While the basic technique for breastfeeding may seem simple, it doesn’t always come naturally. Learning more about the best breastfeeding positions can help prevent problems and ensure a more successful and satisfying experience.
Which is the best position for breastfeeding? There are at least five different positions recommended for nursing and each has its merits, but a few pointers apply to them all. First, it’s important for breastfeeding moms to get comfortable in a situation that provides plenty of support. Start by sitting or resting in a way that provides support for your back and arms and, if possible, allows you to put your feet up.
Next, place baby close to you so that he does not need to turn his head to nurse. His face should be facing your nipple. Support the infant’s back so that his chin faces your breast and bring baby up to your nipple so that his nose touches. Bending or hunching over to feed your baby can be tough on your neck or back and may even result in sore nipples. If baby latches on to your nipple in a way that hurts, remove her gently and try again (see here how).
The best positions for breastfeeding are the ones that, given the situation, are the most comfortable and the ones least likely to result in a sore neck or nipples. There are a few optimal positions and you may want to try them all to see which best suits you or works in a given situation.
At first, the best position may be the cross-cradle hold. In this position you sit up in a comfortable chair with armrests. Hold baby in the crook of your arm, across from the breast you’re feeding her from. It’s the left arm for the right breast and right arm for the left breast. Hold the back of baby’s head with your open hand. Use your other hand to support your breast from underneath. You may have to guide baby’s mouth to your breast. Remember not to bend over or lean forward.
After you’ve mastered this hold, you can try the cradle position.
As you cradle your baby on your lap, she should be lying on her side, resting shoulder and hip, with her mouth level with your nipple. If needed you can use pillows to lift baby and support your elbows. Pillow support may be needed in the first weeks when baby is very small. You may also need to support your breast. La Leche League suggests some breast support techniques that are useful.
In this position, baby’s head is resting on your forearm with her back on your inner arm and palm. How do you know baby has latched on properly? Her mouth should cover at least a half-inch of the dark area around your nipple. To be sure she is resting comfortably, check to see if her head and bottom is level with each other.
In this position you lie on a bed or couch in a way that supports your head and shoulders. Again, getting comfortable and having plenty of support is key. Rest baby in any position that feels comfortable to you. Let baby’s cheek rest on your breast and guide her to the nipple.
Moms who have a Cesarean birth may find this position most comfortable, as it keeps baby away from the incision. In this position baby’s head is supported with your hand and your arm is used to support his back. Your other arm is used to support your breast. Baby should be facing you with his mouth at nipple height. While baby is small, pillows may be needed to bring baby up to the correct height.
Lying down to nurse can be the most comfortable way, especially in the first weeks when you need to rest more and certainly at night. In this position, mom and baby lie on their sides facing each other. If needed, for maximum comfort, use pillows behind your back and behind your knees. Cradle the baby in your arm with his back along your forearm. If his ear, shoulder and hip are in one line, nursing will be easier. Rolling up a blanket behind baby will keep him from rolling away.
Whichever breastfeeding positions you choose, remember that it can take a minute for breastfeeding to begin. Once baby latches on to your nipple, your breasts will reflexively let down milk. You will know when baby is drinking because his jaw will move and you’ll hear him swallowing.
If you have any problems with breastfeeding or, if you wonder if your baby is eating enough, be sure to discuss them with your healthcare provider. You can find a lactation consultant by asking your doctor or midwife for a recommendation. You can also check the International Lactation Consultant Association for local consultants.