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 phone the ABA’s National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 686 268, use ABA LiveChat, or go to a local ABA support group.
Baby-led breastfeeding attachment
One 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 your baby follow their instincts to find your breast and attach. Ideally, baby-led attachment can start straight after your baby is born, when you’re having skin-to-skin contact with your baby. The earlier it starts, the sooner your baby will learn how to attach well, but it’s never too late to try.
Baby-led attachment can help you avoid many common problems like sore or cracked nipples and breast engorgement, 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 privacy in the early days as you and your baby learn.
Here are the basic steps for this technique:
- Look out for your baby’s early feeding cues, like signs of hunger. Your baby might make sucking noises or open their mouth and turn their head towards your breast. It’s better to start when you see these early cues rather than later cues like crying.
- Make sure you’re comfortable and your back is supported. It helps to lean back rather than sit upright.
- Place your baby on your bare chest between your breasts, facing you. Gravity will help to keep your baby in position.
- When your baby is calm, let them follow their instincts and start moving towards one breast. Support your baby behind the shoulders and under the bottom with the arm that’s closest to the breast that your baby will feed from. Avoid holding your baby’s head.
- Let your baby move towards your nipple. Your baby knows where to go. Your job is to keep your baby calm. You can help by moving your baby’s body a little if you need to.
- Your baby will probably position themselves on an angle, with their mouth near your nipple and their feet supported by your thigh or lap. Their head will be in the crook of your arm, with your lower forearm or hand supporting their bottom.
- When your baby is just below your nipple, your baby will dig their chin into your breast, reach up with an open mouth, attach to the breast and start sucking. Sometimes babies will latch on, let go and latch on again for better attachment. You can shape your breast to help your baby latch on.
- If you’re in pain, break the suction by inserting your little finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth, between the gums. Gently take your baby off the breast and try again.
Things to note
- If you’ve had a caesarean section, gently encourage your baby to move their legs and body to one side of you, so they don’t kick or lie on your wound. Use a pillow next to you to support your baby’s legs and feet.
- You can provide support behind your baby’s shoulders and bring your baby’s bottom in closer to your body if you need to.
- In the first week or so of breastfeeding, it’s common to feel some discomfort when your baby latches. But once your baby starts to suck and swallow, breastfeeding should start to feel more comfortable.
Mother-led breastfeeding attachment
The more traditional technique of ‘mother-led’ attachment works for many mothers and babies.
Here are the basic steps for this technique:
- Sit upright, with your back well supported. If your baby is heavy, you can use a pillow to support your baby.
- Hold your baby close to your body. Try not to move your breast towards your baby because this will make it hard for them to stay attached. Take care not to raise your baby higher than the natural fall of your breasts.
- Hold your baby behind their back and shoulders (not their head), so your baby is on their side and their chest is touching your chest. Bring your baby’s nose just above your nipple.
- Gently brush your nipple from your baby’s nose to their lips – this will encourage your baby to open their mouth wide.
- When your baby’s mouth is wide open, quickly bring your baby to your breast, directing your nipple at the roof of your baby’s mouth. Your baby will close their mouth over your breast and start sucking.
Checking the breastfeeding attachment
Here are signs that your baby is correctly attached to your breast and feeding well:
- Breastfeeding feels comfortable, not painful.
- Your baby is sucking deeply and regularly (sometimes with short pauses), and you can see or hear baby swallowing.
- Your baby takes the whole nipple and a large amount of the areola into their mouth, more towards their chin than their nose.
- Your baby’s chin is pressed into your breast, and their nose is clear or just touching your breast.
- Your baby’s bottom lip is turned out over your breast (not sucked in), and their top lip is turned out or sitting softly on your breast.
- Your nipples stay in good condition and don’t show any signs of damage or pinching.
- Your baby is draining your breast properly, so that it feels softer after a feed.
It’s normal to feel a stretching sensation when your baby starts sucking. But if attachment hurts, especially after the first few seconds, it might mean your baby isn’t correctly attached.
If your baby hasn’t attached correctly, you can try hugging your baby’s body in closer so that their chin presses into your breast more. If attachment still hurts, stop, gently break the attachment, take your baby off the breast and try attaching again.
If you want to double-check your baby’s attachment, contact your midwife, child and family health nurse, lactation consultant or ABA counsellor.
For more information, you can also download or print out our illustrated guide to breastfeeding techniques and illustrated guide to breastfeeding positions.
Breaking the attachment and burping
If you need to take your baby off your breast to try attaching again or to stop feeding, avoid pulling your baby away from your breast. This can damage your nipple. Instead, break the suction by inserting your little finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth, between the gums, and gently remove baby from the breast.
Your baby might need to burp after feeding from each breast. To do this, sit your baby up or hold them to your shoulder and gently rub or pat their back.
Babies don’t always need to burp after feeding.
Breastfeeds: how often, how long and which breast?
Babies usually need to breastfeed at least 8-12 times every 24 hours.
In the first few days of life, your baby might need to feed more often than this. And as your baby grows, their feeding frequency might increase from time to time. This is called cluster feeding.
The time it takes for a baby to feed will vary, but in the early days and weeks, it might be up to an hour.
As your baby gets older and better at sucking and swallowing, feeding will take less time. By 3 months some babies can get all the milk they need in just minutes.
Some babies might feed from one breast, need a break, and then keep feeding. If the first breast feels like it isn’t completely drained, you can offer that breast again. Or you can offer the other breast. It’s up to you.
Some babies feed from both breasts without a break in between.
And other babies feed from only one breast at a time. If this sounds like your baby, alternate breasts from one feed to the next.
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 them attach on their own from there.
Breastfeeding is more than just giving milk. It’s also about closeness and comfort for your baby.