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Mother holding baby' head to her breast

Each baby and mum will find their own favourite feeding positions. However, it can be useful to see and understand all the different positions that are possible to breastfeed in. Also, knowing a few different positions may help overcome breastfeeding problems if they arise.

Cradle hold

This is a quite a traditional position with the baby’s tummy close to your tummy and facing the breast. You have your arms in a little cradle, with the arm opposite to the side you’re feeding on taking the bulk of your baby’s weight. Once your baby has latched on and you’re comfortable, you can bring around your other arm to doubly support your baby and keep them close to your body.

It’s really important to make sure that your baby’s head is free to tilt back – so don’t hold the head; support over the shoulders instead.

The cradle hold is a nice position as you’ve got quite a lot of control over what your baby’s doing.

As with every latch, you need to wait until your little one opens their mouth, really, really wide (you’ll begin to spot this gape as you get more experienced). At that moment bring your baby in quickly to latch on to the breast and take all the nipple and lots of breast tissue between the nipple and your breastbone into their mouth.

Supporting the breast

You might prefer to use the arm on the side that you’re feeding to support the breast slightly underneath.  Only do this for comfort and never move the breast towards your baby or push the breast into your baby’s mouth. It should ideally be your baby who is moved towards your breast to latch on, not the other way around.

So, if supporting the breast, it’s important that you don’t squish the breast or push it somewhere where it doesn’t want to be.

Rugby hold or underarm hold

Another really nice position is the underarm hold, which some call the rugby ball position. The secret with this is to make sure your baby is far enough back, at your side and not around the front. You support your baby’s body and shoulders along the arm of the side you’re feeding on. It can sometimes help to have a pillow under your arm to support your baby’s weight.

Your little one needs to start off with their nose near your nipple so that their mouth comes a long way away from the nipple and your baby gets the right kind of mouthful of breast and nipple.

The rugby hold is a good position if:

  • You’ve got very big breasts
  • You’ve had a caesarean, as your baby doesn’t press on your scar
  • Perfect if you’re tandem-feeding twins
  • Really nice if you’ve got a toddler, because you can have your baby sort of tucked out of the way and then you can be with your toddler, reading stories, doing puzzles and things
  • Your baby is refusing to feed from one breast in a cradle hold – they may be happy to feed from that breast in a rugby hold as their head and neck is turned in a different direction
  • This positions can be good if you feel like you have a blocked duct at the side of your breast. From this position your baby will have this part of your breast in their mouth and will be massaging and helping to drain this lobe of the breast and remove the blockage

Biological nurturing position or laid-back position

Basically, the biological nurturing position means that you’re in this ‘laid back’ position, just having your baby on your chest with your little one helping themselves. This position relies on your baby’s instinct to do the right thing, which is really strong.

This position can be really lovely after the birth when you’re both in skin-to-skin contact, and your baby has a strong rooting instinct and tries to ‘crawl’ to the breast.

In this position babies sort of bob around and latch themselves on, and they generally do really well. It’s a nice position when you’re at home, but not convenient if you’re out and about and want to breastfeed discreetly in a café.

It can be the most relaxing way of breastfeeding, as you’re leaning back and your baby is kept there in place by gravity, so you don’t have to hold them – and you achieve a really lovely closeness.

To be in this position, ideally you’d have head support – for example, reclined on your sofa. Your baby needs complete contact from their chest all the way down to the feet, and then this triggers their natural feeding instincts.

Feeding lying down

Breastfeeding lying down is a really helpful position for evening and night feeds.

Start on your side with your baby facing you, tummy to tummy. You can support your baby’s back to keep them on their side, too. Have your baby’s nose at the same height as your nipple – in this position they should take a lot of breast tissue from underneath your nipple into their mouth. This is also a good position if you feel like you have a blocked duct in any of the lobes at the bottom of your breast. It’s also a great feeding position if you’ve had a caesarean section – again because your baby’s weight is not on your scar.

Feeding with engorged breasts

If your breasts are very engorged and painful it may be difficult to latch your baby on to feed. It can really help to hand express beforehand to remove some milk from the hard nipple area, so that it’s softer and easier for your baby to take both your nipple and lots of breast tissue into their mouths. After hand expressing, you may want to dab your breast with a muslin so that it’s not too wet and slippery for your baby to latch on to.

Some mums with engorged breasts feed from above, with their baby lying below them on a firm surface (such as a mattress) and crouching over them in a comfortable position so the nipple it is at your baby’s nose and they scoops it into their mouth with lots of breast tissue.

Discover your own favourite breastfeeding position

You can really feed your baby in any position that you both find comfortable, and it can help to alter positions if you feel like you’re getting a blockage. Just position your baby so that they’re on the side of your breast that has the redness or blockage.

Always make sure that you’re comfortable and that your neck and shoulders are relaxed. You may find that having a feeding pillow or firm pillow under your baby or your arms helps you to sit in a relaxed position.

Make sure that you can reach for things like a glass of water comfortably and that you have everything to hand so that you can sit and relax, and enjoy breastfeeding your baby in comfort.

Real-life stories from parents

Emma, mum to George, three weeks:

“I was finding I was so busy trying to get him to latch, I was manhandling him a little bit and I think that was where the bad latch was coming from, because he was starting off well and then his jaws were getting really small and that was getting quite painful. Whereas with this laid-back position, being slightly more relaxed and letting him find his own way, it doesn’t hurt so much.”

Holly, mum to Pippa, six months:

“I found that changing the position of my baby really helped with the way that my milk came down and keeping my boobs comfortable, and I’m so glad that someone told me to do the laid-back position! I would lie back on the sofa with her so I’d be really comfy and she’d be just lying up in front of me. I also like the rugby ball position – and using one of those breastfeeding donut pillows was really great because then you’re not getting a really bad neck and back all the time.”