Breastfeeding positions: A guide for new mothers

Emmy Samtani
Emmy Samtani
Emmy is the founder of Kiindred and mother to 3 little ones. Over the last 4 years, she has worked with some of the most credible experts in the parenting space and is a keen contributor on all things parenthood.
Created on Jan 22, 2024 · 10 mins read

Breastfeeding can be a truly wonderful way to bond with and nourish your baby, but what no one tells you is that it can be really hard!

Sore nipples, tongue tiecluster feeding, latching issues, concerns about breast milk supply and more are just some of the challenges that new mums may face when trying to get the hang of breastfeeding their baby.

Breastfeeding positions are also an important part of the nursing process and finding the position your baby and you will respond to best can take some trial and error.

In this article, we’ll go through the different breastfeeding positions and answer your pressing questions (like, am I really supposed to hold my baby like a rugby ball!?!?) so that both you and your baby can find what works best, which will hopefully contribute to a long and happy breastfeeding journey!

Breastfeeding positions

Why breastfeeding position is important

The reason finding the right breastfeeding position is so important is because it can have a big influence on the baby’s latch which, in turn, can affect if they get a full feed and also the mother’s milk supply.

Because breastfeeding is a supply and demand business, if a baby is not latching properly or feeding efficiently, it can lead to the breasts not being drained properly. This can then send signals to the brain that it doesn’t need to produce more milk, thereby affecting supply.

Additionally, if your breasts aren’t drained properly it can increase the risk of developing mastitis.

Some breastfeeding positions can also help reduce the likelihood of the baby experiencing reflux or gas. The way you hold your baby when feeding can affect how milk is digested and how air is swallowed during nursing.

As well as ensuring that you are choosing the best position to ensure your baby is getting enough milk, it’s also important for you both to be comfortable because, let’s face it, you’ll be spending countless hours (and at all hours of the day and night) feeding!

Luckily, you’ve got a few breastfeeding positions to choose from, which we will get into shortly.

How to hold a baby when breastfeeding

If you’ve never breastfed a baby before it might take a bit to get used to it and to find what works for you.

You want to make sure your baby’s head, neck, and body are properly positioned to ensure they get a full feed and to reduce the risk of nipple soreness. It’s also important that you are sitting comfortably with your back well supported.

Hold your baby in the crook of your arm on the side you plan to nurse. The baby’s head should rest on your forearm, and the body should be facing yours. Bring the baby close to your breast, with the baby’s belly facing yours. Support the baby’s head with the hand opposite to the breast you are using, using your thumb behind the ear and your fingers supporting the neck and then latch baby onto your breast.

How do I know if my baby is latching properly?

breastfeeding positions

Here are some ways to tell if the position you are in is allowing your baby to latch properly:

Mouth wide open

The baby should have their mouth wide open before latching onto the breast. A wide mouth helps the baby take in more breast tissue and achieve a deeper latch.

Lips flanged outward

The baby’s lips should be flanged outward like fish lips, not tucked in. This ensures that the baby can get a good mouthful of breast.

Chin leading

The baby’s chin should be leading, touching the breast first. The lower lip should be turned outward, and the baby’s nose should be free and not pressed against the breast.

Nose and chin touching breast

The position of the baby’s nose and chin should be touching the breast, allowing for a deep latch. The baby’s mouth should cover a significant portion of the areola, not just the nipple.

Sucking and swallowing sounds

You should hear a rhythmic pattern of sucking and swallowing. The baby may start with short sucks to stimulate milk flow and then transition to longer, slower sucks as milk is flowing.

Your own comfort

A good latch should not be painful for the mother. While the initial latch-on may be slightly uncomfortable, ongoing pain during the entire feeding session is a sign that the latch of the baby may not be correct.

Round shape of the nipples after feeding

After feeding, the nipple should look round, not misshapen or compressed. If the nipple looks flattened or misshapen, it may indicate an improper latch.

Baby’s happiness

A well-latched baby tends to be more content and satisfied after a feeding session. If the baby is constantly fussy or seems unsatisfied after breastfeeding, it could be a sign of latch issues.

Visible signs of swallowing

You may see the baby’s jaw moving as he or she swallows. Some babies also have a rhythmic movement of their ears when they swallow.

Breastfeeding positions

There are quite a few different breastfeeding positions that you can try, so don’t stress too much if the standard cradle hold (more on that shortly) doesn’t feel quite right for you or isn’t allowing your baby to effectively latch.

From the side-lying position to the laid-back breastfeeding position, you’ve got options! So, let’s take a more in-depth look at them.

Cradle hold

The cradle hold is probably the most common breastfeeding position.

To try the cradle hold position, hold your baby so that his or her head is nestled into the crook of your elbow on the side you want to breastfeed on and their body is sort of lying comfortably across your arm. Your baby’s chest should be against yours so that the baby’s mouth is facing your breast.

As you hold your baby (you can use a breastfeeding pillow for extra support), you can use your other hand to gently cup your breast and compress it so that your nipple points toward your baby’s nose. You can try to tickle their lips with your nipple to encourage them to open their mouth nice and wide so that you can then pop them on your breast and begin to feed.

Getting the right latch may take a few goes so if you don’t feel it’s right the first time, you can gently hook your index finger inside your baby’s mouth to break the seal and try again.

Cross cradle hold

If you are new to breastfeeding or have a very small baby, you may want to try the cross-cradle hold instead.

Using the hand opposite the breast you plan to nurse from, hold your baby’s head (i.e. if nursing from the right breast, hold the head with your left hand). In other words, in cross cradle hold, your baby’s head is supported by your hand, rather than the crook of your arm.

Place your thumb behind one ear and your other fingers behind the other ear while you rest your wrist between your baby’s shoulder blades. Your baby’s neck should be cradled to facilitate his or her natural movement.

Football hold position (or rugby hold)

As the name suggests, the football hold involves holding your baby like a rugby ball! But the type of touchdown we are looking for here involves your little one getting a nice full feed.

This breastfeeding position is particularly great for feeding twins and also if you had a c-section which can make holding your baby across your body too painful.

To achieve the football hold, have your baby at your side (the side you intend to breastfeed from) and make sure his or her legs are tucked under your arm. Using your hand to cradle their head, you can draw your baby to start feeding.

You can also use your free hand to gently guide your breast to your baby while in the football hold.

Side-lying position

The side-lying position is great for mums who are co-sleeping with their baby, so long as safe co-sleeping guidelines are observed.

To try this position, your baby and you should be facing each other, with your baby’s head at the level of your breasts. You can use an extra pillow for back support if you need it here so that you can be sure you are comfortable.

Laid back position

This breastfeeding position is sometimes also called biological nursing, biological nurturing or reclining position and involves leaning back in a nursing chair or on some pillows so that you are reclined but not lying flat.

You can then lie your baby down so their chest is in contact with your body and allow them to latch from there. The laid-back position is wonderful for enjoying some skin-to-skin snuggles with your baby.

Upright feeding

Another option is the upright feeding position or koala hold. This is where your baby straddles your thigh and sits upright to feed (you’ll need to offer plenty of support if your child is a newborn). This can be a good position for a baby with tongue tie to feed in. This can also be a good choice if you have an older baby or child.

Breastfeeding positions for common problems

As we mentioned at the top of this article, many mothers experience challenges associated with breastfeeding such as poor latch.

There are some feeding positions that can help with different feeding issues – for example, football hold is great for feeding twins but also if you are coping with breast engorgement (or just have larger breasts) or sore nipples. As mentioned previously, it is also good for people who have had a C-section and your body is still tender around the stomach.

Meanwhile, the cross-cradle hold is a great position if your baby is very small or has trouble with their latch.

Got a baby who is extra gassy or prone to reflux? Upright feeding can be the way to go.

Is your baby feeling fussy and unsettled? Some skin-to-skin contact while in the reclining position could be just the trick.

If you are having a specific breastfeeding issue, you can always talk to a lactation specialist about which position might work best for your situation.

Breastfeeding positions to avoid

As you’re getting the hang of breastfeeding, try to remember to bring your baby to your breast, instead of leaning over to bring your breast and body to your baby. Hunching over your baby while feeding can not only cause latching issues, but it’s going to result in a bad back too!

Also, be sure to pull your baby in nice and close to your body so that he or she is not too far away and therefore pulling on your nipples – ouch!

Breastfeeding tips

Breastfeeding is a rigorous job and one that is constant, especially in those early days, weeks and even months. To ensure you and your baby have a good nursing experience, here are some tips to try:

  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water because it is thirsty work!
  • Invest in a great nursing chair and breastfeeding pillow.
  • Feed on demand to establish your supply.
  • Ensure that each breast is properly drained to avoid problems like mastitis and engorgement.
  • Engage a lactation consultant if you are having ongoing issues or have any concerns.
  • Eat a balanced diet to keep your energy up and your milk supply good.
  • Wait until your baby has finished feeding on one breast before switching to the other breast.

The takeaway

Finding the best breastfeeding position for you can be a matter of trial and error but with options like the cradle hold, laid-back position, rugby hold and more, you can find what works best for you and your baby.

If you have specific concerns, such as reflux, choose the position that is best suited to that and, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to seek help from a lactation consultant.

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