Breastfeeding Positions: What’s Best for You and Your Baby?

It’s a good idea to have these eight techniques in your feeding routine
Woman breast feeding baby in cradle hold position.

You’ve just had a new baby. It’s an exciting time full of new memories.

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And the time spent between you and your child while breastfeeding can be one of the most intimate experiences. In addition to bonding, you’re providing vital nutrients for your child’s growth and development.

But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way of breastfeeding your child.

Certified nurse midwife Jessica Costa, APRN, CNM, explains why it’s important to have a few different breastfeeding positions in your routine.

Why breastfeeding position matters

You’ve found a breastfeeding position that works for you. But don’t overlook trying out a few different positions through the course of feeding your child.

“Different breastfeeding positions empty the breast in different ways,” says Costa. “Different feeding positions also assist the baby in being able to latch in a different position.”

So, if you’re little one is having trouble latching, switching to another position may make it easier to get a better latch. “They’ll be able to empty the breast more freely,” says Costa.

It’s also important to pay attention to the early feeding cues from your child like:

  • Fists moving to their mouth.
  • Head turning to look for the breast.
  • Becoming more alert and active.
  • Sucking on their hands or lip smacking.
  • Opening and closing their mouth.

“Work on understanding early feeding cues so that your baby doesn’t get worked up and cry because then latching isn’t going to go well and your baby’s not going to want to breastfeed right away,” explains Costa. “Also, pulling the chin down to get a wider latch is important. Allow your baby to take in as much of your areola as possible and not just latch onto the nipple.”

But what about if your breasts are small or on the larger side?

“It’s all personal preference,” says Costa. “It’s going to depend on the size of the baby and your breast size. I recommend parents try all positions to see what works best for them.”

Costa says those with larger breasts should hold on to their breast while feeding their baby.

“Don’t just let it go,” she advises. “The weight of the breast is going to be harder for baby to keep in their mouth.”

Breastfeeding positions

Here are some common breastfeeding positions to try.

Laid-back breastfeeding

nursing parent holding baby in laid-back breastfeeding position

This is also known as biological nurturing. Start by leaning back on your bed or couch into a semi-reclined position. Place your baby tummy to tummy on your body so their head is near your breast.

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“This is a newer position that people have used over the last several years,” says Costa. “It’s going to be more comfortable for baby and feel more natural. Babies able to relax in this position.”

If you had a cesarean delivery (C-section), using the laid-back position is ideal, she adds.

“You don’t have to be completely upright, which can cause more pain and discomfort at the incision site,” says Costa. “And with the laid-back position, you use less of your abdominal muscle, so it will help with pain relief.”

Cradle hold

nursing parent holding baby in cradle hold while breastfeeding

The cradle hold is the most common position, as it gives you the most control.

Start in an upright position. Place your baby across your chest so your baby’s head rests in the nook of your elbow on the side that you’ll be breastfeeding. Use your other hand and arm to support the rest of your baby’s body.

“What’s happening is your baby is actually putting its weight onto you,” explains Costa. “While it’s similar to laid-back breastfeeding where you’re laying back into a seated position, in the cradle position, you’re sitting up straight and cradling the baby. The baby is not actually laying onto your chest.”

Cross-cradle hold

nursing parent using cross-cradle hold to breastfeed baby

Start in an upright position, preferably in a chair with armrests. Place your baby across your chest using your arm opposite the breast you’re feeding from. (For the right breast, use your left arm; for the left breast, use your right arm.) Make sure to support your baby’s head with your hand. Your other hand can be used to support your breast from the underside.

“The cross-cradle is essentially the same thing as cradle, but instead of holding your baby in the nook of your elbow, you’re actually bringing the opposite arm and holding the baby’s head,” says Costa. “It gives you a little more control of the baby’s head versus a cradle. With the cross-cradle, you’re able to manipulate baby’s head into position and can move it a little more easily.”

Football hold

nursing parent using football hold to breastfeed baby

This position is also known as the underarm or clutch hold. Face your baby toward your breast and place them beside you with your elbow bent. Your baby’s body will rest on your forearm. Make sure to use your hand to support your baby’s head. You can use your free hand to support your breast if needed.

“The football hold is nice because it drains the breast in a different direction,” notes Costa. “Some babies might latch better in that position. They might be more relaxed in that position.”

You will need a pillow or some kind of support with this position.

“I also recommend a pillow for all other positions as well, especially while babies are so little,” she adds. “It’s a lot of effort for the parent to hold them and do everything. So, it’s really good in any position to have a pillow to help support your baby.”

Side-lying position

nursing parent using side lying position to breastfeed baby

Lie on your side and have your baby face you — tummy to tummy. Use the arm you’re not lying on to support your baby and to cup your breast if needed.

“This is beneficial for parents who want to get some rest or if you have to breastfeed in the middle of the night,” says Costa. “You want to make sure that you’re able to be awake and alert and not fall asleep with your baby in that position before you attempt it.”

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Upright breastfeeding

nursing parent using upright position to breastfeed baby

Start in an upright position. Have your baby straddle your thigh or place them on your hip. You want their spine and head to be upright as they feed.

“This position is going to be more for an older baby,” says Costa. “It’s an easy position to use when you’re out as your child gets older and they can hold their head up.”

Dangle feeding

nursing parent using dangle position to breastfeed baby

Start with your baby lying on their back — either on your lap or on a comfortable, flat surface. You can get on all fours over your baby and dangle your breast in front of them to feed. If that’s uncomfortable, you can also kneel and lean forward.

“If a parent is getting ready or doing something, this can more comfortable than other positions,” says Costa. “This isn’t a good position for long periods; it would be for shorter periods.”

Double football hold

nursing parent using double football hold to breastfeed two babies at once

Have more than one baby? You can opt to breastfeed them independently. But you can also use the football hold with one baby on each side. Make sure you support both of their heads and use pillows for support.

Breastfeeding tips

Plenty of new parents struggle with breastfeeding.

The biggest tip? Remember to breathe, says Costa. “You want to make sure that you’re calm and that you keep your baby calm.”

She also recommends taking a breastfeeding class prior to delivery.

“Breastfeeding can be very overwhelming. It’s so much information,” she continues. “So, to be able to be prepared and have some basic understanding before having your little one can be very helpful.”

If you’ve tried different positions and still have no success, reach out to a lactation consultant, Costa advises. “A lactation consultant will see if there’s anything that is anatomically not working with you or your baby.”

And remember, you’re not alone in your breastfeeding journey.

“Breastfeeding can cause a lot of depression for people who can’t feed their babies,” says Costa. “There’s help out there. You’re not alone.”

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