Breastfeeding takes practice. Learning how to hold and support your baby in a comfortable position also requires coordination – and patience.
Yet finding a nursing hold that works for you and your infant is well worth the effort. After all, the two of you will spend hours breastfeeding every day.
This classic breastfeeding position requires you to cradle your baby's head in the crook of your arm.
Best for: full-term babies who were delivered vaginally. Some mothers say this hold makes it hard to guide their newborn's mouth to the nipple, so you may want to wait to use this position until you've become more comfortable with breastfeeding, usually when your baby is 4 to 6 weeks old. Women who have had a cesarean section may find it puts too much pressure on their abdomen.
Also known as the cross-cradle hold, this position differs from the cradle hold in that your arms switch roles.
- If you're nursing from your right breast, use your left hand to support your baby's head.
- With your thumb and fingers behind his head and below his ears, guide his mouth to your breast.
Best for: newborns, small babies, and infants who have trouble latching on.
The clutch or football hold
As the name suggests, you tuck your baby under your arm (on the side that you're nursing from) like a football or handbag.
- Position your baby at your side, under your arm, supported by a pillow. She should be lying faceup, her nose level with your nipple.
- Rest your arm on the pillow and support your baby's shoulders, neck, and head with your hand and forearm.
- With your thumb and fingers behind her head and below her ears, guide her mouth to your nipple, chin first, to establish a good latch.
Best for: if you've had a c-section (to avoid having the baby putting pressure on your stitches). And if your baby is small or has trouble latching on, this hold allows you to guide her head to your nipple. It also works well for women who have large breasts or flat nipples, and for mothers of twins nursing both babies at once.
The side-lying position
Though you won't see women breastfeeding in public like this, it's a popular position for many nursing mothers when they're at home.
The side-lying position also makes it easy for you to extract yourself if your baby falls asleep on the breast. Just be sure to transfer him to a safe sleep space, and never leave him unattended on an adult bed or couch.
- Lie on your side in bed with a pillow under your head and one between your bent knees, if you wish, to keep your back and hips in a straight line.
- With your baby facing you, draw him close, allowing his head to tilt back slightly so he can open his mouth wide. Rest your head on your bottom arm.
- If your baby needs to be higher and closer to your breast, use your top arm to cradle him, with your hand below his ears. Be sure not to put pressure on the back of his head. He shouldn't strain to reach your nipple, and you shouldn't bend down toward him.
Best for: if you're recovering from a c-section or difficult delivery, sitting up is uncomfortable, or you're nursing in bed.
The koala hold
Once you get this hold down, youmay want to try it while your baby is strapped to you in a soft carrier for hands-free breastfeeding. If this works for you and your baby, you may never go back.
- Hold your baby securely upright, her legs straddled over your leg and her head in line with your breast.
- Her head will naturally lean back when she latches on. Be sure to support her head and keep one arm around her at all times – until she gets old enough to hold herself up.
Best for: babies with reflux, since nursing upright can be easier on their digestion. If you're able to master this hold in a carrier, it's an ideal position for active moms.
The laid-back hold
Research shows that nursing in a reclined position can stimulate feeding reflexes in mothers and babies.
- Lie back in a semi-reclined position. Make sure your head and shoulders are supported.
- Lay your baby facedown on your stomach with his arms hugging your breast. Gravity should keep him in the ideal position and will help deepen his latch.
Best for: mothers with sore nipples or babies with a difficult latch. This is also a great position for mothers who want a nice, relaxing cuddle. You may find that this hold feels quite natural for you and your baby.
The post-cesarean laid-back hold
This hold takes the pressure off your incision site while letting you enjoy a semi-reclined position. It may look a little funny, but since the breast is a circle, it can be approached from any side.
- Find a comfortable spot where you can sit at a 45-degree angle and be fully supported.
- Lay your baby over your shoulder so that her head is facing your breast and her mouth is in line with your nipple.
- Check to make sure you and your baby are both snug and secure before you guide her to latch on.
Best for: nursing mothers who want to sit back and relax after a recent c-section.
The twin hold
Breastfeeding twins means that you will make a lot of milk and need a lot of support – literally and figuratively.
- Place a large pillow or cushion across your lap to help you cradle both of your babies at once.
- If possible, have someone nearby who can pass your babies to you once you're set up.
- Put one baby under each arm with their heads facing your breasts. Use your arms and hands to support their backs and heads. Make sure both babies are close enough to the breast to get a comfortable latch.
Best for: nursing twins. This hold could save your sanity if you're the mother of multiples.
Tips for every nursing position
Support your body
Choose a comfortable chair with armrests, and use pillows – lots of them – to support your back and arms. (Most couches aren't supportive enough.)
Support your feet as well, to avoid bending toward your baby. A footstool, coffee table, or stack of books can work. A pillow or folded blanket on your lap can also keep you from hunching over.
Whichever nursing position you use, be sure to bring your baby to your breast, rather than the other way around.
Support your breasts
Your breasts get bigger and heavier during lactation. As you nurse, use your free hand to support your breast with a C-hold (four fingers on one side of the breast and the thumb on the other side) or a V-hold (index and middle fingers splayed on either side of the breast).
Note: Keep your fingers at least 2 inches behind the nipple and areola so that your baby can get a full latch.
Support your baby
Feeling comfortable and secure will help your baby nurse happily and efficiently. Use your arms and hands, plus pillows, to support your baby's head, neck, back, and hips – and keep them in a straight line. In the beginning, skin-to-skin contact is best, using a blanket to keep your baby warm when necessary. Eventually, you can also nurse him while swaddled with his arms at his sides.
Vary your routine
Experiment with nursing positions to find your favorites. A deep, comfortable latch will help you avoid nipple pain. Many women regularly alternate breastfeeding holds to avoid getting clogged milk ducts. Because each hold puts pressure on a different part of your nipple, variety may also help you avoid sore nipples.
Another tip: Alternate which breast you nurse from first at every feeding to boost milk production.
Relax, then nurse
Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and think peaceful, calming thoughts. Keep a glass or bottle of water on hand to drink while you breastfeed – staying hydrated helps you to produce milk.
Time to stop?
Ideally, your baby will decide that she's had enough when she's drained one or both breasts. If you need to take your baby off your breast while feeding, gently insert your finger into the corner of her mouth, reaching between her gums to break the suction (which can be remarkably strong!).
Try to avoid falling asleep
Breastfeeding helps protect your baby against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). However, the AAP recommends that you don't fall asleep with your baby because you could roll over onto him. If you think you could possibly fall asleep while breastfeeding, feed your baby on the bed rather than on a sofa or cushioned chair, which are more hazardous because babies can get trapped between the cushions.
Also, make sure there are no pillows, blankets, sheets, or other items on the bed that could obstruct your baby's breathing or cause overheating. If you do fall asleep, move your baby to his own bed as soon as you wake up.
For hands-on help, ask your doctor to refer you to a lactation consultant, or find one by searching the database at the International Lactation Consultant Association.