New moms are often surprised to learn there are several different breastfeeding positions you can use to nurse a baby. This knowledge gap isn’t particularly surprising, given that many women aren’t regularly exposed to breastfeeding mothers until becoming mothers themselves.
The cradle hold is the breastfeeding position you typically see on TV (if you see breastfeeding in the media at all). But there are plenty of other options out there!
Why use different breastfeeding positions?
There are several reasons a nursing mom should familiarize herself with different breastfeeding positions. First, not everyone is the same. What works best for one mom, or even most moms, won’t necessarily be the best for every mom. The only way to find out which breastfeeding position works best for you is to try a few.
Second, it’s good to mix things up. Using the same breastfeeding position every time can sometimes lead to soreness and discomfort for the mother. This is especially true in the early days, when both mother and baby are still getting used to the process.
If you’re prone to plugged milk ducts, varying your nursing positions may help prevent clogged milk ducts. While you may have one breastfeeding position you clearly prefer, it’s still good to throw in different holds periodically.
Third, some breastfeeding positions work better in certain situations than others. For example, a great breastfeeding tip for moms recovering from a cesarean section is to use the football hold. The same goes for moms attempting to nurse twins simultaneously.
On the other hand, the football hold can be a more challenging position to implement away from home or on the go. This position works best when you have pillows/blankets/whatever else you might use for propping baby available.
Getting comfortable with a few different breastfeeding positions ensures you have some flexibility and don’t find yourself a prisoner of your own couch.
The best breastfeeding positions to master first
The two breastfeeding holds new moms should practice first are the cross-cradle hold and the football hold. Both of these are best for new moms because they provide a lot of support to a young baby’s head/neck. They also allow mom better control to (hopefully) establish a good latch.
To implement the cross-cradle hold, support baby at the base of the head and neck. Line up their back so they are lying parallel to the breast. Then, latch the baby. The “cross” part of the name is that you will support baby with the arm that’s opposite (or across) from the breast baby will be feeding on. So, if you’re nursing from your right breast, you’ll support baby with your left arm.
The other breastfeeding position that’s good to know in the earliest days is the football hold. If you’ve ever seen a running back carrying (cradling) a football, you’ll see clearly where the name comes from. If you’re nursing from your left side, you’ll cradle baby’s back, neck, and base of the head with your left arm. Baby will then face the breast, almost semi-sitting up, to feed.
If you’re having trouble visualizing this, great diagrams of both the cross-cradle hold and the football hold (and others) are available here.
I’ll be honest -– when I first read about the football hold, I thought: This seems very challenging. Why would I want to do that?
Then I had babies with high palates and poor latches and I learned exactly why. Feeding a baby with a poor latch in the same way, over and over, is incredibly painful. At least mixing up the breastfeeding positions I used made it slightly less horrendous.
And in reality, it’s actually not that difficult. The trick is getting all your pillows properly situated to make it comfortable.
Two more handy breastfeeding positions for the slightly more advanced
The cradle hold is very similar to the cross-cradle hold. Instead of supporting baby’s head and neck with your hand, you allow baby’s head to rest in the crook of your elbow. This is a very easy, comfortable breastfeeding position, which is why it’s also probably the most common.
The challenge with this breastfeeding position is that it’s just a little too loose and free for a new baby who hasn’t yet mastered nursing. Once your baby is latching like a champ, the cradle hold is perfect.
The other super handy breastfeeding position that, again, requires some time and mastery is the side-lying position. This is where you lie on your side (gee . . . I wonder how this breastfeeding hold got such a creative name) facing your baby and baby feeds lying on his/her side as well.
This one is great when you’re trying to breastfeed in the middle of the night — or really, any time you’re exceptionally tired and could use a little extra rest.
Even if you have a favorite breastfeeding hold, it’s good to have options.
If one particular breastfeeding position works best for you, and all is going well, there’s no reason you need to change it. Still, it’s good to know your options.
Practicing a few different breastfeeding holds will give you added flexibility if you ever need it. It’s always nice to be prepared!