It’s often said that the secret to successful breastfeeding is getting a good latch. Well, the first step to getting baby to latch well is to position him well. When we talk about “positioning” your baby, we’re just talking about the way in which you hold your baby. To put it simply: you want to hold baby in such a way that it’s easy for him to get the nipple in his mouth. If baby is not positioned nicely, he will not able to get a good latch… and you and baby will both be frustrated! Luckily, it’s not difficult to position a baby to breastfeed. We’ll look at the basics here, as well as some of the more common breastfeeding positions.
What does a good position look like?
Positioning baby becomes very simple if you think of how you hold you head while drinking from a bottle: your head is facing to the front and slightly tilted back; you don’t want to twist to the side or tuck your chin, and you certainly don’t hold the bottle so far from your face that you have to reach out to it. Same goes for baby: you want baby’s head to be facing straight ahead and tilted ever so slightly back (this allows the nose to be open and not buried in the breast, so that baby can breathe freely). To get baby’s head in this position, hold baby to the breast in such a way that the nipple is aligned with his nose or upper lip before he opens his mouth. You don’t want baby’s chin to be opposite the nipple – then he will have to tuck his chin in to latch on, his nose will be smooshed into the breast, and he won’t be able to breathe properly. You also don’t want baby to have to turn his head to the side or reach out far to get to your nipple – in either of those positions, baby won’t be able to keep the nipple in his mouth for very long and it will keep slipping out.
How to get baby in a good breastfeeding position
In step-by-step format:
- Firstly, make sure you are comfortable. I’m a big believer in using pillows to support your back, knees, arms, neck, shoulders or any other part of your body you feel is necessary. Basically, you don’t want to be putting any strain on your body.
- Remove all the blankets from around baby. If there are blankets between you and baby, he won’t be able to come close enough to the breast.
- Let your breasts hang where they naturally hang and move baby until he can easily latch on – in other words, bring the baby to the nipple, don’t take the nipple to the baby. If you have to hold your breast in a certain position to get the nipple to baby’s mouth, you will have to hold it for the entire feed, and your arm will get pretty tired.
- Hold baby so that he is lying with his tummy turned to your body. In most cases, this will mean baby is lying on his side.
- Move baby around until his nose is opposite the nipple.
- Let baby latch on, and enjoy the feed!
The classical breastfeeding positions
There are a few brastfeeding positions that most moms use. They are not set in stone, though, so feel free to use whatever position works for you and your baby! I’ll just show you a few of the common ones and tell you what to look out for:
The Cradle Hold or Madonna Hold
This is probably the position you see in your mind when you think of a breastfeeding baby, and it is the one you’ll most often see in pictures. It might surprise you, then, that I don’t recommend this position for newborn babies. Reason? It’s actually quite tricky to get baby positioned right – baby usually ends up chin-to-nipple or too far away from the breast, and you have little to no control over bay’s head. Once you’ve got breastfeeding figured out, though, it’s probably the position you’ll use most of the time.
Here’s a few things to remember if you’re using the cradle hold:
- Make sure baby is turned on his side and held right up against your body. There should not be any gaps between your body and baby (unless you have really big breasts and a flat tummy!) Baby must not be lying on his back on your lap.
- Baby’s head should be resting on your forearm, not your elbow, so that your nipple is opposite his nose. If bay’s head is on your elbow, your nipple will be at the level of his chin, and he will have to tuck his chin to latch on.
- Make sure you support baby’s body and legs – if he feels like he’s about to fall, he won’t be concentrating on breastfeeding!
The cross-cradle hold
This is probably my favourite position to use with a newborn, because it gives you the most control of both the baby and the breast. Baby’s position is essentially the same as in the cradle hold, but you use the opposite arm to hold him (hence “cross” cradle). So if baby is drinking on the left breast, you will be holding him with your right arm and vice versa. You use your hand to support baby’s head and your forearm to support his body. That leaves your other hand free to support the breast if you need to, or – my favourite – have a snack.
What to look out for in the cross-cradle position:
- As always, make sure baby’s body is turned to you and that your nipple is opposite his nose.
- Be careful where you put your hand: it should be under baby’s head and behind his neck. Don’t push against the back of baby’s head – he will just push back.
Clutch hold or Football hold
This position does things a little differently: instead of laying baby across your body, you lay him next to your side. The football position is a favourite for moms who’ve had a c-section – baby can’t kick at your wound! It’s also one of the easiest ways to position baby if your breasts are very large, because it’s easier to see what’s going on at baby’s mouth.
A few pointers to help you use the football position effectively:
- Pack some pillows along your side to support your arm: Baby lies on your arm, and your arm rests on the pillows.
- Be careful that baby doesn’t have to tuck his chin down to get to the nipple. It may be easier if baby’s tummy is not right up against your side.
This is my absolute favourite position and the one position I encourage all moms to use. It’s sometimes a bit tricky to figure out (it took me 5 months with my firstborn!) but it’s absolutely worth the effort. Breastfeeding while lying down is fantastic if you want to have a bit of a rest while baby eats. Once baby is old enough to stop himself rolling over, you may even find you fall asleep while breastfeeding!
Some tips to make it easier:
- Make sure that your head is well supported on a pillow. Don’t lean on your hand; your wrist will get really tired really quickly.
- Most women feed from the bottom breast. You may need to lean back a bit to get the nipple at the level of the baby’s mouth; if so, put a pillow behind your back to support yourself. If your breasts are quite floppy, you may be able to feed from the top breast.
- Make sure you don’t position baby too high up – his nose should still be at the level of your nipple.
- Turn baby so that his tummy is facing you – again, this usually means he will be lying on his side. You can put a rolled up blanket or towel behind baby to keep him from rolling back, or just use your hand to support him.
The biological nurturing position, aka laid-back breastfeeding
In this position, you are lying back and baby lies on his tummy on top of you. This position seems very strange at first, but if you look at baby’s biology it is actually a very natural position for a baby to breastfeed in. Often babies who struggle to feed in any of the “conventional” positions enjoy the laid back position. It’s also helpful if you have a very strong let down (you will know this if baby chokes a lot when drinking on the breast) or if your baby’s arms tend to go all over the place.
The only rule with laid-back breastfeeding is that baby’s body must be in contact with your body. Baby can lie across you in any direction – even with his feet up by your head! This makes it very useful if you have a spinal headache after a c-section – your doctor will order you to lay flat, and in this position you can breastfeed while lying completely flat on your back.
The straddle hold
This is another unusual position: baby literally sits upright on your lap with legs wrapped around you. The reason I included it here is that this position works very well if baby suffers from reflux or tends to swallow a lot of air while feeding.
That was a mouthful! I hope I haven’t made breastfeeding look impossibly complicated – it really isn’t, I promise. Just remember the following mantra:
- TUMMY TO MUMMY: Turn baby with his tummy to you – so that he doesn’t have to turn his head – and hold him close against your body.
- NOSE TO NIPPLE, and its partner CHIN TO BREAST: position baby so that his nose is opposite your nipple before he latches on, so that he doesn’t have to tuck his chin down.
- SUPPORT: support baby’s head and body, so that he can concentrate on suckling; and support your own body, so that you don’t get tired.