Breastfeeding attachment: getting started
Breastfeeding can sometimes be tricky, but finding an attachment technique that works for you and your baby can make all the difference.
If you’d like some help with breastfeeding, breastfeeding techniques or breastfeeding attachment, support services are available.
Your child and family health nurse, GP or the Australian Breastfeeding Association can support you with breastfeeding your baby. They can also help you find a lactation consultant.
Baby-led breastfeeding attachment
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.
Baby-led attachment 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 breastfeeding attachment
Baby-led attachment can be done skin to skin or with your baby lightly dressed. It’s best if you take off your bra. This 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 on your bare chest between your breasts, facing you. Gravity will help keep her in position. It’s best if your baby is 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 his instincts. He will start to move towards one breast. Support your baby behind his shoulders and under his bottom (hold his head only if he needs it). Let him move to where he’s trying to go – towards your nipple. He knows where to go! Your job is to keep him calm. You can help him by moving his whole body a little if necessary.
- 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 is just below your nipple, he’ll dig his chin into your breast, reach up with an open mouth and attach to the breast.
Things to note
- If you’ve had a caesarean section, gently encourage your baby to move her legs and body to one side of you, so she doesn’t kick or lie on your wound. Use a pillow next to you to support her legs and feet.
- 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 his mouth is wide open, bring baby to your breast. Direct the nipple at the roof of his mouth, and keep your hands across his back and shoulders. When he attaches, a large amount of the areola will be in his mouth and his chin will be pressed into the breast.
- When a baby is feeding well, she’ll suck deeply and regularly (sometimes with short pauses), and you’ll hear her swallowing.
Checking the breastfeeding attachment
When your baby is correctly attached to your breast, you’ll notice that:
- breastfeeding 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
- your baby’s chin is pressed into your breast
- your baby’s 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 is draining your breast properly, so that it feels floppy after a feed.
If your baby hasn’t attached correctly, stop, take her 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 is attaching correctly, contact your child and family 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 the attachment by inserting your little finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth, between his gums, and gently remove him from the breast.
Your baby might need to burp after feeding from each breast. To do this, sit her up or hold her to your shoulder and gently rub or pat her 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.
As your baby grows, the time baby takes to feed will reduce, as will the number of feeds.
The basic routine often changes depending on the baby. Some babies might feed from one breast, need a break and a nappy change, then finish with the other breast. Other babies might have a nappy change first, then feed from both breasts. And others will feed from only one breast.
If you’re using baby-led attachment, you can gently encourage your baby to go to a particular breast. Or you can place your baby close to the breast and let him attach by himself from there.