Different breastfeeding holds may work better than others for you and baby. From football hold to cradle hold to laid-back, these are the breastfeeding positions nursing moms will want to know about.
Making milk might come naturally, but the delivery of it from breast to belly takes a little know-how and a lot of practice. For many new moms and babies, the first attempts at breastfeeding are haphazard and hapless, at best. But proper positioning is essential in helping your newborn latch on the right way, as well as preventing nipple soreness and other breastfeeding problems.
With some trial-and-error, you'll find the breastfeeding position that works best for you. And in no time, you'll be a pro at breastfeeding your baby.
How to hold baby when breastfeeding
Start by placing your baby on one side, toward your breasts. Make sure your baby's whole body is facing your chest, with his ear, shoulder and hip in a straight line.
You don't want your newborn's head turned to the side — it should be straight in line with the body. Use a nursing or regular pillow to bring your baby to a height that makes maneuvering him to the breast easier.
Different breastfeeding positions
Once you and baby are set up, try one of these five best breastfeeding positions:
To breastfeed baby in a cradle hold position, do the following:
- Position your baby so his head rests in the bend of your elbow on the side you'll be breastfeeding, with the hand on that side supporting the rest of the body.
- Cup your breast with your other hand, placing your thumb above your nipple and areola at the spot where your baby's nose will touch your breast.
- Your index finger should be at the spot where your baby's chin will make contact with the breast. Lightly compress your breast so that the nipple points slightly toward your baby's nose. Your baby's now ready to latch.
To breastfeed baby in a crossover hold position, do the following:
- Hold your baby's head with the hand opposite to the breast you'll be nursing from (i.e. if nursing from the right breast, hold the head with your left hand).
- Rest your wrist between your baby's shoulder blades, your thumb behind one ear, your other fingers behind the other ear. Cradle the neck of your baby, allowing for his natural movement.
- Using your free hand, cup your breast as you would for the cradle hold.
Also known as the clutch hold, the football hold position is especially useful if you have:
- Had a C-section and want to avoid placing your baby against your abdomen
- Large breasts
- A small or premature baby
To breastfeed baby in a football hold position, do the following:
- Position your baby at your side, facing you, with his legs tucked under your arm (yes, like a football) on the same side as the breast you're nursing from.
- Support your baby's head with the same hand, and use your other hand to cup your breast as you would for the cradle hold.
Laid-back position ("biological nursing")
A laid-back nursing position can be particularly helpful for moms who have smaller breasts, for newborns and for babies with sensitive tummies or excess gas.
To breastfeed baby in a laid-back position, do the following:
- Lean back on a bed or couch, well supported by pillows in a semi-reclining position, so that when you put your baby tummy-to-tummy onto your body with his head near your breast, gravity will keep him molded to you.
- Your baby can rest on you in any direction, as long as the whole front of the body is against yours and he can reach your breast.
- Your infant can naturally latch on in this position, or you can help by directing the nipple toward your little one's mouth.
- Once your baby is set up at your breast, you don't have to do much besides lie back and relax.
This position is a good choice when you're breastfeeding in the middle of the night.
To breastfeed baby in a side-lying position, do the following:
- Both you and your baby should lie on your sides, tummy to tummy.
- Use your hand on the side you're not lying on to cup your breast if you need to.
- When using this position, there should be no excess bedding around the infant that could pose a suffocation hazard. This position shouldn't be used on a recliner, couch or water bed for that same reason.
How to get a proper latch
Now that baby's in position, it's important that your baby is latched on properly. Improper latching is the most common cause of breast discomfort, especially sore nipples. Latch your newborn onto your breast using the following tips:
Gently tickle baby's lip with your nipple
This should open your baby's mouth very wide, like a yawn. Some lactation consultants suggest aiming your nipple toward your baby's nose and then directing it down to the upper lip to open the mouth wide. This prevents the lower lip from getting tucked in during nursing. If your baby turns away, gently stroke the cheek on the side nearest you. The rooting reflex will make your baby turn back toward your breast.
Bring your baby toward your breast
Don't move your breast toward the mouth or stuff your nipple into an unwilling mouth — let your baby take the initiative instead. It might take a couple of attempts before your baby opens his mouth wide enough to latch on properly.
Be sure baby's mouth covers both the nipple and at least part of the areola
Sucking just the nipple won't compress the milk glands and can cause soreness and cracking. But in the right spot, the action of the mouth, tongue and lips will massage the milk out of the milk glands.
Check to see if your breast is blocking your baby's nose
Once your little one is properly latched on, you can lightly depress the breast with your finger to move it away from your baby's nose. Lightly cradle his head around the neck, instead of holding his head. Elevating your baby slightly may also provide a little breathing room. But as you maneuver, be sure not to loosen his grip on the areola.
Not sure if baby's getting fed?
Check his cheeks: You should see a strong, steady, rhythmic motion. That means your little feeder is successfully suckling and swallowing.
If you need to position your baby again, unlatch his grip (see below) and begin the lip tickling anew to get your baby to latch on with the nipple and the areola in the mouth. In the beginning, it might take quite a few tries to latch properly. Keep at it. Your baby will be happier in the long run if those efforts bring a mouthful of milk rather than a mouthful of air.
Unlatching your baby
Pulling your breast out of baby's mouth abruptly can cause injury to your nipple — whether you're having latching problems and need to re-latch or your baby is finished feeding but is still holding onto the breast. Break the suction first by pressing the breast near the mouth, or by gently inserting your finger into the corner of his mouth.
Breastfeeding positions to avoid
If your baby is positioned improperly, your breasts might not be stimulated to produce more milk, and he might not be getting enough breast milk in the first place. And that can lead to more problems down the road.
Here are a few breastfeeding positions to avoid:
- You're hunched over your baby. Many latching-on troubles occur because a mom is hunched over her baby, pressing her breast into mouth. Instead, keep your back straight and bring your baby up to your breast.
- The baby's body and head face different directions. The last thing you want is for your baby's head to be facing your breast while his body faces a different direction. (Imagine swallowing with your head turned to the side. Not so easy, right?)
- The baby's body is too far away from the breast. If it is, he will pull on your nipple while feeding — ouch for you and potentially unsatisfying for your baby!