Positioning & attaching/latching the baby at the breast

Correctly positioning the baby at the breast and recognising a good latch attachment were acknowledged by many of the women who spoke to us as being the most crucial factors in getting breastfeeding off to a good, painless and trouble-free start. For some women the baby attached straight after birth (see 'The first breastfeed') and never looked back but for others it wasn't quite so easy and mother and baby had to learn together. Some women needed help from health professionals (such as midwives, lactation consultants and health visitors) and experienced breastfeeders (such as breastfeeding counsellors, La Leche League Leaders, family members and friends) in the hospital and when they first came home (see 'Support from Hospital Staff' and 'Getting Support for Breastfeeding'). The help generally consisted of getting the baby to attach to the breast and trying a variety of positions, both for the baby at the breast and for the mother, until both parties were comfortable. This was particularly important if the mother had undergone a caesarean section (see also 'Emotional and psychological aspects of breastfeeding').

Some women found it extremely difficult and took a long time to achieve and recognise good attachment while others thought that the written and oral descriptions of it made it sound far more complicated than it actually was. 

Sometimes the baby preferred one side over the other. Sometimes the mother required special provisions, such as an upright chair or lots of pillows or purpose-built cushions. Several women used nipple shields to help them with getting the baby latched-on in the early days. They used them, both with and against health professional advice, for a variety of reasons such as inverted nipples, sore nipples or as a confidence booster.*

Some women were more confident with their second baby and found attaching easier. However, several women emphasised the necessity of mother and baby learning together, especially with a second child when they had assumed that it would be easy because they already knew what to do. In reality, they had to go back to basics with the new baby. A few women even mentioned being surprised by the after-pains (caused by the contraction of the uterus after birth) when their baby attached.

An important method of learning to hold the baby appropriately was observing other women breastfeeding.

*Footnote: Current research shows that the use of modern, thin, flexible, silicone nipple shields can be temporarily helpful for babies with attachment problems, mothers with inverted nipples or premature babies in the transition to full breastfeeding. However, their use is controversial.  

Last reviewed November 2018.
Last updated November 2011


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