How to breastfeed

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

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’re 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 baby to your breast quickly so the bottom lip is pushed back to form a suction cup. Let your baby take in a large mouthful of breast, not just the nipple.

Knowing if baby 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’ll be sucking quite quickly, but once the milk starts to flow they’ll change to rhythmic, longer sucks with some short pauses. You’ll also start to hear baby 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 it doesn't 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 baby suck the wrong way it can cause problems. If you feel pain in your nipples or breasts, ask your midwife for help.

Positioning your baby

There are different ways that you can hold your baby to breastfeed – find the ones that are comfortable for you.

Cross-cradle position

Breastfeeding mother and baby - cross-cradle position

It’s often easier to start breastfeeding by holding the baby in the cross-cradle position. This means that the baby’s head is supported with your hand at the base of their neck. The position of your hand is important as the baby needs 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.

Cradle hold

Breast feeding mother, 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 which 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

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

Breastfeeding mother with baby - lying down hold

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

Related websites

Breastfeeding NZ – YouTube channel and Facebook page
Breastfeeding information and videos. The YouTube channel contains the Breastfeeding. Naturally. video (as 7 separate chapters); these are also available with captions and in New Zealand Sign Language. The Facebook page is for anyone and everyone who is breastfeeding or interested in breastfeeding. Find out more, share your stories and get support from other members.

Breastfeeding – Kidshealth
Information and short videos about breastfeeding. Each section has a short video followed by key messages in English and 9 other languages.

Breastfeeding your baby – HealthEd (Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health)
Clear, simple suggestions about the nursing relationship, why breast milk is a baby’s best food, different ways to hold the baby during breastfeeding, how to ensure the baby is on the breast in the best way, frequency of feeds, breast care and further help. Available in English, simplified Chinese, Korean, Māori, Samoan and Tongan.

La Leche League
The New Zealand website of La Leche League, an international organisation that promotes breastfeeding.

Eating for healthy breastfeeding women – HealthEd (Health Promotion Agency and Ministry of Health)
Food information for breastfeeding women. Includes nutrition, healthy food for mother and baby, dietary variety, drinking plenty of fluids, foods low in fat, salt and sugar, healthy weight, losing weight gained during pregnancy, daily activity or exercise, taking time out, alcohol, and being smokefree.

The images on this page are reproduced with the permission of Mama Aroha.

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