Breastfeeding attachment: getting started

Learning to breastfeed can take time, practice and patience. 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, your midwife, child and family health nurse or GP or the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) can support you. They can also help you find a lactation consultant.

You can also contact the ABA’s National Breastfeeding Helpline by phoning 1800 686 268.

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 attach. Baby-led attachment can ideally start straight after your baby is born when you have your baby skin to skin on your chest. The earlier it starts the sooner your baby will learn.

Baby-led attachment can help you avoid many common problems like sore or cracked nipples, which can be caused by poor attachment to the breast.

Getting started with baby-led breastfeeding attachment

You can do baby-led attachment skin to skin with your baby, 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:

  1. Make sure you’re comfortable and well supported with pillows. Lean back rather than sit upright.
  2. 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.
  3. When calm, your baby will begin to follow his instincts. He’ll 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. Your baby knows where to go. Your job is to keep him calm. You can help him by moving his whole body a little if necessary.
  4. 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.
  5. When your baby is just below your nipple, he’ll dig his chin into your breast, reach up with an open mouth, attach to the breast and start sucking.

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.

Mother-led breastfeeding attachment

The more traditional technique of ‘mother-led’ attachment works for many mothers and babies. You can also use this technique once you’re going well with breastfeeding.

Here are the basic steps for this technique:

  1. 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.
  2. Hold your baby behind her back and shoulders (not her head), so her chest is touching your chest. Bring her nose in line with your nipple.
  3. Gently brush your nipple from your baby’s nose to his lips – this will encourage him to open his mouth wide.
  4. When your baby’s mouth is wide open, quickly bring your baby to your breast, directing your nipple at the roof of her mouth. Her mouth will close over your breast and she’ll start sucking.

Checking the breastfeeding attachment

When your baby is correctly attached to your breast and feeding well, you’ll notice that:

  • breastfeeding feels comfortable, not painful
  • your baby is sucking deeply and regularly (sometimes with short pauses), and you can hear him swallowing
  • your baby takes the whole nipple and a large amount of the areola into his mouth, more towards his chin than his nose
  • your baby’s chin is pressed into your breast and his nose is clear or just touching 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.

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 midwife, child and family health nurse or lactation consultant.

Breaking the attachment and burping

If your baby hasn’t attached correctly, stop, take her off the breast and try attaching again.

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 suction 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 baby 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.