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How to breastfeed

Breastmilk is safe, clean and provides all the energy and nutrients that a baby needs

Written by Astrid Klomp 2023

A Guatemalan mother breastfeeds her baby in a room with wooden walls

Angela in Guatemala breastfeeds her baby, Antonio. Photo: Caroline Trutmann Marconi/Tearfund

Three smiling Guatemalan women, one heavily pregnant, hold bowls of food in a kitchen with wooden walls.

From: Food and nutrition – Footsteps 119

How to eat well, address malnutrition and reduce food waste

As well as nourishing your baby, breastfeeding is a time for bonding. This is important for both you and your baby. 

Breastfeeding is almost always possible, but it has to be learnt and you may find it difficult at first.

It is important that your baby attaches correctly onto your breast so they can get plenty of milk. A good attachment triggers your body to produce as much milk as your baby needs, and reduces the risk of it being painful for you.

‘Breastfeeding should not be painful. If it is, ask for help.’
A diagram shows a baby attaching well to its mother’s breast, with an inset showing poor attachment

Your baby needs to attach to the breast correctly in order to get enough milk. This baby is being held in the cradle hold position.

Key principles:

  • Make sure you are comfortable: your arms and shoulders should be relaxed.
  • Hold your baby close to you, facing your breast, tummy-to-tummy. Support their neck, shoulders and back but do not push their head; allow the baby to move and adjust their head themselves. 
  • Your baby will feel stable and will feed well when their head and body are in a straight line with the head slightly extended.
  • Bring your baby to your breast and let them attach themselves; do not take your breast to the baby’s mouth.
  • Make sure your baby’s nose (not their mouth) is level with your nipple, then allow their head to tip back slightly so that their top lip can brush against it (think of how we hold our head when we drink from a cup). This should encourage the baby to open their mouth wide. Their chin should be firmly touching your breast and they will then close their mouth around the nipple.
  • As your baby is feeding, you should be able to see more of the darker nipple skin above your baby’s top lip than below their bottom lip. Your baby’s cheeks will look full and rounded as they feed.
  • Drink plenty of water when you are breastfeeding.
  • If you feel like you need to support the breast, hold the base of it between your thumb and the rest of your fingers. Be careful not to have your hand too close to the nipple because this might stop your baby from latching well. Do not hold the breast between two fingers because this can stop the flow of milk to the nipple.
  • Breastfeeding should not be painful. If it is, ask for help from somebody who has experience of breastfeeding. 
  • It is important that newborn babies are checked and weighed regularly to ensure that they are growing and developing well. In most countries this will be done routinely when the baby receives their vaccinations. 
  • If you are concerned about any aspect of your baby’s health, ask for advice from your local clinic. 

Breastfeeding positions

There are many different positions you can use to feed your baby. As long as the principles for good attachment are in place there is no ‘wrong’ position. 

A diagram shows a mother holding her baby under her arm and the baby drinking milk from the mother’s breast
A diagram shows a mother lying on her back on a mat with her baby lying on her chest and drinking milk from the mother’s breast

Top Underarm hold can be a good breastfeeding position to use if you are feeding twins.  Bottom The laid-back breastfeeding position helps the key principles for good attachment to fall naturally into place.


When you are learning to breastfeed, or experiencing problems, the laid-back position can help to ensure a good attachment.

Lie on your back with pillows for support – at an angle of no more than 45 degrees – and lay your baby on your chest. This way the baby will be stable without you needing to hold them. Allow your baby to follow their natural instincts and crawl to the breast where they will attach themselves well. Make sure your baby can feel your skin touching theirs. Hold an arm across your baby as they find their own position at your breast.

Cradle hold

This is the most common position after the initial learning stage. Lay your baby across your lap, facing your stomach and with their head resting on your lower arm. If the baby is in the crook of your arm they are too high. With your forearm and hand, support their back and bring them close. You might want to support your breast with your other hand. 


This is a good position at night. Lie on your side with your baby facing you and hold them close to your body. Support the baby’s back with a hand or a rolled up blanket or towel so they do not roll onto their back. If you are lying on a bed, make sure the baby does not fall off. Your baby’s head needs to be free to move and extend slightly backwards towards the breast. 

Underarm hold

This is a good position to use if you have had a caesarean section, if you have large breasts or if you are feeding more than one baby at a time (eg twins). Using a cushion for support, place your baby on your forearm facing you, with their legs towards your back, under your arm. Bring the baby towards you and support their back and neck with your cradling arm. Use your other hand to support your breast if needed.


Additional resources

    Video lessons on healthy eating, breastfeeding and other topics. The
    lessons are available free of charge on DVD or online
    Videos covering many child health and nutrition topics
  • (search for ‘counselling cards’)
    Practical information on feeding children and other themes

Written by

Written by  Astrid Klomp

Astrid Klomp is a nurse–midwife and a lactation consultant, currently based in Lebanon. She has also worked in India, Bangladesh and South Sudan.

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