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One of the first questions a new parent has as they begin the journey of breastfeeding is: “Am I doing it right?” While breastfeeding is one of the most natural things you can do for your baby, that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally.
The way you hold and position your baby at the breast is one of the aspects of breastfeeding that may feel confusing. Are you holding your baby correctly? Is one breastfeeding position better than another? What if a breastfeeding position doesn’t feel right, or is causing you pain? What if your baby doesn’t like being held in one particular position?
While learning about breastfeeding positioning can be really helpful in certain situations, the rules aren’t meant to be set in stone. There isn’t one “right” way to do things, and what may work for one parent or baby may not work for another. Breastfeeding positioning guidelines are just that—guidelines.
When you talk about the success of a breastfeeding position, there are two things to keep in mind:
1. Is the position comfortable for you?
2. Is your baby getting enough milk in this position?
If you are generally feeling comfortable (no sore/cracked nipples or other discomforts) and your baby is generally growing well on your milk, it actually doesn’t matter one bit how you hold or position your baby.
Truly—you could be breastfeeding standing on your head, and if it felt comfortable and your baby was getting enough, you’d be good to go!
All of that being said, learning a few breastfeeding positions can be really helpful, especially if you are just starting out breastfeeding, or if the positions you are currently using aren’t serving you.
Before discussing different breastfeeding positioning, there are a few tips to keep in mind as you get started.
The main goal of breastfeeding positioning is that your baby gets a good, deep comfortable latch, so that they don’t hurt or damage your nipple and areola and so that they can suckle well and empty the breast.
In ANY position that you hold your baby in, you want to keep three things in mind:
In this position, you lean back or recline on a couch, recliner, or a bed mounted with pillows. You can place your baby belly to belly with you, their body mostly upright and vertical. Gravity will do the work of supporting them, but you can support them with your hands as needed. Most babies will actually find the breast themselves in this position.
This is the most “traditional” breastfeeding hold. Used mostly for older babies who have good head control, this is one of the simplest positions to learn. You sit upright, using pillows for comfort. You can lean back a bit to open up your chest. You cradle your baby on your lap, but high enough so that they can reach your breasts (pillows can be used to raise them up). One arm can support your baby across their back, and the other arm can be used to support and shape your breast for latching.
This hold is similar to the cradle hold, but is intended for younger babies who may need some extra support. This hold is very helpful when your baby is having trouble latching, because it allows you to support your breast as your baby latches and possibly for the entire time they are nursing. For example, if you are nursing on your left breast, you will use your left hand to hold, shape, and support your left breast. Your other arm (in this case, your right arm) will hold and support your baby.
This is a great hold when you are recovering from a c-section. It is also helpful when you are nursing twins or tandem nursing. In this position, you are upright or semi-reclined. You hold your baby just as you would a football, their back resting against your arm, and their body snuggled against your side. You can use your opposite hand to support and shape your breast. Pillows are usually necessary to make this work.
This is a wonderful position for resting or safely sleeping with your baby. Both you and your baby lie on your sides in bed, belly to belly. You baby will be nursing from the breast that is closest to the bed. You can position your baby a little bit below the breast and use your free hand to help support your breast. Depending on your baby’s size, you may need to support them with your other free arm.
Again, learning different breastfeeding positions can be super helpful, especially as you are starting out or if you are encountering any bumps on the road as you nurse your little one. That said, sometimes it can be difficult to attempt these different positions alone, even if with clear explanations or pictures. Have a partner or loved one help you figure these out, or consider trying them out in front of a mirror so you can see what you are doing.
Very often, having a lactation consultant or other breastfeeding helper work on these positions with you will be key to your success. Remember, you are not meant to figure this all out on your own!