Breastfeeding your new baby can be an amazing experience filled with moments of bonding and a sense of security knowing that you are providing your baby with a rich combination of all the essential nutritional contents to meet the needs of your growing baby.
However, establishing breastfeeding can also be one of the most difficult experiences as well. When first starting to breastfeed it is both helpful to the success of breastfeeding to use proper breastfeeding positioning techniques.
Here we discuss 5 common and useful breastfeeding positions that assist moms and their newborn babies to establish breastfeeding with appropriate techniques.
Not only does finding a comfortable breast feeding position help create a relaxed and comfortable experience, but finding the right breastfeeding position can actually help solve certain challenges and issues that can develop for the baby, the mom, or both.
1. Blocked Milk Duct
A blocked milk duct may occur when the baby is feeding more from one area of the breast than another, thereby allowing the area of the breast being somewhat ignored to become blocked within the duct.
In a perfect scenario the milk flows steadily through all ducts and empties out regularly through the nipple. However, there may be times when one or more ducts get a bit blocked up and do not flow so evenly.
If a blocked milk duct occurs the affected area surrounding the duct may become tender and painful.
In more serious cases, an infection may even develop that is associated with fever, flu like symptoms along with redness and increased warmth to the affected area, a condition called mastitis.
3. Low Back Pain
Improper positioning with breastfeeding can lead to muscular strain and pain, particularly of the low back, neck, and shoulders.
4. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition that occurs to the inner wrist as a result of repetitive motion. The pain can radiate up the lower aspect of the inner arm and down into the hand. Repetitively supporting a breastfeeding baby’s head as well as supporting a breast can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.
5. Cracked Nipples
Cracked nipples can be incredibly painful for women and risk leading to women discontinuing breastfeeding. However, this can be a short-term problem solved with proper positioning and latching. Cracked nipples are commonly a result of the baby sucking on the nipple rather than on the areola and breast.
5 Useful Breastfeeding Positions
1. Cross cradle holdCross-cradle is done by supporting the back of the baby’s head with one hand while supporting the baby’s body with the same arm then crossing the baby over to the opposite breast. The opposite hand, which is the arm on the same side of the breast in use, can then be used to support the breast while baby is latching on. The breast can be supported using a letter C-shape hold with the hand until the baby is properly latched on. Once the baby is latched on, the same hand that was being used to support the breast can then come around the front to support the opposite arm holding the baby, for a double layer of security.
2. Cradle hold
Imagine rocking and cradling a baby to sleep with the baby’s head in the crook, or inside angle of one arm. This is essentially the cradle hold for breastfeeding. One arm supports the torso of the baby with the use of the inner forearm and then supports the head with the inner elbow.
3. Football holdThe football hold is where the baby’s body is lengthwise, or perpendicular, along the side of the mother’s waist. As the name implies, the baby is held somewhat like a football, with the mother’s palm of the hand supporting the back of the baby’s head and the lower legs of the baby tucked in-between the mom’s waist and her elbow. This gives the baby an “eye to eye” angle, looking upwards at the mom with the nose pointing above the top of the nipple.
4. Side-lyingA side-lying breastfeeding position is done pretty much the way it sounds. With the mom lying on her side with the baby snuggled up alongside her, tummy to tummy. As with the other positions, it is important to have the baby’s head up to breast level and bring baby’s mouth to the breast, not the breast to the baby.
5. Biological positionThis is a beautiful, natural position to use immediately after birth, and onwards if comfortable for both mom and baby. If there is one position that expresses the natural ability of moms and babies to breast feed, this is the one. With mom lying on her back and baby skin to skin on mom’s stomach, the baby can nuzzle their way up to the breast with support and encouragement, latching from the lower areola to the uppermost region of the areola.
Whichever position you choose to use, ensure that your back is in good posture and not bending forward.
A U-shaped breastfeeding pillow can be helpful to support good technique. If this is not available to you, use a number of regular pillows to support raising the baby up to breast level to avoid bending forward.
A support chair, sofa, or back-rest (if sitting up in bed) is also imperative.
And always remember: bring the baby to breast, not the breast to baby. This encourages good posture, helps to prevent back strain and pain, and can prevent nipple pain.
Essential Tips and Tricks of Breastfeeding
Regardless of the selected breastfeeding position, there are a number of additional considerations to help create a positive and successful breastfeeding experience.
Breastfeeding moms should always be well hydrated. Maintaining good hydration helps to support a good milk supply. Have a tall glass of water within arms length distance with each feed.
2. Tummy to tummy
Positioning the baby’s tummy against the mom’s tummy helps to maintain good alignment in most breastfeeding positions. The exception would be the football position as baby is lying along the side of the mom.
3. Skin to skin
Skin to skin contact keeps the baby warm while feeding yet avoids over-heating with too many layers of clothing. A light blanket can be used to cover the baby while feeding if needed.
4. Keeping baby alert
A sleepy baby can make for difficult feeding, and can even lead to dangerous levels of poor weight gain and dehydration. Keep a baby alert while feeding with a few small tricks: tickle their feet and toes, blow gently on their face, take blankets off of them while feeding if they’re getting too warm and cozy.
5. Bring baby to breast, not breast to baby
This is pivotal for effective breastfeeding. Using the hand to support the back of the baby’s head, always, always, always bring the baby’s head with a wide-open mouth to the breast. Bringing the breast to the baby leads to improper positioning and low back pain.
6. Empty each breast before switching sides
A breastfeeding mother will know what a full breast feels like. Similarly, they’ll come to know what an empty breast feels like. It is important that a breast is fully emptied before switching sides. A full breastfeed has different components within it to provide the right balance of nutrition for the baby. If the baby does not get the full feed from each breast that nutritional balance will be off, leading to signs such as green stools.
7. Alternate breasts after emptying
After the breast is emptied, switch sides. If a regular switching does not occur because a baby seems to prefer one side over the other, the mother will become engorged with milk on the unused size. This can lead to painful blocked ducts or even infected ducts, a condition referred to as mastitis.
The Importance of a Good Latch
A proper breastfeeding position is key to having a good latch between baby and breast. A good latch is necessary in order for breastfeeding to be effective and avoid frustrations for both baby and mom. An important rule of thumb to live by is to remember that “nipple feeding” is not breastfeeding. Features of a good latch include:
- Having the baby’s mouth wide open (stimulating the baby to open their mouth wide by gently rubbing their jaw can be helpful with this)
- Ensuring that the baby’s lips are turned outward over the breast, versus lips that are pursed or turned inward where the lips overlap the gum-line
- Positioning the baby’s head at breast level so that the lips are well over the areola; do not allow the baby to suck only on the nipple as this does not stimulate the breast to release the milk flow
- Being persistent. Don’t allow a good latch to slide into a poor latch. If a baby starts to slip off the breast from a good latch, it is important to remove baby from breast and re-latch using good technique.
- If a baby slips off from a good latch and slides onto the nipple be persistent and start again. To detach a baby from the breast without hurting the breast the suction of the suck must be released. To do this, gently insert a clean finger in between the baby’s mouth and the breast and gently remove the baby from the breast.
Additionally, an improper latch can result in ineffective breastfeeding with a baby struggling to get sufficient supply of breast-milk. This can lead to a dangerous situation if a baby becomes dehydrated and is not gaining sufficient weight.
Seeking support from a nurse, doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant may be necessary. When in doubt, ask for help.
The Bottom Line
While breastfeeding is a natural method of feeding babies, initiating breastfeeding may feel far from natural.
From being exhausted due to long and exhausting labor and delivery to having pain and discomfort post-delivery, especially if a C-section was required, all add to the challenge of getting breastfeeding off to a successful start.
Establishing breastfeeding with a good latch and position is critical to successful breastfeeding.
Additionally, knowing when, how, and where to seek the support of a breastfeeding specialist can make this special time a positive experience.