Breastfeeding Tips for Baby-Led Attachment

This article shares helpful breastfeeding tips for baby-led attachment. Learn to trust your motherly instincts and your baby’s innate wisdom.


What Is Baby-Led Attachment?

Baby-led attachment is the most natural introduction to breastfeeding. This process involves the baby seeking out the mother’s breast for breastfeeding. The method works very well for all babies, and it is particularly helpful for babies who are reluctant starters.

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How Do I Initiate Baby-Led Attachment?

Hold your baby to your body in the way that feels right for you. Many mothers choose to hold their baby upright on their chest and between their breasts. Many others find that a semi-reclined position works best. When you feel comfortable and relaxed, your baby will easily make his way to your breasts, as you gently support your baby. Baby-led attachment can help minimize nipple trauma, because it diminishes the strain on your nipple that may occur when you sit upright.


How do I know when my baby is ready to feed?

When your baby is ready to feed, your baby will start to lift and bob his head around looking for your breasts. As your baby moves closer to your breast and nuzzles towards your nipple, he may bring his hands to his mouth. He may also feel around with his fists and move his head from side to side. Don’t worry if he sucks his fist first. Sucking his fist can be calming and he will soon figure out that is not the breast.  There’s no need to hurry him… It’s all part of the discovery process. Let him figure things out on his own time.

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Should I worry about how long it takes to establish an effective latch on?

When your baby finds your breast, he will bring his tongue forward and may lick at the breast. He may press into your breast with his fists and move his feet up and down. This movements will trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone which helps get breast milk flowing. Don’t worry that it takes time in the early days, he will get more efficient with practice. His/her tongue will be down and forward which is where it needs to be to help achieve good attachment to the breast.


How do I encourage an effective latch on?

When your baby finds just the right spot, he will dig his chin into your breast, reach up with an open mouth, attach to your breast and begin sucking. Let your baby lead the way as much as possible. However, if sitting up, some mothers find it helpful to pull their baby’s bottom closer in to their body, or to provide some firm support to their baby’s neck or shoulders while avoiding pushing on their baby’s head. In a reclining position, gravity will act on the baby’s body, making these actions by the mother unnecessary. A baby needs to have his head free to be able to position his head to latch on effectively.


Does breastfeeding it get easier?

A baby who has had many chances to seek out his mother’s breast using his instincts, especially in the early weeks, usually quickly becomes skillful at breastfeeding, no matter the position his mother chooses. After all, it is only the baby who can open his mouth wide, attach and begin suckling.


What are different breastfeeding positions I can try?

There are many ways to position your baby for breastfeeding. There is no one right way for every mother and baby. The right way is what works for you and your baby. Below are some steps which may help when you take the lead and bring your baby to your breast.

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What are the steps to baby-led attachment?

  • Sit comfortably with your back and feet supported.
  • Unwrap your baby and hold him close so that his chest is touching your chest. Do not hold his head.
  • Turn him onto his side with his chest towards you, head tilted slightly back, at the same level as your breast. His nose will be level with your nipple.
  • For some positions such as the cross-cradle hold, you can support your baby’s neck and shoulder blade with your hand.
  • For other positions such as the cradle hold, you can support your baby’s head in the crook of your arm.
  • Gently brush your baby’s mouth with the underside of your areola. Your baby should open his mouth wide when you do this. When your baby opens his mouth wide and his tongue comes forward over his lower gum, bring him quickly to the breast with your nipple aimed at the roof of his mouth. His first point of contact will be his lower jaw or chin, on your areola well down from the nipple.
  • As his mouth closes over the breast he should take in a large mouthful of breast.
  • If you are engorged, expressing to soften around the areola may allow him to attach more easily.


How do I check that my baby is attached well?


To check that your baby is attached well, look for these signs:


  • Chin is pressed into the breast and nose is clear or only just touching the breast.
  • Lower lip flanges (turned out) over the breast. It is normal for the upper lip to rest in a neutral position at the breast.
  • Tongue is forward over the lower gum (may be difficult to see — don’t pull him away to check or you might detach him).
  • Your baby has much of the areola in his mouth, more so on the ‘chin side’.
  • There is no pain (although it is common for new mothers to feel nipple pain in the early weeks as the baby attaches but this pain stops as the milk starts to flow).
  • You may notice your baby’s whole jaw moving as he sucks and even his ears wiggling.


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What else should I know about baby-led attachment?

The first thing to pay attention to in baby-led attachment is to start when your baby calm. If your baby is calm s/he is more likely to follow through on his/her instincts than if s/he is upset. Watch your baby for subtle feeding cues, including:

  • turning head from side to side
  • sticking tongue out
  • wriggling
  • putting hands to mouth

Crying is a late feeding cue so it is important to identify the subtler feeding cues early enough.


Is skin-to-skin contact important?

Skin-to-skin contact can help promote breastfeeding, as it regulates your baby’s temperature and blood sugar levels. Also, skin-to-skin contact calms your baby’s breathing and heart rate. Still, if you don’t feel comfortable having skin-to-skin contact, you can opt be lightly dressed instead. Skin-to-skin is not essential at feeding time, as long as the breast is available to the baby.


I want to learn more. Where can I find other resources like this?

If you are interested in learning about home birthing and prenatal nutrition, check out the following resources: