LatchingLearn the Basics

Positioning: Beginner to Advanced

When you are first starting out on your breastfeeding journey, it is my opinion that you should know one position on each breast really well rather than knowing all the positions poorly.

Positioning in the early weeks:

When you are first starting out breastfeeding, say in the first two weeks or so, stick to dominant-hand latching. That means if you are right handed, you will latch cross cradle on your left breast and football on your right breast.

If you are left handed, you will latch cross cradle on your right breast and football on your left breast. When latching, it is very important to move the baby, not the boob. Whatever your dominant hand is holding is what you will move, so if your boob is in your dominant hand, you will end up moving your boob, but your boob is attached to your body. It can only go so far. Your baby, though, is much easier to maneuver. Also, whatever is in your dominant hand you have a more confident grip on, and you want to have a better grip on the baby. Try it. Hold your baby in your dominant hand (just use your dominant hand—don’t use two hands). Now hold the baby in just your non-dominant hand. Which feels better?

In the beginning, use the (Brest Friend) pillow always. You need the added structure and support. Don’t worry about how you will ever nurse without the pillow. You will get there. I promise. For now, just be kind to your neck and back and use the (Brest Friend) pillow.

Football position:

  1. Turn your Brest Friend pillow to the side. Be sure there is space for baby’s feet behind you. Newborn babies have a fun little stepping reflex that will cause them to push off of anything that touches their feet.
  2. Grip your baby in your dominant hand. Put the heel of your hand on baby’s should blades, your fingertips on baby’s temple. Make sure baby’s body is turned into yours and her butt tucked tight.
  3. Letting your breast hang, move the baby back until the nipple naturally aligns with his nose.
  4. Latch.

In football, baby should not be lying on her back with a big heavy boob on her chest. She should not be curled into a crunch position or half sitting up.

Cross cradle position:

  1. Keep your Brest Friend in front of you like a TV tray.
  2. Grip your baby in your dominant hand. Put the heel of your hand on baby’s should blades, your fingertips on baby’s temple. Make sure baby’s body is turned into yours and his butt tucked tight.
  3. Letting your breast hang, move the baby back until the nipple naturally aligns with his nose.
  4. Latch.

In cross cradle, baby should not be laying on his back and turning his head toward you to latch on.

Yes, cross cradle and football are almost exactly the same positioning technique. Nice, huh?

Positioning after the early weeks:

Cradle position:

As you get more comfortable with latching, mix it up. Try latching with your non-dominant hand. If you can’t seem to get as comfortable a latch in these positions, go back to the positions you know. It is better to have less variety in positioning and more nipple comfort than to get a bad latch for the sake of “rotating positions.”

A note about cradle position: Cradle hold is the “classic” breastfeeding position. The crook of your arm makes an excellent head rest!  The problem is that, depending on the location of your nipple, baby’s head in the crook of your arm almost always leads to needing to move your boob and not your baby. The photo below shows what happens as a result. See how mom’s boob is pulled to the side and her nipple is pointing almost toward her elbow?

If you really want to cradle nurse, try by starting in cross cradle position, getting baby latched well, then scooping your non-dominant arm around baby and releasing your dominant hand from his back. Do all of this without shifting baby at all. This will most likely leave your baby’s head half was down your forearm rather than in the crook of your arm.

Advanced moves:

Side-lying is most definitely a life saving, sanity saving, and sleep saving breastfeeding position. It is, however, what I call an “advanced move.” It is really easy to get a poor latch in this position and even easier to start with a good latch, then fall asleep only to have the baby unlatch and re-latch of her own accord. For that reason, there is a big risk for nipple trauma if you are still in the early weeks of adjustment.

Side-lying is tricky with a newborn because they need so much support to latch properly. In side-lying, you have a limited capacity to support and guide the baby onto the breast. As baby gets older, is less curled into the fetal position, and develops better head control, latching in side-lying gets a little easier.

Basic principles of side-lie nursing:

  1. Observe safe co-sleeping practices while side-lie nursing. Even if you wouldn’t consider yourself a “co-sleeper,” there is a high likelihood that you and/or the baby will doze off during a feeding. That is kind of the whole point. So that means no baby between you and your partner, no pets or other children in the bed, no fluffy blankets or pillows around baby. It also means that you need a safe barrier at the edge of the bed, or plenty of space between baby and the edge of the bed.
  2. Bolster yourself first. Lying on your side, roll toward your baby and shove a pillow behind your back. Roll back into the pillow. The idea is for you to feel supported by the pillow and be rolling slightly away from the baby when your body is relaxed. This way, if you fall asleep, gravity will prevent you from rolling into the baby. You may need a pillow between your knees and extra pillows under your head.
  3. Bolster your baby. Same concept. Baby should be on her side facing you. Roll her slightly toward you, then use a tightly rolled receiving blanket behind her back to keep her in place. Her body weight should be leaning slightly away from you so that if she falls asleep she does roll into your breast, but stays still.
  4. Jenn uses pillows to help get good, comfortable positioning in bed. With Jenn’s smaller breasts, cradling Audenae in the crook of Jenn’s arm helps Audenae reach Jenn’s nipple while mama and baby relax together. Having her arm around the baby also helps Jenn practice safe co-sleeping.

    In side-lie nursing you will use your bedside boob. Note where your nipple naturally falls. Try not to lift your breast; just let it hang. Remember: move the baby, not the boob. If you lift or move your breast to latch the baby, you won’t be able to relax your whole body. You will be stuck holding a boob. If your nipple does a face plant into the mattress, try propping it with a rolled or folded blanket. You may also want to put something absorbent under baby’s head, as she will dribble some milk out of the corner of her mouth.

  5. Align the baby so your nipple naturally lies on her upper lip. Do this by–you guessed it–moving the baby and not the boob. The goal is for her to be able to latch on and off properly by herself without your help (because you will hopefully be half asleep). Some women prop themselves up slightly, help baby latch, then relax back down into the pillows.
  6. Kasey’s larger breasts make this position possible.

    Switching sides. Once you get the hang of side-lie nursing, you will find your next big hurdle is switching sides. Not because it is hard, but because it sucks to have to get out of your very comfy position and roll. Remember, you don’t want baby between you and another person, so if you are with a partner in bed, it is safest to put your head where your feet are to switch sides. Some mamas (myself included) are able to nurse their babies with their top boob without re-positioning themselves or their babies. Don’t be jealous. It takes an extra big, extra saggy boob to achieve such a feat.

It may seem tedious to make all of these arrangements for something that is supposed to be making your life easier, but after a bit of practice, side-lie nursing becomes second nature and really can help everyone get more sleep.

Upright nursing:

Upright nursing is a great technique to help a baby cope with a forceful let down of milk. This certainly isn’t the most comfortable position for anyone involved, but it does the trick.

This position works well when mom is at an incline, resting in bed or on the couch. With an older baby who has more trunk control, this may also work if mom is seated upright and baby sitting in mom’s lap, facing her.

  1. Prop yourself up on some pillows in a reclining position.
  2. Bring baby up to you so that you are belly-to-belly, with baby just slightly off to whichever side you are going to nurse on. Position baby so that her head reaches up toward where your nipple naturally falls.
  3. Use one hand to guide baby’s head and the other to support your boob.
  4. Once baby is latched, hold baby in place with one arm. Use the other hand to support your breast if needed.

Nursing in a sling or carrier:

This advanced moved definitely requires some practice, but once you learn how to do it, you can nurse your baby as you fold some laundry or walk through the mall. Some moms find that they can nurse their babies one-handed, supporting their breasts while baby nurses, while many others find that they can nurse entirely hands-free. Another benefit is that nursing in a carrier is subtle, so it can be a safe way to become comfortable nursing in public.

Kasey has a really short torso and Vinny has always been a tall baby; moms and babies with different body types may need baby to be lower in the carrier to align baby’s mouth to mom’s breast. Younger, smaller babies will need also be in lower positions when nursing in a carrier.

Some maneuvers for nursing in a sling may depend on mom’s body type: how long or short her torso is, what size her breasts are, etc. However, the basics are the same for everyone:

  1. Loosen the carrier to lower baby on your body. In a ring sling, loosen the fabric in the rings, lower baby, and re-tighten so baby is secure, but not so tight that you cannot access your boobs. In a soft-structured carrier like an Ergo or in a Mei Tai, loosen the waistband, shimmy baby down a bit, and re-tighten. In a wrap, untie the knot to loosen the fabric, shimmy, and re-tie.
  2. Lift one breast out of your shirt with one hand and guide it toward baby’s mouth. Use the other hand to guide baby’s head to get a good latch. It can be difficult to get a really good latch when nursing in a carrier. Reposition your carrier, your baby, and your boob until you’re comfortable and baby can latch well. Keep in mind that baby’s airway needs to be clear, so make sure there is no boob or fabric blocking his nose.
  3. Once baby is securely and comfortably latched, you can release your hand from his head and you can probably release your other hand from your breast. If baby cannot stay latched on his own, re-latch him and keep supporting your breast with one hand while baby eats. This isn’t hands-free, but one having one free hand is better than having none!
  4. Go about your business while baby enjoys his milk.
  5. When baby is done nursing, readjust your carrier to the optimal position. Remember that baby should be high enough on your chest that you can bend your neck slightly and kiss his head.

Truthfully, there are a million different positions you can find yourself using when you breastfeed. As you gain breastfeeding confidence and know-how and as baby gets older and can latch himself, you may find yourself nursing your baby while he’s in his car seat (ahem, not while the car is moving!), while he’s standing up in his crib, or in any number of non-textbook positions. There’s no one right way to breastfeed, but using these positioning tips will help make your breastfeeding experience a bit easier from your early days as a novice and help you become a breastfeeding pro.

Pregnant Mamas: Learn more about positioning and getting a good latch before baby arrives. Check out the Pregnant Mama’s Guide, an e-course designed to put you on a path to breastfeeding success by helping you to plan ahead.