Which breastfeeding position works best for you and your baby?
Bringing your newborn home from the hospital is an exciting — and sometimes challenging — time. And if breastfeeding your baby is something you’ve always wanted to do, you may be discovering that it’s not as easy as you originally thought. If you’re experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding, you aren’t alone.
Thankfully, many of the early breastfeeding challenges are easy to overcome when you’re armed with the right information.
“You often hear stories about the problems associated with breastfeeding, when in reality breastfeeding is a learned art. At times, a little help is necessary,” says Jill Martin BSN, RN, who is part of Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center’s lactation team.The breastfeeding benefits for mom are encouraging — there’s a decreased risk of breast cancer and an easier recovery from delivery.
“By choosing to breastfeed, you’re also giving your baby an advantage due to the many health benefits, including a stronger immune system with fewer ear infections, colds and upper respiratory infections as well as a reduction in childhood obesity, asthma and SIDS,” says Ms. Martin.
The key to breastfeeding is to make sure your baby is latching properly and you’re in a comfortable position.
“It is important to understand that latching means the baby goes to the breast, not the mother bringing the breast to the baby’s mouth,” says Ms. Martin. “When a baby comes into contact with mom’s chest, baby will move into an instinctive position.”
Your baby will tilt his or her head back and lead with the jaw and mouth toward the breast, mouth wide open, tongue down and over the bottom gum. Your baby’s chin should be firmly pressed against the breast and he or she should be able to breathe freely through the nose.
“When latched well, you’ll see the baby in a sucking pattern with small sucks that stimulate the milk to let-down. After let-down, the sucking should look like open-pause sucks: baby will pause mid-suck, the chin will drop down slightly, and now baby is suckling or swallowing and transferring milk,” explains Ms. Martin.
Once you’re confident your baby is latching effectively, try out some different breastfeeding positions to find what works best for you and your baby. Here are a few options:
Cradle holdThis is the classic nursing hold. With this position, your baby is on your lap or on a pillow, lying on his or her side with their face, stomach and knees facing you.
“In this nursing position, cradle your baby’s head with the crook of your arm and tuck her lower arm under your own,” says Ms. Martin. “If your baby is nursing on the right breast, rest his or her head in the crook of your right arm.”
Make yourself comfortable in this position by sitting in a chair with supportive armrests and prop your feet up on a stool, ottoman or another raised surface to avoid leaning down toward your newborn. You can also make yourself comfortable by placing a pillow on your lap. This comfortable position will also help the baby latch effectively.
This nursing position is similar to the cradle hold, but instead you’re holding your baby with the arm opposite of the breast you’re feeding from.
“This position is ideal for early breastfeeding, small babies or infants who have trouble latching on,” explains Ms. Martin.
With the cross-cradle hold, support your baby with the opposite arm of the breast you’re feeding from and prop his or her head with your open hand. Use your other hand — the same side you’re feeding from — to support your breast from the underside.
Just like the name suggests, this breastfeeding position involves you holding your baby under your arm like a football on the same side you’re nursing from.
To try this position, hold your baby beside you on the side you want to nurse from with your elbow bent. Use your open hand to support your baby’s head — he or she should be facing your breast with their back resting on your forearm for support. You can make yourself more comfortable in this position by putting a pillow on your lap or sitting in a chair with broad, low arms.
“You may want try the football hold if you’ve had a C-section since your baby doesn’t rest on your stomach with this position,” says Ms. Martin. “This position is also helpful if your baby is small or has trouble latching on — you can help guide your baby’s head to your breast and use your free hand to support your breast.”
This is also an ideal nursing position for mothers who are breastfeeding twins.
Also known as the reclining position, you’ll lie on your side and face your baby toward your breast, using one hand to support him or her. Once your baby latches on, use your bottom arm to support your own head and the other to help support or bring your baby close.
“A side-lying nursing position is good if you’re tired, but able to stay awake. It’s also a good choice for new mothers who are recovering from a C-section or difficult delivery, which could make sitting up uncomfortable,” says Ms. Martin.
Alternating these positions can help you and your baby figure out which one works best for both of you.
“Regularly switching between breastfeeding holds has been shown to be a good way to avoid clogged milk ducts,” says Ms. Martin. “And since each hold puts pressure on a different part of the nipple, switching positions may help prevent sore nipples, too.”
If you’ve made the choice to breastfeed but your baby is struggling to latch or you’re experiencing soreness or pain, it may be time to seek help from a lactation consultant. These breastfeeding specialists can help you find the best way to feed your baby, while keeping you both comfortable.