Babies are hardwired to breastfeed but it can take some practice to get it right. Just like all baby mammals, babies follow their natural instinct to find our breasts with little or no help (and this can happen from the first moments after birth).
Our milk supply is influenced by many factors, including the way our baby attaches themselves to our breasts. Learning what positions work for you can be a helpful tool that carries through your entire breastfeeding journey.
But like any new skill, learning good breastfeeding attachment and latch can take a bit of trial and error.
Why is attachment important?
The way our babies latch onto our breasts can have a significant impact on our breastfeeding journey and experience.
A poor breastfeeding latch can be painful, frustrating and deflating. It can lead to sore nipples, poor milk drainage, blocked milk ducts and even infections such as mastitis. And for babies, a bad latch can cause slow weight gain and irritability.
If things are feeling quite right in those first few days after birth, speak up and seek support. An expert can help you find the right position, assess any underlying issues and get your latch sorted right from the beginning.
What is baby-led attachment?
Giving your baby the ability to follow their natural instincts and move organically towards your breasts is what baby-led attachment is all about.
This natural introduction to breastfeeding is often used during your first feed (as well as during the first few weeks postpartum).
It starts by holding your baby close to your chest and initiating skin-to-skin contact. Instinctually, your baby will turn and move their head towards your breast. When they’re ready, they’ll attach to your breast and begin to suck.
Over time, you’ll begin to understand your baby’s unique feeding cues and allow them cue feeds based on their needs and appetite.
Signs of good attachment
Babies aren’t just feeding from your nipple. In fact, a proper latch involves taking a good mouthful of your breast, too.
A few helpful signs that your baby is correctly attached to your breast include:
- Feeding is comfortable, not painful
- Baby is sucking deeply and regularly and your can hear the sound of swallowing
- Baby takes both your whole nipple and the areola (the dark coloured skin that surrounds the nipple) into their mouth
- Baby’s chin is pressed into your breast and their nose is clear
- Your nipples are in good condition (not sore, cracked or showing signs of damage)
Your breasts feel softer after a feed (an indicator of good breast drainage)
Signs of poor attachment
It’s also important to know what a poor breastfeeding latch feels like, too. Typically, you’ll hear clicking noises which can indicate your baby’s lips are curled inward or they frequently move their head.
Nipple pain is also another common sign of poor attachment, along with noticing poor weight gain or few wet, heavy nappies.
If we’re unable to find the right breastfeeding position, our breasts aren’t able to drain properly. This can lead to things like engorgement and even an increased risk of breast milk leakage, too.
How to improve breastfeeding attachment
Sometimes simply changing positions isn’t enough to prevent breastfeeding issues. In those cases, there might be other underlying factors at play, including:
Tongue-tie: a condition where a thin piece of tissue under a baby’s tongue is shorter than usual and can restrict their range of movement.
Inverted or flat nipples: breastfeeding can involve a bit of extra patience, a nipple shield or even using expressed milk to ensure the baby is getting enough milk.
- Oversupply, swelling or engorgement: often applying heat, taking a warm shower and hand-expressing before feeding can soften the breast and encourage a good latch.
If nothing feels like it’s working, don’t go it alone.
Reach out to a lactation consultant and share your concerns to get the help you need. Remember: breastfeeding attachment is something we all need to practice to get it right.