There’s more to breastfeeding than simply holding your baby in a cradled position and letting nature take its course.
You need to take into account your baby’s positioning, the effectiveness of their latch, the shape and size of your breasts and nipples, and your comfort when deciding how to breastfeed.
While it may not be the most comfortable of activities you will face in the course of motherhood, it doesn’t have to be a difficult or completely uncomfortable one.
With over ten breastfeeding positions to try as well as different methods of attachment, breast holds, and breastfeeding aids, just about every mother can find something that is just right for her and her baby.
We have put together this guide to provide written and visual aids to help you understand and practice all breastfeeding positions.
So bookmark this page and come back to it as a reference as often as you need.
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In order to start breastfeeding, you need to get them attached first. There are two different attachment methods: baby-led and mother-led.
Baby-led is recommended from the first time you breastfeed in the hospital after birth while mother-led is best saved for when breastfeeding has been established.
However, there are some cases that may require mother-led attachment from the beginning such as birth injuries or impairment of a baby’s senses.
The best way to start breastfeeding is through baby-led attachment; this is when your baby uses their natural instincts to find and latch onto your breast.
By allowing them to take the lead early on, you can lay the foundation and set yourself up for an easier breastfeeding experience.
Ideally, baby-led attachment starts right away after birth. Your baby is laid on your chest skin to skin in order to promote immediate breastfeeding.
This not only encourages them to use their instincts to search for your breast, but it also helps to regulate their breathing and heartbeat.
Support your baby’s neck and bottom, leaving their head (mostly) free to move and root for the nipple. Once they find it, they should start to open their mouth a bit in order to latch.
With baby-led attachment, there should be very little fuss for you as you simply support your baby while allowing them to follow their instincts.
Mothers who allow baby-led attachment often find that they experienced less frustration with breastfeeding as well as less pain due to improper latch and sore nipples.
Baby-led attachment post caesarean
Immediate baby-led attachment can be a bit more difficult after a cesarean section, but it is not impossible. It simply requires a few more precautions and a little more support on your part.
Make sure you are in a comfortable, slightly reclined position with pillows behind your lower back for support.
Place your baby on your chest skin to skin as you would if you had birthed vaginally. Make sure to support your baby higher up on your chest as they begin rooting, keeping them off your belly and reducing pressure on your incision.
Everything else is basically the same. You can still establish a solid breastfeeding foundation even after a C-section without any discomfort or pain.
If reclining isn’t comfortable for you or your baby while breastfeeding, you can also try a breastfeeding position aid like a nursing pillow that will reduce the pressure on your incision and support your baby without tiring your arms.
You can also practice different holding positions that keep your baby off your body completely or just keeps their legs and feet off to the side so they don’t kick your stomach or incision.
There are some cases in which baby-led attachment doesn’t work as well as planned.
Depending on birthing aids used during delivery and the timing when they were used, your baby’s senses may be a little bit off (i.e. grogginess) inhibiting their ability to find and attach to your breast easily.
There may also have been birth injuries around your baby’s face or jaw that could prevent them from latching well.
Even with no injuries or impairments, some babies still need a bit of help from their mothers in order to latch appropriately
In these cases, mother-led attachment may be necessary. Your baby will still open their mouth on their own, but you will be supporting and guiding them onto your breast rather than letting them root on their own.
After getting into a comfortable position, supporting your baby across their back and behind their head, brush your nipple over their nose and mouth area in order to get them to open their mouth.
Once their mouth is nice and wide, you can place their mouth onto your nipple area, placing their bottom jaw/lip area on first and then tilting their face toward the breast.
Their face should be straight toward the breast, their nose slightly touching it with enough room to allow them to breathe, and their lips should be flared over the areola.
10 Common Breastfeeding Positions
There is quite a variety of positions that you and your baby can try while breastfeeding. Some are more suited for at home feeding while others can make feeding in public much more comfortable.
1. Cradle Hold
Most would likely consider the cradle hold as the “standard” breastfeeding position.
Because of your baby’s head and body position in this hold, it is best for mothers who delivered vaginally as it will put pressure on your belly.
You will be in a sitting position either in a comfy chair with armrests or a bed with pillows stacked under your arms for support.
Lay your baby across your lap resting their head on the arm of the same side you are feeding from (i.e. right breast and right arm); it is easiest to place the back of their head right in the crook of your elbow.
You will support your baby with the same arm they are resting on, with their back across your forearm and their bottom in your hand.
This leaves your other arm free to guide your breast toward their mouth.
2. Cross-Cradle Hold
The cross-cradle hold is essentially the same as the regular cradle hold.
Your baby will be in the same position, but the difference is that you will be holding them with the opposite arm of the side you’re feeding on (i.e. right breast and left arm).
With your arms supported from underneath, you will place your baby’s bottom in the crook of your elbow with their legs straddled on either side.
Their back will be supported by your forearm and their head will be in the palm of your hand.
This position offers a much easier way to latch your baby. The hand on the same side as the breast you’re feeding from remains free to move the breast as needed toward your baby’s mouth.
You can also guide their head easier since it is sitting in your hand rather than on your arm.
3. Clutch or Football Hold
If you find it hard to lay your baby across your lap or belly – particularly if you gave birth via C-section – you might want to consider the clutch hold rather than either cradle hold.
It’s also ideal for babies who have trouble latching or women with larger breasts.
Imagine you are a football player carrying the ball into the endzone, held under your arm and close to your body.
This is pretty much how you will hold your baby.
You can easily guide their head to your breast since their head will lie in your hand.
4. Side Lying Position
Unless you’ve been to the home of a nursing mother, you likely have not seen this position. After all, you can’t really find a comfortable place to lie down at the café.
This position is popular with mothers have trouble feeding in a sitting position due to recovery from cesarean or back problems.
It can also be very useful when you are co-sleeping with your baby.
Simply lie on your side, propped up on your elbow, and facing your baby. Your baby should be facing you as well. You should be able to latch fairly easily in this position
You do need to be very careful with this position as you can easily strain yourself and your baby can be injured.
Make sure you bring your baby to the breast; they should not be struggling to reach and you shouldn’t be hunched over your baby.
You also need to make sure there is plenty of space for your baby to breathe. They make require a little support from your top hand in order to reach the breast and avoid rolling onto their face.
While your baby is an infant you should be aware that when breastfeeding lying down there is a risk of suffocation if you were to unknowingly fall asleep.
As a working mother, I practiced co-sleeping for years and used this position while sleeping often.
But it was not until my little one was old enough to set himself up in that position as needed.
If they are not yet strong enough to move, then there is a very high risk of suffocation, either from you rolling onto them or them rolling and blocking their nose and airway.
5. Laid-Back Hold
There is no particular advantage to the laid-back breastfeeding or semi-reclined hold, but it can be a great way to encourage bonding between you and your baby.
It allows your baby to sit nice and close to you while you cuddle them.
Lie back slightly and lay your baby on their stomach across your belly. Make sure you are still sitting up enough to keep their airway clear.
You also want to make sure their head, neck, and spine are aligned as you hug them close to your breast.
6. Laid-Back Hold (After Cesarean)
If the laid-back hold sounds like something you would like to try but you are unable to lay your baby across your body due to pain from a cesarean, you can try a slight variation on this hold.
Your position will not change; you will still be slightly reclined.
Your baby, however, will be in a much different position. Lay them over your shoulder so that their face is toward your breast.
Make sure you are both comfortable and secure before latching.
7. Koala Hold
It can be difficult to breastfeed a baby with chronic reflux since lying down on their back will likely be a trigger.
Instead, you can try a more upright position with your baby like the koala hold.
It’s much easier to achieve this hold with an older baby since they can support their neck and spine on their own, but you can still try this hold with your infant as long as you fully support them.
Sit them on your lap facing your breast making sure to support their back, neck, and head.
Have them straddle your torso and guide them to the breast.
If you find that you are leaning over too much, try placing a nursing pillow under their bottom to raise them up a bit more.
This position is also great for nursing when you are carrying your little one in a sling or front carrier. It can also be a more discreet position for breastfeeding.
8. Double Football Hold
Breastfeeding with twins is quite an undertaking, especially when they both want to eat at the same time.
Thankfully, there is a position that works well for breastfeeding two babies at once: the double football hold.
You can probably already guess that this is similar to the clutch hold we discussed previously. The only difference is that you will have a baby on either side.
You can either support both of their heads with your hands or you can utilize a nursing pillow to give your arms a bit of a rest.
9. Dangle Feeding Position
Another great position for breastfeeding twins (or a single baby) is the dangle feeding position. This is also an ideal position for mothers who experience frequent blocked ducts or mastitis.
It’s not the most comfortable position, but it can really be a lifesaver in these situations.
There is no specific way you have to sit for this position; rather, you just need to be able to dangle your breast over your baby’s mouth while they are lying on their back.
The sucking power of your baby combined with the forces of gravity in this position makes it much easier to drain the breasts completely and prevent any blockages.
10. Out of Hand Hold
Some babies struggle with remaining latched due to physical conditions or circumstances surrounding their birth.
This may include injuries, premature birth, or a disability like Downs syndrome.
With the dancer handhold, you can support your baby’s face and chin better to keep them latched while feeding.
This position works by supporting the back of your baby’s head with one hand and cupping their chin and your breast with the other.
The cross-cradle or koala positions are easiest with this hold, however, feel free to try any position that is comfortable for you while allowing you to support under your baby’s chin.
Positions to Avoid
In order for breastfeeding to be a comfortable and efficient experience, there are some positions you should avoid. You do not want to end up with a bad back, strained neck, or sore nipples.
You also don’t want your baby to have their back, neck, and head out of alignment as they reach for your breast.
Hunched over baby
One of the worst mistakes you can make when breastfeeding – and a common mistake made by many mothers – is hunching over to bring your breast to your baby.
This is a very easy mistake to make. After all, your baby is too small to be at breast height naturally.
Lying your baby directly on your lap will force you to hunch over in order for your baby to reach your breast.
Hunching over causes great strain on your neck and back, and it may even result in your desire to quit breastfeeding due to discomfort.
The best rule to follow is always to bring your baby to the breast, not the other way around.
You can achieve this by utilizing a breastfeeding aid like a nursing (or other firm) pillow on your lap when feeding your baby in either cradle or football position.
You can also try a different position that brings your baby to the breast without any extra support needed.
Koala or straddle position can help your baby sit up higher without a pillow.
You can also feed them lying down so you are both at the same level.
Baby’s body and face not aligned
No matter which position you feed in, you should always make sure your baby’s body and face are aligned properly.
Understandably, this means that their head, neck, and spine should be in a straight line. Failing to do so can strain your baby’s neck or even cause injury.
Not only should their body remain aligned from head to tail, but their face should always be straight on the breast. This is important for both of you.
If your baby’s face is not straight on your breast, they will not be able to efficiently drain the breast, causing them frustration and causing you pain.
You may end up with sore, bruised nipples, or worse, you could experience a blocked duct or mastitis as a result.
Baby Leaning to Reach Breast
Bringing your baby to the breast not only saves your neck and back but also prevents your baby from leaning to reach your breast.
Reaching or leaning goes back to the alignment issue. Your baby could strain or injure themselves if they are trying to lean to the breast. It could also inhibit their ability to swallow as they stretch their neck too far.
Baby Positioning Techniques
Sometimes you will need to help your baby out a bit while breastfeeding, especially in the early days and week after birth.
A milk laden breast can be quite heavy in a baby’s mouth, so giving your baby and your breast a little extra support may be necessary.
Also known as the palmer grasp, the most common support position mothers use is the C hold.
This position gives you the best control over your breast so you can maneuver it into just the right angle and location for your baby to latch.
In order to achieve this position:
- Start by placing your breast in the palm of your hand with your thumb on top and your other fingers on the underside.
- Your hand and fingers should look like a “C”, staying far enough back from the nipple and areola so your baby can latch.
The U hold is essentially the same as the C hold. The main difference is that the palm of the hand is under the breast rather than on the side.
This position can give you a bit more support since you are reducing the weight and pull from under your breast.
For women with small breasts or large hands, the V hold may work a bit better than the others.
This position allows you to maneuver and aim your nipple toward your baby’s mouth without your hand getting in the way.
- You will start by placing your index and middle fingers on either side of your nipple, far enough back from the areola so there is no interference with your baby’s latch.
- Thumb and index finger will be on the top side of your breast while the middle, ring, and pinky fingers will be on the underside.
Essentially, your hand will look like a pair of scissors.
Exaggerated C Hold or Flipple
Getting your baby to open their mouth wide enough for a good latch can be difficult at times. This is where the flipple can really come in handy.
For this hold, your baby will need to be in koala position, or you will need to be feeding in a laid-back position so your baby can face your breast in a vertical position.
- Take your hand and place it on top of your breast, slightly pulling back so that your nipple points up a little.
- Bring your baby to the breast. Placing their chin and lower lip on the underside of your nipple first then tilting them up and inserting the rest once their mouth is open nice and wide.
You can also use your index finger to push your nipple down into their mouth once it is open wide.
Breastfeeding Positioning Aids
We’ve mentioned breastfeeding aids a couple of times already, but let’s talk about them in a bit more detail.
Nursing pillows and nursing covers can really help you feel more comfortable both physically and mentally when feeding at home and in public.
You should never hunch over your baby; they should always be brought to the breast and not the other way around.
However, this can be difficult when they are small and you are trying to feed in a standard cradle hold.
A good nursing pillow gives you a firm but comfortable surface to lay your baby on in order to raise them up to the height of your breast.
Nursing pillows can also be a lifesaver when you are recovering from a cesarean delivery.
It can create a cushioned barrier between your incision and your baby’s weight on your lap, allowing you to breastfeed right from the start.
Most nursing pillows are fairly low maintenance. They come with removable covers that can often be machine washed and dried.
They should also be made with soft, hypoallergenic materials so that your baby does not have any discomfort or adverse reactions.
An easy way to secure your baby in position is to use a baby sling or soft structured baby carrier suitable for breastfeeding.
These are especially useful if your baby is distressed or sleepy.
By positioning your baby in the seat of the carrier or sling you take the weight off your arms and distribute around your shoulders and/or back & hips.
This enables you to feed on the go and in public with a level of discretion.
If you are more stationary and don’t need a carrier then a nursing cover can be an essential accessory.
Nursing in public can make some mothers feel uncomfortable, particularly because of the stigma that surrounds the practice.
Breasts have been so sexualized, making it can be very difficult to use them for their created purpose (to feed your baby) without getting the side eye from passersby.
A nursing cover can help you feel a bit more comfortable by giving you a bit of privacy while feeding your baby.
It can also make it easier to get your baby latched as you don’t need to worry about accidentally flashing someone in the café.
Now that you understand each different breastfeeding position you can experiment to find what works best for you.
If you do find breastfeeding to be difficult, do not hesitate to reach out to your doctor or a lactation consultant.
They would be happy to work with you in any way necessary so that you can breastfeed your baby if that is what you sincerely desire.