Breast-feeding, step by step

Essential information to remember

Essential information to rememberA comfortable chair, music, cushions or pillows and a glass of water, juice or milk will help you relax.

Photo: Anouk Jolin

Mothers have been breast-feeding their babies since time immemorial, and each nursing mother and child discover their own style. This section will guide you step by step, explaining what to do so your child nurses properly and effectively. A person trained in breast-feeding can provide help if you need it.

Pick the right time (signs of hunger)

It’s hard to get a baby who is upset or crying to nurse. As soon as you see signs that your baby is hungry, offer her your breast (see Hunger signs). That way she’ll be more patient and cooperative, especially if it takes a couple of tries to latch on.

Find a comfortable position

Give yourself plenty of time for your first breast-feeding sessions. Take a few minutes to make sure you’re comfortably settled. There are various positions, so choose the one that feels best for you: cradle, cross-cradle, football or lying down. Whichever you choose, your baby’s whole body is turned toward your breast, with her ear, shoulder and hip forming a straight line.

Cross-cradle position

With a newborn, the cross-cradle position offers two advantages: it allows you to properly support your baby and to clearly see how she latches on. Many mothers find it useful during the first weeks of breast-feeding.

In this position, the baby rests on the arm opposite the breast she is nursing from. If you are nursing from the left breast, you support your baby with your right arm.

Cross-cradle position

Photos: Cécile Fortin

Cross-cradle position

Photo: René Dery

Your fingers, other than the thumb, support the weight of the baby’s head. The palm of your right hand is beneath the nape of her neck, not behind the head (as shown in the photos). Don’t put any pressure on the head with your fingers or the palm of your hand—babies don’t seem to like this and may then draw their heads back or even refuse the breast. Keep the child’s bottom between your chest and forearm.

Hold your left breast with your left hand. Your thumb should rest on the outer side of the breast and the other fingers on the inner side, far from the nipple and areola, forming a U (see pictures in the next section).

Photo: Jean-Claude Mercier

Lying-down position

Breast-feeding while lying down is enjoyable and can promote rest (see picture page 369). Most mothers really like this position once latching on becomes easier. If you tend to doze or sleep while nursing, follow the recommendations on page Sleeping safely to make sure your baby stays safe.

Cradle position

Photo: Jean-Claude Mercier

Football position

Photo: Jean-Claude Mercier

Bringing baby to your breast

Whether you choose a seated or reclining position, make sure that your baby latches on to more than just the nipple; she should also be taking much of the areola, adjacent to the nipple, in her mouth.

If your baby reaches for the breast at this point, her hands may end up in her mouth before your breast does. If this happens, ask the child’s father or someone else close to you to gently hold the baby’s hands. As soon as she latches on and starts sucking, you’ll see her hands relax.

You’ll need to coordinate your movements with that of the baby as she opens her mouth. It’s the baby who latches onto the breast, but you must bring her close to it at the right moment. You’ll be more comfortable if you don’t lean toward the child.

Information to comfort you and boost your confidenceWith your help, your baby will learn how to latch on and will soon be almost able to do it alone.

During your baby’s early weeks, feeling the breast near her mouth stimulates the sucking reflex. If your child sees your breast but doesn’t sense it against her face, she will probably not open her mouth very wide. Bringing her close enough so her chin grazes your breast will probably make her open her mouth more willingly.

Photos: Jean-Claude Mercier

Once both of you are settled, you’re ready to bring your baby to your breast:

  1. When her chin touches your breast, gently brush your nipple against her upper lip.
  2. Wait till she opens her mouth wide, as if she were going to yawn or take a bite out of a large apple.
  3. At this point, quickly bring your baby to the breast, supporting her shoulder blades with the palm of your hand:
    • Her head should be tilted backwards just a tiny bit.
    • Her lower lip should touch your breast first, with the nipple very near the upper lip.
    • Your nipple should point toward her palate, not her tongue.

During the first few days, you may have to start over several times to get your baby to latch on properly. She might sometimes close her mouth partially or completely before getting to the breast. This can be painful for you. Latching on takes a little time in the beginning. But with practice, your baby will learn and everything will become easier.

Latching on

When your baby latches onto your breast, and not only the nipple, he will have a large part of the aureola in his mouth. This makes it easier to get milk.

If the baby sucks mainly on the nipple, painful cracks may result and he will get less milk. Some babies will then ask to nurse more often, which will irritate the nipples even more. Others will get tired and fall asleep before they’re full.

Signs of a good latch:

  • The baby’s mouth is wide open.
  • He latches onto not only the nipple only but also a large part of the areola.
  • His lips are curled outward.
  • His lower lip covers a larger part of the areola than the top lip does. If needed, gently press your breast to reveal the lips.
  • His chin touches your breast and his nose is free.
  • You can hear or see him swallow.

Essential information to rememberIf you experience painful nipples, try to improve the latch. Nursing shouldn’t be painful. Latching on properly is the key to pain-free nursing!

Photo: Marie-Josée Santerre

Latching on shouldn’t be painful for you.

If you feel pain, try bringing the baby to your breast again. You can also try to improve the latch. In some cases, you can gently lower your baby’s chin to reposition his lower lip once he’s nursing. If that doesn’t work or pain persists, contact someone trained in breast-feeding.

How to tell if your baby is sucking effectively

When your baby sucks effectively, you can see motion in the jaw. When she first starts to nurse, the movements are quick and light. As milk starts flowing, the movements become slower and deeper. You can see and hear your baby swallow.

If your baby’s breathing is noisy during nursing, free up her nose by pressing her bottom against you to bring her chin closer to your breast. Don’t worry, she won’t suffocate. If she has trouble breathing she will release the breast. In some cases, you might need to press gently on your breast with your finger to free up her nose.

Breaking the suction

Photos: Marie-Josée Santerre

It’s important to break the suction properly when removing your baby from your breast, to avoid hurting your nipples. To break the suction:

  1. Put your finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth between the gums, if needed.
  2. The nipple will release easily once the suction is correctly broken.