Helpful Breastfeeding Positions
Besides the cradle hold, three other helpful breastfeeding positions are the clutch hold, the side-lying position, and the reversed cradle (also known as cross-cradle) hold. The first two positions are especially useful in the early days of recovery from a cesarean birth, when you may not want to lay baby over your tender incision, even with the protection of a pillow. The reversed cradle hold is a good training hold to use short term while you and your baby are learning latch-on.
The Clutch Hold
In the clutch hold, baby is positioned to the side of mother during breastfeeding, tucked under her arm. It is especially helpful for:
- Babies who have difficulty latching on
- Babies who arch their backs and squirm at the breast
- Babies who come off the nipple frequently during breastfeeding
- Babies who are small or premature
In this position you get a good view of baby latching onto the breast, while your hand at the nape of his neck gives you control of his head. Baby is bent at the waist, which helps tense babies relax better. If his body is relaxed, he’ll latch on better.
Here’s what to do:
- Sit up in bed or in a comfortable armchair with your back and shoulders well supported. Position one or more pillows at your side to bring baby up to breast level. If you’re sitting in a chair, wedge the pillows between you and the arm of the chair.
- Place baby on the pillow, tucked under your arm, with your hand on that side supporting his neck and shoulders. Bend him in the middle, so that his legs are pointed upward and his bottom rests against the pillow supporting your back, or against the back of the chair. Be sure that baby does not push his feet against the back of the chair, causing him to arch his back.
- Cup the nape of his neck in your hand. Avoid holding the back of baby’s head, as this stimulates some babies to arch away from the breast. (If baby finds your touch too stimulating, put a cloth diaper or a receiving blanket between your hand and his skin.)
- Pull baby in close to you using the RAM latch-on technique described in Latch-on Basics. Once baby is sucking well, wedge a pillow under the hand and wrist that are supporting baby at the breast to help hold him close.
- Lean back into the pillows behind your shoulders, rather than hunching forward over your baby. Remember, bring the baby to the breast, not the breast to the baby.
Learning to nurse your baby lying down is invaluable. The side-lying position is relaxing and gets you more much-needed sleep. You can use it to nurse your baby at night or to nap-nurse during the day. This position is also beneficial for the mom who had a cesarean birth.
Here’s what to do:
- The lying down position is basically the same as the cradle hold, but with baby and mother lying on their sides facing each other.
- Place two pillows under your head, a pillow behind your back, a pillow under your top leg, and a fifth pillow tucked behind your baby. Five pillows sound like a lot, but remember a golden rule of nursing: if mother is comfortable, baby is likely to be more comfortable, too.
- Place your baby on her side facing you, and nestled in your arm. Slide baby up or down along the mattress to get her mouth lined up with your nipple.
Unless you need to lie down during feedings for physical reasons, the side-lying position is not the best to start with since you are less able to maneuver baby’s head to guide his latch-on. Best to use this position after good latch-on habits are established. If the side-lying position doesn’t work for you at first, keep coming back to it. As your baby becomes a better breastfeeder, it will get easier to latch him on well while you are lying down.
Reverse Cradle Hold (Cross-Cradle)
A reverse of the cradle hold, this across-the-body position allows better visibility of baby’s mouth during latch-on and better control of baby’s head. It’s a good alternative to the clutch hold if your baby needs extra support during latch-on, but you like the maternal feelings that come from having baby across your body. Use this position in the following situations:
- Babies who have difficulty latching on.
- Babies who come off the nipple frequently during breastfeeding.
- Babies who are small or premature.
Here’s what to do:
- Sit up in bed or in a chair with your back and shoulders well supported by pillows. Use one or more pillows in your lap to bring baby up to nipple level.
- Hold baby in the cradle hold, but switch arms. The back of baby’s neck will rest in your hand rather than in the crook of your elbow. Use a small pillow or a rolled-up receiving blanket to support your wrist and hand.
- Turn baby on his side facing you, with his nose lined up to your nipple.
- Use your free hand to support the breast–fingers underneath, well back from the areola, and thumb on top.
- Touch baby’s lower lip with your nipple and encourage him to open wide. As his mouth opens, pull him in quickly, “landing” the breast on his lower jaw and tongue first and then “rolling” him the rest of the way on. The breast will push his mouth open wider so that he gets a big mouthful.
As your baby gets better at sucking and staying on the breast, you can use the reverse cradle hold to get him started and then carefully ease baby into the regular cradle hold, being careful not to disturb his latch. You’ll end up with your elbow under baby’s head and the hand that was supporting baby now supporting the breast. Baby can nurse off to sleep in this position, and you can continue to hold him comfortable and gaze at his sweet face.
If you would like to work with a Certified Health Coach during your pregnancy, or postpartum, you can find a Coach in your area.