How to breastfeed

It can take time for you and your pēpi (baby) to learn how to breastfeed, but with the right help almost all people can breastfeed. Find out about what a good latch looks like and how to position your pēpi.

A good latch

A good latch is the key to successful breastfeeding. Babies should be breastfed 'tummy to tummy'. If you can see your baby’s tummy button they are not turned close enough to latch well. Make sure that:

  • you bring baby in close
  • baby’s head is tilted back
  • baby’s mouth is wide open
  • baby’s tongue is forward and right down
  • baby’s chin touches your breast and baby’s nose lines up with your nipple.

Gently tickle the top part of baby’s lip with your areola (the darker area around the nipple). Bring your pēpi to your breast quickly so the bottom lip is pushed back to form a suction cup. Let your pēpi take in a large mouthful of breast, not just the nipple.

How to know pēpi has a good latch

Your baby’s chin will be touching the breast but their nose should be reasonably clear. Baby’s bottom lip will be turned outwards and not turned inwards. They will be sucking quite quickly, but once the milk starts to flow they will change to rhythmic, longer sucks with some short pauses. You will also start to hear them swallowing — this will happen more as your milk comes in and flows more. Your baby’s cheeks should stay rounded when sucking.

Breastfeeding should feel comfortable 

If breastfeeding does not feel comfortable, start again. Slip your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth between their gums, with the soft side (not the nail) next to the lip so that you gently break the suction. If you let your pēpi suck the wrong way it can cause problems. If you feel pain in your nipples or breasts, ask your midwife for help.

Positioning your pēpi

There are different ways that you can hold your pēpi to breastfeed. Find the ones that are comfortable for you.

Cross-cradle position

It is often easier to start breastfeeding by holding your pēpi in the cross-cradle position. This means that their head is supported with your hand at the base of their neck. The position of your hand is important as they need to be able to tilt their head back slightly. Make sure that your arm or hand is not behind the baby’s head, or they might not be able to tilt it back. Your other hand is supporting your breast.

Breastfeeding parent holding baby in the cross-cradle position

Cradle hold

Once baby is latched well, you can change to a cradle hold, which might be more comfortable.

Release your hold on your breast, unless it is very heavy and full. In this case you may need to support it during the feed — see the underarm/rugby hold below — and move your arm gently around the baby.

Other positions

Underarm or rugby hold

The underarm or rugby hold can also be useful if your breasts are heavy, as the weight is partially supported by the baby.

Lying down

Using a lying-down position or the underarm or rugby hold can be useful if you have had a caesarean.

Use of images

The images on this page are reproduced with the permission of Mama Aroha (external link)