Breastfeeding positions can help you and your baby. Sometimes it takes a bit of thought and practice to make this happen. Remember to position your body and baby’s body in a way that is comfortable for both of you.
How to help avoid pain
When a mom has nipple pain, it is hard for her milk to come out. The longer she nurses with nipple pain, the more chance of trauma to the nipples. A mom who is relaxed will also have a baby who will get more milk. Being in the right position will help with this while also decreasing back and neck pain. You can do this by supporting your body, breasts and baby. Create a relaxing atmosphere with supportive people around you. Choose positions that help baby latch easily and aren’t painful for you. As nursing continues, your baby will be able to latch with ease in a wide array of positions. In the first few days or weeks you may find these tips helpful.
Learn more: Question and answer about breastfeeding pain
Choose an enjoyable atmosphere
Choose an atmosphere that will be relaxing and enjoyable for you. Pick a room that makes you feel calm and happy. You may want to play lullaby music or sing your favorite song. Babies love to hear your voice and music. You may want to recite verses that make you confident. Studies show that listening to progressive relaxation while nursing or pumping will increase your supply.
Take deep breaths, blow away negative thoughts and replace them with positive, peaceful thoughts. Some people find it relaxing to have the television on while they nurse. Surround yourself with people who are supportive of breastfeeding. Your visitors should help you achieve confidence and help keep you calm. If they are causing you stress, it is all right to limit their visit time.
Ask for a shoulder massage while you nurse, which will help your milk come out faster as well. If you struggle, or feel like you want more positive, evidence-based information, ask for assistance from a lactation consultant — you don’t have to do this alone!
Support for mom
Your body should be supported and comfortable. Many times, a comfortable chair or rocker with arm rests works great. Use pillows for support. There are breastfeeding pillows that many women find quite helpful. My Brest friend or Boppy pillows are some examples. You can use normal pillows as well. The pillows should support your back to help keep you from slouching. They are also useful under your arms to help you hold your baby. Using a footstool, a recliner or a stack of books to elevate your feet helps bring baby to your breast. This eliminates your leaning into baby, which can cause sore neck, shoulders and nipples.
Your breasts may be bigger and heavier during lactation, and your baby may need some help holding on at first. Use your free hand to support your breast using a C hold. You can do this by placing four fingers under your breast with your thumb at the top, forming a “C” shape. You may find it helpful to tip the nipple upward and gently tickle baby’s nose. This should encourage baby to open wide so you can catch the baby’s bottom lip to the lower part of your areola.
Don’t always take the first open mouth, wait for a big, wide open mouth and then bring the baby to the breast, quick and close. This will help the nipple hit the baby’s palette to stimulate sucking. With a good latch you see more areola showing above baby’s mouth than below it. If the latch hurts, it is quite likely the baby needs more breast tissue inside the mouth and your nipple needs to be higher towards the baby’s palette. Break the suction by putting a clean finger into baby’s mouth to release suction and try again. If you are unable to attain a latch that doesn’t hurt, contact a lactation consultant for assistance.
Support for baby
It will be important to support your baby in a comfortable and close position. This will help baby feel more safe and relaxed, encouraging baby to nurse more efficiently and effectively. It may be helpful to support baby’s body with pillows or folded up blankets. Use your hand on baby’s neck to direct baby to the breast.
Choosing a position
Choosing a position for baby is important. If you and baby are comfortable and baby is getting enough milk, there is no wrong position. The following are some breastfeeding positions that have worked well for other moms. They include the birth crawl, football, cross cradle, basic cradle, side-lying, Australian hold and back-lying.
The birth crawl
Right after birth, many babies are able to do the birth crawl. With the birth crawl, babies get to choose the position that they want. This is done by putting baby skin-to-skin immediately after birth. Baby is dried off, but not washed — leaving hands alone as much as possible. Baby is placed in the middle of your chest with eyes at the level of your nipples. Use pillows to raise your head, so you and baby can have good eye contact before baby starts to crawl to your nipple. Studies have shown that most babies left alone with their mom will start spontaneous smacking of their lips and rooting at 15 minutes. By 55 minutes most babies spontaneously find mom’s nipple and start sucking on their own. This position is more likely to be achieved if these things happen:
- Mom is given drugs for labor sparingly.
- Your breast is not wiped off before the first nursing.
- The amniotic fluid on baby’s hands is not wiped off.
- Procedures for baby are delayed such as bath, administration of routine medications, weight and measurements.
- Mom decreases the use of products that eliminate or mask natural odor, such as perfumes and lotions.
- Mom and baby are not separated until after breastfeeding is successfully accomplished.
The birth crawl can also be used in a baby who is older. This sometimes works very well with a fussy baby. Being skin-to-skin, having good eye contact with mom, hearing mom’s heartbeat and smelling mom’s familiar smells instinctively helps them crawl to the breast in the position they choose when they are ready.
The football position is great to use in the first few days of nursing and beyond. If you have had a cesarean section, this position will not place pressure on your incision. Hold baby’s neck with the same hand as the breast you are nursing on. Support your breast with the opposite hand, tickling your nipple to baby’s nose to elicit a large mouth. Sit back in your chair, put your feet up and bring baby to you. It may be very beneficial to have a nursing pillow at the side of your lap for support and comfort. This position also works very well with twins, putting a baby on each side of you. There are special twin breastfeeding pillows to help nursing twins feed simultaneously easier and more comfortably.
The cross cradle position is another great position to use when you first start nursing. With this position you use your hand opposite the breast baby nurses from to support baby’s neck. The rest of your arm supports baby’s body. Put baby’s tummy to your tummy. A pillow on your lap under baby may be helpful. This position is often better than cradle hold in the beginning. It gives you more control, but it is often easy to switch to cradle from cross cradle after initial latch on. The basic cradle position comes naturally for most moms. Your baby’s head rests in the bend of your elbow of the side you are nursing from.
The side-lying position is a comfortable and restful position for many moms. Mom and baby cuddle on their sides facing each other. The key is typically using a lot of pillows. Use two pillows under your head and a pillow between your legs to stabilize your hips. Keep pillows away from baby to avoid suffocation. Mom can use her arm closest to baby to bring baby’s nose to nipple. Use a bassinet that will keep baby within arm’s reach while you sleep.
The Australian hold works well with older babies and is adaptable for nursing in a sling. It is also helpful for a mom with overactive letdown, when breast milk comes out too fast. Sit baby on your lap and straddle baby’s legs on either side of one of your legs. If the baby is too small to reach, it is sometimes helpful to put blankets under baby’s bottom.
The back-lying hold also works great for a mom with an overactive letdown. This is done by lying on your back or reclining way back in a recliner. Put baby on top of your breast to latch baby on. This should defy gravity and slow down milk flow.
Some don’ts for positioning baby
- Don’t let your baby’s head and body go in separate directions. Baby should face your breast.
- Bring baby to you, don’t lean into baby.
- Don’t let the baby’s body be too far away from the breast. Hold baby close, so baby won’t pull on your nipple while feeding.
- If it hurts, it most likely is not a good position.
- Don’t be around stressful people or a stressful area if avoidable
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a lactation consultant.
Do what’s right for you
Remember, there is no wrong position as long as you and baby are comfortable and there is adequate milk for baby. If you are pregnant, a breastfeeding class may be beneficial to learn more about breastfeeding positions. Pick an area in your house that will be comfortable and relaxing to you before baby is born. Select a chair that will work well with pillow support and will be comfortable. Decide if you want music or other things to help you and baby relax. Decide early on which people you will want to surround yourself with. Remember that you can always contact a lactation consultant for assistance with positions or questions. Find out if there are breastfeeding support groups in your area. A little preparation can make breastfeeding a more pleasurable experience for you and baby.
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