Breastfeeding can sometimes be tricky, but finding a technique that works for you and your baby can make all the difference.
If you’d like some help with breastfeeding, breastfeeding techniques or attachment, support services are available. Your maternal and child health nurse, GP or the Australian Breastfeeding Association can help you find a lactation consultant to support you with breastfeeding your baby.
The best way for you to learn about breastfeeding is to let your baby teach you! This is called ‘baby-led attachment’, and it’s when you let baby follow his instincts to find your breast and latch on.
You might have had a chance to try baby-led attachment straight after your baby’s birth. Baby-led attachment is very useful for the early days of learning and practising breastfeeding. It can help you avoid many common problems, such as sore or cracked nipples and poor attachment to the breast by your baby.
Getting started with baby-led attachment
Baby-led attachment works best if you can have as much skin-to-skin contact with your baby as possible. This means wearing no bra or other clothes on your top half, while your baby wears only a nappy. It also means you might need a fair bit of privacy in the early days as you and your baby learn.
Here are the basic steps for this technique:
- Make sure you’re comfortable and well supported with pillows. Lean back rather than sit upright.
- Place your baby skin to skin with you. Your baby should be on your chest between your breasts, facing you. Gravity will help keep her in position. It’s best if your baby’s awake but not crying – if she’s crying, calm her first, perhaps by letting her suck your finger.
- When calm, your baby will begin to follow her instincts. She might ‘bob’ her head against you and/or start to move towards one breast. Support your baby behind her shoulders and under her bottom (don’t hold her head). Let her move to where she’s trying to go – towards your nipple. Just let him do it – she knows where to go! Your job is to help her a little if she needs it, and to keep her calm.
- Your baby will most likely position herself on an angle, with her mouth near your nipple and her feet supported by your thigh or lap.
- When your baby’s just below your nipple, she’ll dig her chin into your breast, reach up with an open mouth and attach to the breast. This might happen very quickly.
Some things to note:
- If you’ve had a caesarean section, gently encourage your baby to move his legs and body to one side of you, so he doesn’t kick or lie on your wound. If his body’s to one side, use a pillow next to you to support his feet.
- Try to help your baby keep his face in contact with your breast. If he loses contact, the process might stop. He might start again when he finds your breast again, or he might need to go from the beginning.
- You can provide support behind your baby’s shoulders and bring his bottom in closer to your body if you need to.
The more traditional technique of ‘mother-led’ attachment works for many mothers and babies. This technique can also be used once breastfeeding is well established.
Here are the basic steps for this technique:
- Sit upright, and support yourself well with pillows. If your breasts are small, you might need a pillow on your lap to bring your baby to the right level. But take care not to raise your baby higher than the natural fall of your breasts.
- To start the feed, hold your baby behind her back and shoulders (not her head), so her chest is touching your chest. Her nose should be in line with your nipple. Gently brush your nipple from her nose to her lips – this will encourage her to open her mouth wide.
- When her mouth is wide open, bring baby to your breast. Direct the nipple at the roof of her mouth, and keep your hands across her back and shoulders. When she attaches, a large amount of the areola will be in her mouth and her chin will be tucked into the breast.
- When a baby’s feeding well, she’ll suck deeply and regularly (sometimes with short pauses), and you’ll hear her swallowing.
Checking the attachment
When your baby’s correctly attached to your breast, you’ll notice that:
- feeding feels comfortable, not painful
- your baby takes the whole nipple and a large amount of the areola into his mouth, more on the chin side than the nose side
- his chin’s pressed into your breast
- his lips are turned out over your breast (not sucked in)
- your nipples stay in good condition, and don’t show any signs of damage
- your baby’s draining your breast properly, so that it feels floppy after a feed.
If your baby hasn’t attached correctly, stop, take him off the breast and try attaching again.
It’s normal to feel a ‘stretching sensation’ when your baby starts sucking. But if attachment hurts, it might mean your baby isn’t correctly attached. If you want to double-check whether your baby’s attaching correctly, contact your child health nurse or lactation consultant.
Breaking the attachment and burping
If you need to take your baby off your breast to try attaching again, avoid pulling your baby away from your breast. Instead, break her attachment by inserting your little finger into the corner of her mouth, between her gums, and gently remove her from the breast.
Your baby might need to burp after feeding from each breast. To do this, sit him up or hold him to your shoulder and gently rub or pat his back.
Basic feeding routines and times
Newborns need to be fed 8-12 times every 24 hours. Once you’ve got the hang of it, most feeds take 20 minutes or so. But in the early days and weeks, they might take up to an hour. And as your baby grows, the time baby takes to feed will reduce, as will the number of feeds.
The basic routine is to feed from one breast, have a break and change baby’s nappy, then offer the other breast. Don’t worry if she doesn’t want it – the important thing is to offer it.
If you’re using baby-led attachment, you can gently encourage your baby to go to a particular breast. Or, if you’ve already let your baby follow his instincts and move to the breast on his own a few times, you can place your baby close to the final position that he’d get to. Then just let him attach from there.