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.

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 your baby follow their instincts to find your breast and attach. Baby-led attachment can ideally 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.

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:

  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 your baby in position. It’s best if your baby is awake but not crying. If your baby is crying, calm baby first, perhaps by letting baby suck your finger.

  3. When your baby is calm, let baby follow their instincts and start moving towards one breast. Support your baby behind the shoulders and under the bottom (hold baby’s head only if you need to). 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 whole body a little if necessary.

  4. Your baby will most likely position themselves on an angle, with their mouth near your nipple and their feet supported by your thigh or lap.

  5. 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.

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.

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 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 in line with your nipple.

  3. Gently brush your nipple from your baby’s nose to their lips – this will encourage your baby to open their 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 your baby’s mouth. Your baby will close their mouth over your breast and 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 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)

  • 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 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 farther into your breast. 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 whether your baby is attaching correctly, contact your midwife, child and family health nurse, lactation consultant or ABA counsellor.

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. 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.

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. And for most babies, the number of feeds will reduce too.

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 might temporarily 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 them attach on their own from there.

You might like to watch: How to breastfeed: breastfeeding positions

For more information, you can also download or print out the illustrated guide to breastfeeding techniques and illustrated guide to breastfeeding positions.

If you have any questions or need extra support, we're here to help you anytime, in any language. Simply start a chat with us via the home screen of the Sonder app.

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All content in Sonder's Help Centre is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Always seek the guidance of a qualified health professional.

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