Believe it or not, yoga, ballet, and breastfeeding all have something in common.
To succeed at any of these activities, you need to learn how to position your body safely, effectively, and comfortably. And, much like yoga or ballet, breastfeeding encompasses a wide range of “poses” or positions.
Whether you’re wrapping your baby in buttery-soft swaddles or analyzing which lotion is the best for their delicate skin, you’re considerate of your baby’s comfort. Give yourself the same level of care! Proper positioning can positively impact your and your baby’s comfort and well-being for months or years to come.
Signs of appropriate breastfeeding position
Whether there’s a crick in your neck or your baby seems fussy at the breast—you’re likely to notice if a position is less than ideal.
Look for these signs of a safe and effective breastfeeding position:
Baby’s body is straight, supported, and close to you
Baby’s neck is extended slightly back
If necessary, breasts are well-supported by a rolled up towel or pillow to help free up your hands
Baby’s ears, shoulders, hips, and knees are in alignment
Baby isn’t stretching or turning to reach your breast
Neither of you is experiencing pain
How does breastfeeding position affect your baby’s latch?
If your baby is fussy, uncomfortable, or straining to reach their next meal, latching can be a challenge.
Proper positioning gives your baby free access to your breast and aligns their mouth and nose with your nipple. This is essential for the deep latch your baby needs to achieve to allow the tongue to extend and cup around the breast, which will extract milk from your breast and stimulate milk production.
How to check your baby’s latch
There are indications you can look for to make sure your baby is latching well. Here are some signs of a proper latch:
Your baby’s mouth is open wide, with their lips flanged
Your baby has some breast tissue, as well as your nipple, in their mouth
Your baby’s chin is pressed into your breast. Their nose is slightly away or only lightly touching the breast so they can breathe
More of your areola is visible above your baby's upper lip than below their lower lip
You can hear and see your baby swallowing
Your nipple is round after the feeding, without a wedged shape or blanched stripe down the middle
Whether it’s your first or forty-millionth time breastfeeding, ask yourself these four questions:
Am I comfortable? Comfort is vital to a long-lasting breastfeeding relationship. When you choose a comfortable and supportive chair or use pillows to support your back and arms, breastfeeding can even be relaxing.
Is my baby close enough? Your baby must be close to your body to reach your breast easily. Rather than lifting your baby with your arms, consider using pillows or rolled-up blankets to raise your baby and keep them close and well-supported.
Does my breast need more support? Breast support techniques, like the “C” hold or “V” hold, help ensure a deep latch initially. If you have larger breasts, this can offer peace of mind that your breast isn’t blocking your baby’s nose. Other options to support the breast include side-lying, using a breastfeeding pillow, or placing a rolled cloth or towel under the breast to help lift it.
Is it time to try another position? If you’re still experiencing pain or discomfort, it may be time to switch positions.
A note on breastfeeding pillows:
Breastfeeding pillows are popular for new nursing parents, but they aren’t all equally beneficial. A breastfeeding pillow should be flat, firm, and include an adjustable strap around the back that allows parents to adjust height so the baby can be raised to breast level. Pillows that make the parent bunch over or allow the baby to roll off aren't going to provide enough support. In fact, they may contribute to back pain, difficult latching, and a less comfortable breastfeeding experience.
Common breastfeeding positions to try
These breastfeeding positions are go-to's for breastfeeding parents. Not sure how to situate yourself or your baby? A quick video consultation with an IBCLC can help position you and your baby for breastfeeding success.
This position is popular because it generally works well for babies of all ages, but newborns may need a little more head support. Sit up straight and hold your baby’s head in the crook of your arm. Make sure their belly is against yours.
This position (also called “modified cradle”) is similar to the cradle position. However, it offers more control of your baby’s head, making it great for newborns needing help latching.
Follow the guidance for the cradle position, but place the opposite hand from the breast on baby’s shoulder blades, supporting the head and neck with your thumb and pointer finger. (Example: If your baby is nursing from the right best, provide support with the left arm.)
Older babies often prefer to have their head unsupported or hold the breast themselves. This position encourages this newfound independence while still providing support.
Also known as the "clutch" or “rugby” hold, this position is especially useful for parents who have had a cesarean birth, because it takes pressure off the incision. This is a great position for newborns, but it is easily outgrown as baby gets longer.
Tuck your baby under your arm and level with your waist (like a football). Support their back with your upper arm and hold their head level with your breast, using the same hand position as the cross-cradle hold to support the head and neck.
This position is similar to the football hold, but baby’s body is more upright and curves around the front of the breast instead of the side.
This position is not recommended for large breasts, as the weight of the breast may rest on baby’s chest, making it difficult to breathe. However, it can be particularly helpful for babies with certain anatomical considerations such as a recessed chin as it helps a tiny chin have more contact with the breast, providing a deeper latch and optimizing tongue function.
The side-lying position offers a comfortable and relaxing feeding experience for you and your baby, and is a great option for nighttime cluster-feedings.
Lay on your side facing your baby and rest your head on your lower arm or on a pillow. Use the mattress to support your breast and align it with baby’s mouth. Make sure baby is also laying on their side, belly-to-belly with you.
Laid-back or biological nurturing
This position involves reclining and allowing your baby to find a comfortable latch for themselves. It promotes self-regulation and active participation from the baby.
Many parents with a forceful letdown find this position helpful. It is also great for babies who are having a difficult time latching, or for getting a bottle-fed baby back to breast, as this position stimulates a newborn’s innate latching and feeding reflexes.
Lean back in a comfortable chair and lie your baby on top of you, belly to belly with their nose and mouth aligned with your nipple. Take care to ensure your baby’s body is supported and their spine is aligned.
This position is ideal for older babies and on-the-go parents who prefer to stand and baby-wear during a feeding. It is also a nice position for an older baby who is used to feeding in the laid-back position to transition to as they gain head control and grow longer.
With your baby’s body supported by your arm or a baby carrier, hold them in an upright position with their nose and mouth even with your nipple. If seated, baby can straddle your thigh.
Babywearing offers hands-free convenience while breastfeeding. To do this, position your baby inside a supportive carrier or wrap and check that their spine and neck are well-aligned.
This upright pose allows you to support baby’s chin and the breast at the same time. Make a “U” shape with the thumb and index fingers of one hand to cup baby’s chin, and lift the breast slightly using the other three fingers.
This pose is good for newborns and babies with low muscle tone who may struggle to latch. It allows you to keep baby’s head steady while they are at the breast.
Positions to avoid
No matter the size of your baby, there are certain positions you’ll want to avoid.
Be mindful of your posture and support your back and arms with pillows or a comfortable chair, if needed. Hunching over your baby during breastfeeding can lead to back and neck strain.
Avoid breastfeeding with your baby’s neck tilted or turned uncomfortably. A straight and neutral position supports a healthy latch and safe swallowing.
The great divide
Keep your baby close to your body, so they can latch properly and remove milk from your beast effectively.
Putting it all in perspective
One of the most amazing things about breastfeeding is how your techniques evolve over time as you and your baby grow and learn about each other. Just like a yoga practice can shift and deepen over time, your breastfeeding journey may take you places you’ve never imagined, and it truly looks different for everybody.
For example, if you’re nursing a second or third child or doing tandem nursing, you may consider seemingly unconventional positions. (You might also witness some acrobatic nursing—even then, always correct an uncomfortable latch).
However you do it, the objective is the same: keeping you and your child healthy and happy while feeling empowered to meet your breastfeeding goals.
Let an IBCLC help you find your way
Are you experiencing breastfeeding discomfort? You don’t have to face it alone.
Our IBCLCs are available 365 days a year to support you and help you navigate all aspects of breastfeeding—from positioning and latching to troubleshooting common breastfeeding challenges.
At Nest Collaborative, our unbiased, evidence-based, multilingual team increases access to lactation support by providing virtual appointments, offering flexible appointment windows, and assisting patients with insurance billing.
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