How to Attach Baby to Your Breasts And Avoid Pain

Learning how to attach baby to your breasts is such an important step for you and your baby. If your baby is attached well, it can prevent a lot of breastfeeding issues. There should be no nipple pain.

I felt so upset in the beginning since it seemed like my baby was nibbling away at my nipples and eating me alive! Apparently, she was not latched properly, so the more I breastfed her, the more damage it caused to my nipples. Argh! Having sore, cracked, or worse – bleeding nipples mean that your baby is not attached properly. Usually, it also means that your baby is not taking in enough milk.

breastfeeding tips and tricksRemember, if your baby is latched well, it should not hurt.

Becoming skilled at this takes time, so don’t lose hope and patience. Be calm and relaxed, and just keep trying. As they say, practice makes perfect.

Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger Cues

Don’t wait for your baby to cry before you feed them. Crying is a late sign of hunger. It is easier to work on attaching baby to your breasts when they are not upset or crying. I think its important to learn more about a baby’s hunger cues, and offer a feed as soon as you notice them.

Here’s a short video to help you find out when its time to breastfeed:

To trigger your baby’s natural feeding instinct, be ready to recognise hunger cues like the rooting reflex, hands in mouth, or turning their head side to side with their mouth open.

While you and your baby are learning, skin-to-skin contact will be useful. If your baby is upset, you can calm them this way. You can also rock them gently and cuddle them.

Latching On Within the Comfort Zone

To start the feed, hold your baby close along your forearm so that their chest is touching yours. Remember, bring your baby to your chest, and not your chest to your baby.

I had to keep on remembering that myself. Knowing is obviously different from doing it. The nurses had to remind me every time.

Bring your baby’s nose directly opposite your nipple. As your baby tilts her head back, her top lip should brush over your nipple. This encourages them to open their mouth wide. Don’t be frustrated. Sometimes, it takes a while to get it right.

When their mouth is wide open, bring your baby to your breast. Their chin should be pressed against your breast, lips open, and they should be able to breath from their nose. This helps achieve a deep attachment.

When your baby attaches well, they will have a large mouthful of breast in their mouth, and your nipple will be positioned far back into their mouth – into their soft palette. Breastfeeding will feel more comfortable and they will get the milk she needs.

You will also know if you have good attachment if there is no pain. Although it is common for some mothers in the early weeks to feel some nipple pain, that stops after you get the initial attachment right.

At the start, the way your baby sucks will be fast and shallow as they trigger the reflex that allows the milk to flow. After this, it will be slower, deeper suck and swallows. Swallowing can be identified by a soft ticking sound or pause that you’ll see in their chin. It drops down to its lowest position when they have a mouthful of milk. The longer the pause in their chin, the bigger the mouthful. Rest periods between sucking is normal.

Best way to describe a good position is chest to chest, chin to breast.

As breastfeeding continues, the sucks and swallows gradually become shorter and the rest periods longer. You don’t need to remove your baby since they will be the ones to come off your breast when they’re done.

If you feel nipple pain beyond the initial attachment, try attaching your baby again. To break the suction, do not pull your baby away from your breast. This can cause more pain and damage your nipple. Instead, break the attachment by inserting a clean finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth between their gums. Gently and firmly press down on her lower gums and remove them from the breast.

Here’s a video that demonstrates the correct latch:

If you would like to know if you are doing it right, here are some things to look out for:

  • Latch feels comfortable to you and does not hurt or pinch.
  • Your baby’s chest rests against your body, and they do not need to turn their head while drinking.
  • When your baby is positioned well, their mouth will be filled with your breast.
  • You can barely see your areola (the darker skin around the nipple), although this depends on the size of your areola and your baby’s mouth.
  • You can hear or see your baby swallow.
  • Your baby’s chin touches your breast.

(source: WomensHealth.gov)

Figuring Out the Most Comfortable Position for You and Your Baby

When you’re just starting to learn how to breastfeed, it is best to start with baby-led attachment or let your baby follow their instincts to get to your breast. Don’t forget to do skin-to-skin contact. Just remove your shirt and bra, and then remove your baby’s clothes and leave their nappy or diaper. I like using a soft blanket and nursing pillow.

If you have a nursing chair that rocks and reclines, that would be awesome. A foot stool will be a wonderful touch too. Otherwise, at least use a chair with good back support and arm rests.

Find a comfortable position, lean back, and hold your baby against your body. Many moms find that leaning back with their baby on their chest, between their breasts work best for them.

Then support your baby as they move towards your breast, go near your nipple, and attach to your breast. If they lose the attachment, move your baby back to a more upright position between your breasts and let them start again.

You can tell that they are drinking enough milk when you see their jaw pause in the open position during sucking, as they swallow a mouthful.

If your baby becomes upset during the process, calm them first and try again. Don’t be too hard on yourself, this is a learning process for both of you.

Once you are ready, you can move on to other structured techniques. Here’s a video on the different breastfeeding positions you can try:

Personally, the cross-cradle position (sitting up) and side-lying position (lying down) work well for me and my baby. I find both very relaxing although I didn’t use the side-lying position until my baby was 4 months. There were a lot of times when my neck and back hurt, so I always need to keep in mind what I was taught – bring the baby to your chest, and not your chest to your baby.

On a final note, do what works best for you and your baby. Take time to try different positions to see what suits you both. Breastfeeding should be as comfortable as possible, and your baby should be getting enough milk (if you feel pain, they are not getting enough).

During most illnesses, such as colds, flu, and other infections, breastfeeding gives the baby your antibodies to protect against infection, so it is important to continue to breastfeed. If you are worried that your illness might hurt your baby, talk to your doctor about this.

I would love to hear about your experience learning about the right way to latch, as well as the breastfeeding position that worked for you. Share your experience or leave your comment below.

12 comments

  1. Andrea says:

    I remember with my first baby I had bad nipple pain. I was not latching her correctly. It really does take a lot of trail and error. I had no problems with my next 2 children. My favorite position was laying down or the cross-cradle position. What do you think about nursing to sleep?

    • Raquel says:

      Hi Andrea! Latching does take some time to learn, but it does get better once you learn to do it right.

      On nursing your baby to sleep, I can’t say never do it because even I enjoy that moment. It’s just so relaxing and calming. However if you do this every night, your baby will get used to it as part of their bedtime routine. Which means that they may not know any other way to fall asleep. So maybe you can alter the routine a bit to breastfeed them earlier in the evening. This may also help give you more sleeping time as well.

  2. Anna says:

    Hi Raquel,

    This is a wonderful article and I will share it with all the new moms I know! Your videos are excellent as well! Many first time moms aren’t educated enough in how to breast feed properly and then they end up struggling with it when they shouldn’t have to. It just causes stress for them and their baby instead of being able to enjoy a beautiful experience.

    Your website is a wealth of much needed information – really great job!!

  3. Carlos says:

    Unfortunately, I didn’t find this article two years ago when my son was born.

    My wife had many problems when she breastfeed our boy. First, due to the introduction of powdered milk while at the hospital (was a c-section delivery). After one day of powdered milk from a bottle with an easy to drink nipple, the change to breast milk was not so easy. Attachment to the nipple was hard work.

    We tried, but eventually gave up. Hope we came across this before so we probably had a better chance of being successful.

    • Raquel says:

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Carlos. Breastfeeding is definitely possible after a c-section delivery. Your wife’s movements will be limited, and she will definitely need more support. You will play a big role in providing physical and moral support. Nursing pillows can help too. Would you know why you had to use powdered milk?

      Mastering how to attach baby to your breasts can be very challenging at the start, as you have experienced. Remember, chest to chest, chin to breast. Practice makes perfect.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Great article for new moms on how to breastfeed, Raquel. My kids are not adults yet, but I breastfed both of them. With my first baby, I had a hard time getting her to latch on. I even had to hire a lactation consultant who helped me a little. The internet was not as popular back then as it is now, but I wish there was help like what you have here on your website when I was struggling. You are doing such a wonderful thing here!

    • Raquel says:

      Thank you Stephanie! So glad to hear that you breastfed your babies, even if you struggled at the onset. The correct way to latch is one of the best things you can learn at the very beginning. Once you get it, it will prevent so many problems in the future. Cheers!

  5. Alham says:

    Hi Raquel,

    I really loved reading this article! Believe it or not, I never knew there were so many details about correct latching. The videos you included are very helpful and easy to understand. You’ve helped me to learn more about breastfeeding, and deepen my appreciation for breastfeeding mothers. Thank you!

    Alham

    • Raquel says:

      You’re welcome, Alham. Happy to know that you learned a lot. Feel free to share this information along to other breastfeeding moms. All the best!

  6. Riaz Shah says:

    Hey Raquel,

    Wow this is such a detailed post on latching. I never knew that there are things we actually need to know about this like looking out for signs that the baby is hungry and proper latching to avoid pain.

    I’m definitely sharing this post to my sister, she’s expecting a baby and your site has all the tips a mother needs. Awesome post as always, keep up the good work!

    • Raquel says:

      Thanks Riaz! 🙂 I think the correct latch is one of the first things you should learn when breastfeeding. It will prevent so many problems moving forward like sore, cracked, bleeding nipples. It will also make your baby get the right amount of milk they need. And it will make breastfeeding much more enjoyable and comfortable (instead of constantly cringing in pain).

      Do feel free to share this to your sister. Wishing her congratulations in advance. If she has any questions on breastfeeding, just drop me a note here or at raquel@breastfeedingmommas.com.

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