The development of the mammary gland is spatially regulated by the interaction of the mammary epithelium with the extracellular matrix (ECM). Cells receive cues from the ECM through a family of adhesion receptors called integrins, consisting of alpha- and beta-chain dimers. Integrins assist cells in sensing their appropriate developmental context in response to both hormones and growth factors. Here we argue that cell adhesion to the ECM plays a key role in specific developmental checkpoints, particularly in alveolar survival, morphogenesis and function. Specific ablation of alphabeta1-integrins in the luminal epithelium of the mammary gland shows that this sub-type of receptors is required for proliferation, accurate morphological organisation, as well as milk secretion. Downstream, small Rho GTPases mediate cellular polarisation and differentiation. Current challenges in studying the integration of signals in checkpoints of mammary gland development are discussed.