There are many reasons why it is important to obtain and maintain a proper latch during breastfeeding. Since this is a blog post, I am not going to overwhelm you with information but I am going to highlight some of the most critical components for successful breastfeeding.
Let's first discuss milk production. When the baby is latched onto the breast properly the stimulation from the baby's suck signals your body to produce breast milk. Without this stimulation your body is not getting the "messages" necessary to communicate to your breasts to continue producing. When the latch is too shallow, meaning that the baby may be sucking on the tip of nipple or not opening their mouth wide enough, this decreases stimulation to the breast thus decreasing milk production. One key factor that I have told many of my postpartum patients in the hospital is that it is called BREASTfeeding for a reason... not nipple feeding.
If your baby has a shallow or ineffective latch a few things can happen. First, your body will not receive the proper signals needed to maintain or increase milk production to keep up with your baby's needs and demands. Second, your baby will likely not receive a sufficient amount of breast milk during the feeding. Third, if the baby is latched onto the nipple this can cause nipple soreness or overtime may cause redness, chapping, cracking, bruising and/or bleeding of the nipples. Lastly, if your baby is struggling at the breast due to frustration, coming on and off, etc. they may ingest more air than they would if they sustained a "perfect" (or close to it) latch. This can cause a build up of gas and guess what that leads to... fussiness.
So what does a proper latch look like? Put simply, the baby's mouth will be wide open, with the lips flanged like a fish. The baby's ear, shoulder and hip should be aligned for proper positioning as setup for a good latch. When the baby is feeding, the lower jaw should draw downward and you should be able to hear your baby "gulping." Newborns have a different feeding pattern than older infants. Before your mature milk comes in, colostrum will be present. The consistency of colostrum is thicker than mature milk because it is jam-packed with nutrients in small quantities because your baby's stomach is the size of a marble at birth, it doesn't hold much! Your newborn has to work hard to transfer colostrum! I compare it to drinking a milkshake out of a coffee straw! You will notice that you baby will alternate between sucking and pausing and swallowing.
Okay, I'm signing off for now. There is much more that I can say on this subject and I am going to stop myself before I write a book! Let me know if you have any questions! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.