One of the most surprising things about becoming a mother is that breastfeeding can be hard! Many moms think that just like natural birth, breastfeeding will be a breeze since it’s such a normal, biological process. Baby should just know how to do it and mama should just know the breastfeeding positions.
This can be true for some, but for many women, learning to breastfeed is just plain hard. Luckily, it gets SO much easier — and becomes what many women consider the “lazy” way of feeding their baby (Bottles? Pumping? Fuhgeddaboudit!).
So how do you go from hard to easy? Support from professionals, as well as learning as much as you can about breastfeeding, is a good start. Here are the best breastfeeding positions to get you and baby started off on the right foot … er, boob, so that you can have a long and healthy breastfeeding relationship with your baby.
How to Get Your Baby to Latch
The most important aspect of successful nursing is getting the latch right. This is foundational for baby to extract milk efficiently and for the mother to feel little to no discomfort. There are a number of ways to get baby latched on correctly, but here are some tips to getting started:
- With breast in one hand and baby’s back supported in the other, bring baby (not just their head, but their whole body) close enough so they can easily reach the nipple.
- Tickle their upper lip with your nipple until they open their mouth wide.
- Next, bring your baby to the nipple (not the other way around). Baby’s chin should touch the breast first and they should latch onto more breast tissue under the nipple than above it.
- Baby’s lips should be fully flanged and should wrap around your areola.
- Support your baby with pillows so that you aren’t hunching over.
- Be sure nothing is blocking baby’s nose.
How to Know Your Baby Is Latched
Here are some ways to know that your baby is latched, and latched properly to your breast:
- Baby’s lips are flanged outward, like “fish lips”
- Baby’s chin is touching breast
- Baby’s ears move while nursing
- Baby is latched deep, meaning he or she has at least one inch of breast in their mouth
- Baby’s tongue is visible when you pull their bottom lip down
- You see and hear them swallowing
- You don’t hear a clicking noise
You’ll know that baby is latched properly when you have no pain and your baby is removing milk from the breast well.
3 Tips to Help Your Baby Latch
The breastfeeding positions you choose are helpful in making sure baby is able to latch properly. The way you support your breast throughout the feeding process is important, too. There are three main ways to support the breast so that baby can latch on better and easier. Try these positions to help your baby get a good latch:
- U hold: Place your hand on your ribcage below your breast, and cup your breast with your hand so that your thumb is on the outside and your fingers on the inside. Your hand will resemble a “U” shape, with the breast in the open space of the U.
- C hold: Wrap your hand around the side of your breast, with your thumb at the top and your fingers held together underneath. Your fingers and thumb should form a C shape. Make sure your fingers and thumb are not too close to the nipple; you want there to be plenty of breast tissue for baby to latch onto.
- Exaggerated C hold, or flipple: For babies who are having trouble latching or getting a deep enough latch, place your hand in the C-hold position, then push your thumb down into your breast tissue and pull it up so that your nipple points upward (you’re basically pushing/pulling the skin upward to create a “perkier” looking breast). When latching baby on, put their mouth on the bottom of the breast and then roll the nipple into their mouth. This helps your baby get a deeper latch.
Note: Needing special holds regularly could indicate a breastfeeding issue like a lip or tongue tie, so contact a lactation consultant or a pediatric dentist for their take on it (some ENTs deal with lip and tongue ties, too, so ask your pediatrician for recommendations of someone who can check it out and correct it if needed).
How Do I Know If My Baby Is Removing Milk Efficiently?
It can be hard to trust that your breasts are doing their job when you don’t know for sure much milk is being produced and removed. (An interesting note: Lactation consultants have special scales where you can weigh your baby before and after feeding to know exactly how many ounces your baby received.) Here are some signs that your newborn is getting enough to eat:
- Baby is gaining weight normally
- Baby is wetting around 5 to 6 disposable diapers or 6 to 8 cloth diapers daily
- You can hear baby’s swallowing sounds
- Baby is feeding regularly (every 2 to 3 hours during the day and every 2 to 4 hours at night)
- Baby is alert, active and appears healthy (Likewise, a baby who sleeps constantly instead of eating regularly should be evaluated by a doctor.)
The 6 Best Breastfeeding Positions
These positions are the best for moms to know and try out. For each baby, and their mom, there will be a position that works best for the both of you. Try these out and see which is the best breastfeeding position for you.
1. Laid-Back Breastfeeding, aka Biological Breastfeeding Position
This is the position mom and baby get into instinctively after birth. Mom is lying back comfortably, and baby is on top of mom’s chest, skin-to-skin, and begins to search for the nipple. Baby is carefully held in place by gravity and mom’s curves. Studies show that the laid-back position, sometimes called biological nurturing, stimulates the baby’s reflexes to find the nipple and begin to nurse on his own accord.
How to Biologically Breastfeed
Lay back comfortably on some pillows. (You shouldn’t be lying flat on your back — but more in a comfortable, supported reclining position.) Many mamas find that a tank top or button-down shirt work best for skin-to-skin contact.
Place your baby tummy down on your stomach (with their belly resting on your skin). Help your baby find the nipple, or allow them to find it for themselves. With this position, there isn’t an exact way to do it, and many moms figure out their own variation pretty quickly.
Best for: Brand-new babies, babies who are having trouble latching, or moms who want to rest and nurse simultaneously.
2. Cradle hold
This position is the most common and easy breastfeeding hold for a baby that’s slightly older (3 months and beyond). It’s excellent for moms who want to be discrete in public, too.
How to Do the Cradle Hold
Cradle baby in your arm of the same side as the breast you’re feeding from (left arm for left breast; right arm for right breast). Your baby should be laying on their side, with their head resting on your arm as a pillow. Use (actual) pillows or nursing pillows to prop up your arm and your baby so that your baby’s mouth is up to breast level. For newborns, baby’s bottom and head should be in line. For older babies, you may drop their bottom down a bit. Use your free hand to support your breast if needed.
Best for: Quick, easy nursing for older or more experienced babies, and discreet public nursing.
3. Cross-Cradle Hold
This position is similar to the cradle hold but is especially good for newborn babies who are still learning how to latch or for babies who are not feeding well.
How to Do the Cross-Cradle Hold
Lie your baby on a pillow or nursing pillow on your lap. If you are nursing on the left side, cradle baby’s head in your right hand, by placing your thumb by one ear and your forefinger by the other ear. Your baby’s neck should be supported by the space between the forefinger and the thumb. Allow your palm to support baby’s upper back. Use your left hand to support your left breast. To get your baby latched on, tickle their upper lip with your nipple, and when your baby opens its mouth, use your right hand to push baby’s back toward the breast to get a deep latch.
Best for: Babies who need help latching and small or premature babies.
4. Football Hold
This position is excellent for moms who have had a Caesarean birth, since it keeps baby from putting pressure on the incision. It’s also great for moms of twins or a mom who is tandem nursing, as each child can be latched on at the same time. This position is not the best for a sleepy baby who could benefit from more skin-to-skin contact.
How to Do the Football Hold
You baby should be lying on their back next to you, with their legs at your side (under your arm). Use pillows to get your baby to breast level. Use the arm on the side your baby is on to support their head, like in the cross cradle hold. Hold your breast with the other hand, and then bring baby’s face up to meet the breast. Your baby will be at a slight angle. Use additional pillows to prop up your baby and your arm so you don’t get tired.
Best for: Cesarean births, tandem nursing and moms of twins.
5. Side Lying
This position is the most difficult to get down but the most helpful once you do. For a family who is co-sleeping (or even those who aren’t), mastering the side-lying nursing position is a lifesaver. Not only can you lay down while you nurse, but you can snooze while baby is feeding. This position is amazing for getting more sleep — and we all know getting as much sleep as possible is the key to surviving the early days with a baby.
How to Do Side-Lying Breastfeeding
Lie on your side with your arm under your head or around the baby (you may also use a rolled up receiving blanket to keep baby from rolling away). Your baby should be on their side with their mouth near your nipple. Use the other hand to support your lower breast. If you need to help baby latch, you can sit up a little, resting on your elbow. Use your lower arm to hold baby in place, and use your top arm to position the breast. Then lay down slowly after baby is latched on. You can also ask your partner to help you get baby latched on so that you don’t have to sit up.
Or, you can lie your baby down on their side and then you lie down, too, with your elbow propping your upper body up until you’re situated. Then pull your baby closer to you — or scoot your body to meet the baby, until baby is close enough to latch on. Take your breast in hand, positioning it in front of your baby for them to latch. Once latched, you can lie your head down and rest while baby eats, but you’ll probably need to keep your elbow propped up by your head or around baby so that it’s not in the way.
Best for: Nighttime nursing, a tired mama who wants to rest, or nursing while ill. Usually best for a babies who are a little older and have the hang of breastfeeding.
6. Baby Carrier Method of Breastfeeding
OK, so maybe this isn’t an official “position” but it’s worth mentioning that babies can also nurse while they’re in their baby carrier. Talk about a multitasking mama! This is best for older babies who have the hang of breastfeeding and have good neck control. This position is also quite discreet, which is important to some moms.
How to Baby Carrier Breast Feed
Help baby find your breast. Latch them on and encourage them to lean their cheek on your breast. This will ensure your baby can breathe easily as they nurses.
Best for: Experienced nursing babies with good neck control. Also a good position for moms who like to be more discreet.
Some Tools that Can Help Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is hard, but it gets easier when you find the perfect tools for your. Here are some of the best:
Sure you can use regular pillows, but a breastfeeding pillows is ideal because it fits to your shape and you don’t need to keep re-stacking those bed pillows over and over again. The Boppy and My Brest Friend are breastfeeding pillow standards, beloved by many a nursing mama. The Nesting Pillow, though pricey, is amazing at molding to you and baby for a perfect fit.
For moms who would just like some breastmilk insurance in their freezer, a manual breast pump might be fine. For moms who are planning on going back to work, have low supply, or otherwise need to pump regularly, the electric breast pump is a lifesaver. You can pump in half the time it takes using the manual pump. There are even some bras that help you pump while you’re working (or texting, or exercising, or driving!)
There’s nothing worse than nipple pain when you’re trying to feed your hungry baby. Luckily, nipple creams can soothe your sore nipples in between nursings and are totally safe for your baby (this one’s made from extra virgin olive oil, beeswax, shea butter, marshmallow root, and calendula). If you’re having nipple pain, you can try this DIY nipple cream that soothes mom’s tissue and boosts baby’s microbiome.
In the early weeks while you’re still establishing your milk supply, you’re likely to take off to the store for 5 minutes and come back with a sopping wet shirt. That’s where breast pads come in. They can keep your bra and shirt dry in between nursing sessions until your supply levels out. There are disposable breast pads and reusable breast pads that you can drop in the wash.
Final Word on Breastfeeding Positions
There are a number of breastfeeding positions and breast holds can help you breastfeed your baby with ease. If you are having trouble, don’t hesitate to call a lactation consultant. You may also benefit from watching these breastfeeding videos. Only a small percentage of women can’t breastfeed due to anatomical or too little supply. Very few women can’t breastfeed, which means, you likely just need extra support to get on track. If you are one of the women who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, there are natural and healthy formula options available as well so that you can raise a happy, healthy baby.
How About You?
What breastfeeding positions worked best for you? Tell us your favorite(s) in the comments below!