When breastfeeding newborns – optimal attachment is the key.

If your newborn baby attaches to the breast correctly this can prevent many breastfeeding problems and ensures good milk supply.   The benefits of breastfeeding newborn babies are well documented for both mother and baby.  Optimal attachment will reduce the chances of nipple pain, mastitis and will drain the breast well so that milk supply is at its optimum.

A sign of not having good attachment practices are sore, grazed or cracked nipples.  This can be both de-motivating and lead to frustration for both mother and child.  A poorly attached baby is not usually taking enough milk. This can lead to a blocked duct or mastitis.

Baby led attachment

‘Baby-led attachment’ (BLA) is often the term used to describe the process of a baby seeking out his mother’s breast. BLA offers your baby the most natural introduction to breastfeeding. It is particularly helpful for babies who are reluctant starters. Here is a step-by-step guide to BLA.   from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

Start with a calm baby. A calm baby is more likely to be able to follow through on his instincts than a baby who is upset. His tongue will be down and forward which is where it needs to be to help achieve good attachment to the breast.

Get to know your baby’s feeding cues. Crying is a late feeding cue so it is important to recognise earlier feeding cues such as:

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

If a baby is upset, try the following to calm your baby:

  • skin-to-skin contact
  • stroking your baby’s back in one direction
  • talking to your baby
  • gentle rocking movements
  • letting him suck on your clean finger.

Skin-to-skin contact. Some mothers find being completely skin-to-skin with their baby helpful, ie not wearing a bra and baby in just a nappy. A mother’s body can help to regulate her baby’s temperature by changing her own chest temperature. Skin-to-skin contact also helps to regulate a baby’s blood sugar levels and breathing and stabilise his heart rate. However, skin-to-skin is not essential at feeding time if the mother feels more comfortable with both of them lightly dressed, as long as the breast is available to the baby.

Positioning. A mother can hold her baby to her body in the way that feels right for her. Many mothers choose to hold their baby upright on their chest and between their breasts. Many mothers also find that a semi-reclined position works well. In a semi-reclined position, it is easier for a baby to make his own way to his mother’s breasts, gently supported by his mother. It can also help to minimise nipple trauma, as it reduces the drag on a mother’s nipple that may occur when a mother is sitting upright.

When your baby is ready to feed, he or she will start to lift and bob their head around. Some babies will bob their way down to a breast, others will gently glide towards a breast while others will quite dramatically throw themselves towards a breast. All these movements have a definite purpose — to find the breast!

As your baby moves closer to your breast and nuzzles towards your nipple, he may bring his hand(s) to his mouth and begin to feel around with his fists and move his head from side to side. Don’t worry if he sucks his fist. He will soon figure out that is not the breast. Some babies will suck their fist to calm themselves. It’s all part of the process. Don’t hurry him. Let him do it in his own time.

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 may even move his feet up and down to rub the top of your womb (for the very early feeds), this helps to get the hormone oxytocin to be released which helps to get your breastmilk flowing).

When your newborn 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 not in a reclining position, 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 pressure 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.

A breastfeeding newborn baby who has had many chances to seek out his mother’s breast using his instincts 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.