When you are just getting started with nursing, it’s helpful to know the basics of how to hold your baby so they can obtain an optimal latch on the breast. But even after you get into the swing of things, there will be times when you will need to change your breastfeeding routine.
Familiarizing yourself with different types of breastfeeding positions can ensure you and your baby will develop a comfortable, effective routine as you work through your postpartum recovery and breastfeeding journey.
Why Switching Up Nursing Positions Can be Helpful
Although it’s likely that you and your baby will settle into a favorite nursing position, there may be times in your breastfeeding journey when you will need to change up your nursing positions. For instance, if your baby has trouble nursing, or you get mastitis, or you develop a sore nipple, it can be very helpful to switch up the nursing position to try something new.
It can also be helpful to be familiar with different nursing positions as you settle into a breastfeeding routine, especially in the beginning of your nursing journey. Let’s cover some basic types of breastfeeding positions to help you find the hold that works best for you and your baby.
Newborn Nursing Positions to Try
Early on, you spend a large chunk of your day breastfeeding. Understanding how to hold your baby can help you establish your early milk supply and keep your baby satisfied and nourished. For newborn nursing positions, a nursing pillow can be tremendously helpful as they can help you prop up your baby so you won’t be hunched over as you feed. There are two types of breastfeeding holds that are common in the newborn phase: cradle hold and cross-cradle hold.
The Cross Cradle Hold
- What it is: The cross-cradle hold is an excellent nursing position for beginners since it offers extra support for the baby’s head while they eat and enables mom to easily adjust herself and the baby to get a good latch on the breast. It involves using your arm opposite of the side you’re feeding on to hold your baby’s head in position.
- When to use it: The cross-cradle hold is used in the newborn phase when your baby is relatively light and learning to nurse.
- How It Works: You’ll want to grab your nursing pillow and wrap it around your midsection. Face your baby’s tummy toward your tummy and wrap the arm opposite of the side you’re feeding on (so if you’re nursing on your right side, use your left arm) around your baby so their spine is being supported by your forearm and their neck and head is carefully supported by your hand. You can use your feeding-side arm to hold your breast in a U-shape to help your baby establish a latch.
The Cradle Hold
- What it is: The cradle hold is a classic one-armed clutch for breastfeeding, using the arm from the side you are feeding on to hold up your baby. It’s great for beginners because moms can see their baby’s latch and adjust their breast for a better latch if necessary.
- When to use it: The cradle hold works anytime throughout your feeding journey. For infants, this hold works best with a nursing pillow or two to hold the baby up to their breast.
- How It Works: Start with a nursing pillow on your lap around your midsection. Using your nursing-side arm, hold your baby close to you with their tummy facing toward yours, with their head resting on the forearm. You can use your hand to hold your baby’s head to your breast. You can use your opposite hand to adjust your breast and ensure the baby is latching effectively.
C-Section and Rest-Friendly Nursing Positions
At some point, you’ll find yourself doing some troubleshooting with breastfeeding. Whether you’re a C-section mom with a sore midsection, or your baby is having difficulty latching, or you get a pesky plugged duct as a result of pumping, nursing positions such as the football hold and side-lying nursing can offer some solutions to common nursing issues.
They can also be more comfortable and versatile than the traditional cradle holds. These positions are worth acknowledging as they can provide a much-needed change of pace for any feeding schedule.
The Football Hold
- What it is: The football hold involves tucking your baby on your side as you nurse, leaving your midsection undisturbed as you feed.
- When to use it: The football hold is hailed as a useful resource for C-section moms, but it can also be useful for babies who struggle with latching properly or for relieving a pesky plugged duct.
- How it works: Place a nursing pillow along the side you’ll be nursing on. Using your feeding-side arm (your right hand if you are nursing on the right side), hug your baby’s tummy to your side with your arm along their spine and your hand supporting their head and neck. Bring your baby’s head up to your breast with your hand. Your opposite arm can be used to adjust your breast or offer baby’s head additional support.
- What it is: Side-lying nursing is simply feeding your baby as you lie down on your side. It’s used in bed, on a couch, or on the floor—wherever you and baby can snuggle up comfortably.
- When to use it: Side-lying is used by moms to secure a little extra rest, whether it’s during the night or after a long day of sitting in a rigid nursing position. C-section moms also find comfort and relief in the side-lying nursing position as it takes some pressure off of their midsection.
- How it works: For this one, you’ll want a pillow under your head as you lie down on your side. Prop your baby’s head in the crook of the arm you are lying on so they are facing you. You can also tuck the arm you are lying on behind your own head and hold the baby’s head up with your opposite arm.
Extended Breastfeeding Positions
For moms who plan on nursing older babies—including past the 1-year mark—you may have to get creative with your breastfeeding positions to accommodate the weight and behaviors of a growing baby. Upright nursing, also known as the Koala hold, is a great option for moms of bigger nurslings.
Upright Nursing (Koala Hold)
- What it is: Upright nursing is what it sounds like: nursing a baby as they sit upright on your lap.
- When to use it: Koala hold is a good fit for babies who can sit upright or those who experience discomfort from reflux. It’s also a great position for active toddlers who start to take charge of their nursing schedule.
- How it works: Hold your sitting baby on your thigh on the side you’d like to nurse on. Using your feeding-side hand to support their neck, guide your baby’s head to the breast and support it as they nurse. You can use your opposite hand to offer the nursling back support or adjust your breast.
When to Seek Help If You’re Having Trouble Breastfeeding
Equally as important as gathering information about how to feed at the breast is knowing when to ask for help if breastfeeding isn’t going well. You should always trust your instincts and go to your pediatrician if you suspect something is not right. They can help you assess your issues and guide you in the right direction.
Some common concerns to seek help for include:
- intense, toe-curling pain while breastfeeding
- cracking or bleeding
- red, inflamed, or sore breasts
- low milk supply
- baby seems uncomfortable during breastfeeding
- baby is losing weight
One of the difficult aspects of breastfeeding is that you can’t see your output. This leads many moms to wonder: “Am I feeding my baby enough?” It can be especially tricky for moms of newborns whose babies fall asleep quickly due to the comfort of the breast. Raise these and any other concerns you have to your pediatrician so you can be directed to the right resources for assistance.
Breastfeeding is a deeply personal decision, and knowing how to tweak the process to make it work best for you and your baby is key to success. There’s nothing wrong with trying a new direction when something doesn’t seem to be going right in your nursing journey; in fact, being able to change directions shows your dedication to being a parent. By educating yourself and finding the right support, breastfeeding can be a meaningful and intimate experience for both you and your baby.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any bad breastfeeding positions?
There are no bad positions, but there are breastfeeding positions done incorrectly, such as misaligning baby’s head and body or holding baby too far away from the breast. For help or information, contact your pediatrician or a lactation consultant and be sure to try a nursing pillow to help you get positioned correctly.
How do I know if I’m breastfeeding properly?
There are many key signs of effective breastfeeding: it shouldn’t hurt, your baby should latch on properly, you should feel your milk let down, your baby’s chin is tucked into your breast and their lips flanged out, and they are gaining weight properly. Ask your pediatrician about any questions you have and be sure to keep all your newborn’s well-baby visits to keep an eye on their growth!
Can I breastfeed in a sleeping position?
Discuss any questions you have about sleeping and your newborn with your pediatrician. For some extra rest, try the side-lying breastfeeding position in a safe space.
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…