There are many different breastfeeding positions and what feels comfortable and works well for one mother might be different from what works for another mother.
The best advice is to try as many positions as you like, to find out what works best for you and your baby.
Signs of good breastfeeding positioning and attachment
Many mothers worry their babies are not attached correctly when breastfeeding. When it comes to positioning and attachment, what’s most important is that it feels comfortable for you.
Other than it feeling comfortable for the breastfeeding mother, another important sign of good positioning and attachment is that there is effective milk transfer – that is, the baby is getting enough breast milk at each feed.
In a ideal attachment, the baby’s chin touches the breast first, the baby opens her mouth wide, tips her head back slightly and latches on to a big mouthful of the mother’s breast.
Old advice stated that a baby’s lips needed to be completely flanged at both the top and bottom for effective suckling; however, this has since been disproved.
To help your baby latch, have your baby’s nose opposite your nipple rather than aiming your nipple at your baby’s mouth.
Brushing the nipple down your baby’s nose can help stimulate your baby’s mouth to open more widely.
For more tips on getting a good attachment you can read BellyBelly’s article How To Breastfeed | 5 Key Steps For New Mothers.
Signs of poor attachment
A tell-tale sign of poor attachment is sore nipples or nipple damage. When your baby is attached correctly, the nipple should be drawn back to the soft palate in your baby’s mouth.
If your baby has a shallower latch, the nipple will remain further forward in your baby’s mouth and result in painful breastfeeding.
When a baby is not attached correctly, there is a chance that there will not be an effective transfer of breast milk from mother to baby.
Not only does this mean that the baby might not be getting enough milk at each feed but it can also have a detrimental effect on the mother’s milk supply.
Because breastfeeding works on the principle of supply and demand, if insufficient milk is being taken from the breast at each feed, it will result in a insufficient milk supply overall.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article How Does Breastfeeding Work? An Explanation.
Some mothers might not experience pain while breastfeeding, or their babies might be meeting their growth and developmental milestones, but they still feel their baby’s latch is suboptimal.
A mother might hear ‘smacking’ while her baby feeds, notice that her baby’s cheeks draw in while feeding or see breast milk leaking from her baby’s mouth while feeding.
If there are any concerns about positioning and attaching your baby to the breast, the best course of action is to seek advice from an international board certified lactation consultant.
Breastfeeding positioning and attachment
#1 Laid back / semi- reclined position (biological nurturing)
If you were able to directly breastfeed your baby soon after birth, you might have done so in the biological nurturing position.
Biological nurturing is a positioning and attachment method that involves a mother lying in a semi-reclined position, with the weight of gravity holding her baby’s chest against her chest.
This position is encouraged, with skin to skin contact between mother and baby, immediately after birth.
In this position, a baby is able to use her natural instincts to seek the breast and begin to feed from it. This position is know as the breast crawl.
You can read more about it in BellyBelly’s article How Does A Baby Know How To Breastfeed?
You will also find it useful to read the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s article Baby Led Attachment.
Allowing mothers and babies to spend time uninterrupted in this position, post birth, plants the seeds of a successful breastfeeding journey. This special time is often referred to as ‘the golden hour’.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article 7 Huge Benefits of An Undisturbed First Hour After Birth.
#2 Cross cradle position
If you give birth to your baby in a hospital, the cross cradle position might be the first different feeding position you are shown, after the biological nurturing position.
A cross cradle position is ideal for a newborn baby as it is a fully supported position, including support for the baby’s neck and head.
To begin breastfeeding in a cross cradle hold, sit in a comfortable position with your back against a chair and both feet planted on the ground, or on a small footstool, if necessary. Support your baby in a straight line across the front of your body with the opposite arm to breast you are feeding from.
If you are feeding from your left breast, your baby will be supported with your right arm. Your baby’s bottom should sit in the crook of your arm and your hand should give support high on the back of your baby’s shoulders or neck.
Don’t hold the back of the baby’s head; instead, let your baby’s head tip back slightly so she can get a deep attachment.
The hand that is not supporting your baby can be used to support the breast, to help your baby attach, or it can be tucked under the opposite arm so that both your arms are cradling your baby.
#3 Cradle position
Once a mother becomes confident with the cross cradle hold, she usually moves on to a cradle hold.
The cradle hold is one of the classic breastfeeding positions we often see represented in images of mothers feeding their babies.
The cradle hold involves resting your baby’s body on your arm, on the same side you are feeding from, with your baby’s head and body facing towards your tummy.
This leaves your other arm free to support the breast, to help your baby attach, or to tuck under the other arm for a fully supported hold.
In this position, your arm is also free (and this is what we most often see) to perform other tasks, such as operating a phone or remote control, consuming drinks or one handed snacks or even stirring a pot or pushing a broom around.
Breastfeeding mothers are the ultimate multitaskers!
#4 Underarm position (football or clutch hold)
The underarm position, commonly know as the football or clutch position, involves holding your baby in the crook of your arm or supported on a pillow, so that her head is in line with your breast and her body is tucked under your arm with her legs towards your back.
This position is ideal for mothers who have birthed their babies via cesarean section, as it prevents any pressure being placed against the mother’s abdominal scar.
It’s also a common position to use when feeding twins at the same time, as it allows plenty of room for both babies.
Some mothers with larger breasts find that the football or clutch holds works best for them, as they are able to tuck their baby’s body closer to their own body in this position.
#5 Side lying position
A side lying breastfeeding position is a great position for recovery, regardless of how your baby was born.
For mothers who have had a cesarean section, there is no contact with the abdominal scar.
For mothers who delivered vaginally, side lying avoids sitting for long periods, which can be uncomfortable or painful.
Lying horizontally after giving birth also promotes overall postpartum recovery.
Considering that newborn babies can feed for a total of anywhere between 8 and 12 hours each day, learning to breastfeed in a side lying position provides substantial benefits for a new mother.
This article is not a comprehensive list of all the possible options for breastfeeding positioning and attachment; it’s an explanation of some of the most commonly used.
Don’t worry if your preferred position has not appeared in the article.
Remember, the best way is the way that works best for you!
For more information on breastfeeding positioning and attachment, you can read the Australian Breastfeeding Association’s article: Positioning – how to hold your baby to breastfeed.