. Jaimie provides prenatal lactation consultations and postpartum prenatal lactation consultations. Jaimie also provides in-person breastfeeding help for mothers in Wichita Falls, Texas and the surrounding area.

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