Pregnancy + Parenthood

A New Parent’s Guide to Breastfeeding Positions

10 min read
New to breastfeeding? No matter how you choose to feed your baby, these are positions that are recommended to support latching and prioritize comfort—including bottle-feeding and pumping.
New to breastfeeding? No matter how you choose to feed your baby, these are positions that are recommended to support latching and prioritize comfort—including bottle-feeding and pumping.

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First, an important reminder: “You can choose to feed your baby however you like,” says Jennifer Gutierrez Lezak, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant of MilkMade LA. For many new parents, that might involve breastfeeding, pumping, or formula feeding—or a combination of all of the above. The bottom line? Every baby (and parent!) has different needs and preferences. But for those who choose to breastfeed at any point in their postpartum journey, understanding basic breastfeeding positions can be a great way to make this experience as comfortable as possible for everyone involved.

But first, a few pointers…

On latching and the “hamburger hold.” A good latch is often the first hurdle new parents face when learning to breastfeed. The good news? There are a few key steps that can help ease the process along. For starters, always make sure baby’s mouth is open with their tongue down (almost like a yawn) before latching—you can encourage this reflexive behavior by feeding in the laid-back position, which we’ll learn about in a minute. (1)

And when baby is ready to feed, holding your breast in a “hamburger hold”—that is, squeezing it with your thumb on top and remaining fingers on the bottom—can help guide the nipple into baby’s mouth. That said, one rule of thumb is to bring baby to your breast with the holding arm, rather than leaning the breast towards them. (2)

It might feel strange or different at first, but it shouldn’t be consistently painful. If you notice that feeding is very uncomfortable or even painful, it might be wise to consult a physician or lactation expert.

Pillows are your friend. In other words? Get comfortable. A nursing pillow can be a great way to provide additional support for both you and baby in different positions. But while a lot of attention is often paid to baby’s positioning, make sure you feel supported, too! Make sure your neck and back are bolstered, and that you’re ultimately set up for the coziest experience possible.

Every feeding experience is different. A position that might be “easy” for one parent might be difficult for another. That’s okay! The bottom line is that the “best” feeding position is whatever works for you and baby—even if ultimately doesn’t include a breast at all. If you’re feeling truly stuck, asking your physician or a lactation consultant could be a good idea, too.

5 key breastfeeding positions to try

Side-lying encourages you to relax while nourishing baby. Check out our best practices and tips, plus four other positions to try.

Side-lying

When to try it: When you (and/or baby) are tired. Feeding and caring for a newborn is hard work! The side-lying position offers the opportunity to relax and rest while nourishing baby. This position can also be more comfortable for those with larger breasts. (3,4)

How it’s done: Place baby on their back on a bed or the floor. (Be sure to clear away any blankets or pillows.) Lie on your side next to baby, with your bottom arm above their head, and guide them to face you—their nose should line up with your nipple. You can use your bottom arm to cradle baby’s body and pull it close. (Their belly button should always face yours while feeding.) Use your top arm to support baby’s head and guide them to latch.

The laid-back position, also known as biological nurturing, encourages baby to follow their natural reflexes. Here are our tips and best practices, along with 4 other breastfeeding positions to try.

Laid-back (or biological nurturing)

When to try it: To encourage your baby to latch by themselves. The cool thing about a reclined breastfeeding position is that in addition to allowing you to quite literally sit back and relax, it’s based on biological reflex—it encourages baby to follow their instincts and latch by themselves, so you don’t have to worry about getting your breast (or baby!) in a specific position. It also goes by the name of “biological nurturing,” and it’s often a position used for a parent’s first time breastfeeding right after giving birth, and can be a reliable option for a newborn. (1)

How it’s done: Lie on your back in a reclined position—on a chair, sofa, bed, or wherever you feel comfortable. (Feel free to rely on pillows for additional back support.) Place baby belly-down on your stomach, their head near your breasts. They should begin to search for your nipple on their own, with their mouths open. Again, this is a biological reflex for babies—but guiding or cuddling them is always an option, too.

Tips and best practices for the football hold, plus four other breastfeeding positions.

The football hold

When to try it: For general comfort, larger breasts, or helping baby latch. The football hold (also known as a clutch hold) is popular for a reason—it relies on pillow support (which is comfy for mom), and also puts baby in a particularly good position for easy milk flow. It’s also often a favorite position for twins. (3,4)

How it’s done: Sit up in a chair or on the couch, using a nursing pillow or regular pillow as support. Tuck baby under your arm like you would hold a football, on the same side you’ll be nursing—your hand should be supporting their head, with their feet by your side. Hold your breast with your free arm, and pull baby in close to latch.

The cross-cradle hold can be a great starter position for breastfeeding parents. Check out our best practices along with four other positions to try.

Cross-Cradle or Crossover hold

When to try it: During the early days of breastfeeding, or if baby has trouble latching. This supportive position can be helpful as you and baby are getting more acclimated to feeding together. (3,4)

How it’s done: Sit in a chair with arms supported by armrests or a nursing pillow. Hold baby in the crook of the arm opposite of the breast you’ll be nursing with, your hand supporting their neck. While holding your breast with your free hand, guide baby’s mouth to your nipple.

Cradle is one of the most popular breastfeeding positions, and can be a solid option for new parents. Check out our best practices, plus four other positions to try.

Cradle

When to try it: If it’s comfortable for you, or if baby has trouble latching. Often the position people traditionally visualize when they think about breastfeeding, the cradle hold is a reliable option if baby is a bit fussy about latching—it puts you both in a position to guide breast to mouth. (3,4)

How it’s done: Like the cross-cradle hold, you’ll sit in a chair with arms supported by armrests or a nursing pillow. Cradle your baby in your arms, with their head in the crook of your elbow nearest the breast you’ll be nursing with. Use your free arm to hold your breast as you guide baby’s mouth to the nipple.

Wondering about best practices and tips for bottle feeding? Here's how to support baby's comfort, no matter how you choose to feed.

What about bottle-feeding?

As with breastfeeding, your “best” bottle-feeding position will ultimately be up to you and baby. That said, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. For one, avoid feeding baby while they’re lying down—instead, try cradle or upright positions, or consider elevating their head with a pillow. When feeding, tilt the bottle so the formula or breast milk fills the neck of the bottle—this helps keep baby from swallowing air.

Job number one while pumping? Getting as comfortable as possible. Check out some tips and best practices from experts.

Pumping best practices

Job #1 while pumping? Getting as comfortable as you possibly can. (Tall order, we know.) Post up in a cozy chair with a pillow supporting your back, and turn on some good music or queue up your favorite reality TV show. Massage your breasts for a few minutes before pumping to support milk flow, and when you’re ready to pump, lean forward to get an assist from gravity.

For more breastfeeding tips and basics, check out our virtual Q&A with Jennifer Gutierrez Lezak, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant of MilkMade LA, and Corky Harvey, MS, RN, IBCLC, co-founder of The Pump Station & Nurtury below.

References:

  1. Milinco, M., Travan, L., Cattaneo, A., Knowles, A., Sola, M. V., Causin, E., Cortivo, C., Degrassi, M., Tommaso, F. D., Verardi, G., Dipietro, L., Piazza, M., Scolz, S., Rossetto, M., & Ronfani, L. (2020, April 5). Effectiveness of biological nurturing on early breastfeeding…a randomized controlled trial. International Breastfeeding Journal.
  2. Ritual. (2020, June 24). Breastfeeding Basics: From Getting Started to Pumping and Beyond. YouTube.
  3. 5 Breastfeeding Holds to Try. WIC Breastfeeding. USDA.
  4. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, August 5). Slide show: Breast-feeding positions. Mayo Clinic.

This content was created for informational use only, to share stories and provide education around this life stage. This information should not be read to recommend, endorse, or associate any specific products. Dietary supplements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.

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