Best breastfeeding positions for newborns (with pics)

We explain how best to position your newborn for breastfeeding – with step by step guides to the cradle hold, the rugby hold, the reclining hold, the C-section-friendly side-lying hold (and more) so you can find out which ones will work best for you and your baby

breastfeedingpositionsmain

There are lots of different ways to hold or position your baby as you breastfeed – and all of us will find some of them easier than others. The secret is find the one that’s best for you – and that’s the one that feels comfortable and also allows your baby to ‘latch’ onto your breast well enough to drink milk effectively.

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“Getting your baby positioned and attached comfortably at your breast is an art,” says breastfeeding expert Justine Fieth, a trained breastfeeding counsellor at La Leche League GB. ‘And it can take a little while to find the hold that works best for you.”

The most common breastfeeding positions are:

  • the cradle hold
  • the reclining or laid-back hold
  • the side-lying hold
  • the football or rugby hold

But there are also some alternatives or variations that include:

  • the cross-cradle hold
  • the side-lying cradle hold
  • the inverted side-lying hold
  • the straddle hold

Which is the best breastfeeding position or hold to use?

There isn’t a hold that all breastfeeding experts would say is definitively better than any other but there has been some research that suggests that breastfeeding in a reclining or laid-back position may be the optimal way to trigger your baby’s natural reflexes to find your breast and latch and feed successfully 1.

Ultimately, though, it comes down to what works for you, your baby (or babies) and your body. You may find, for example, that a sitting-upright position works a treat for you in the day but another is best at night when you’d rather stay lying down. Or, if you’ve had a C-section, you may find that 1 position works well for you in the early days but you start to prefer another as your body heals.

Take a look through our illustrated guide to the top breastfeeding positions for newborns, see which positions might suit you best – and give them a try.

Here’s your guide to 8 top holds for breastfeeding a newborn…

1. The cradle hold
cradlehold

This is the classic go-to ‘mummy to tummy’ hold all of us recognise, where you ‘cradle’ your baby’s head in the crook of your elbow. It doesn’t offer as much support to your back and arms as some holds, though, so, in the early days, you may find another hold helps you get the correct latch more easily and comfortably.

Good if: You’re feeling confident about breastfeeding; you’re out in public (it’s easy to do ‘modestly’)

May not be so good if: You’ve had a C-section; you’re finding it hard to get a good latch

How to get into position for the cradle hold:

  • Sit in an upright chair. Rest your feet on a stool or another raised surface, if you need to, to stop you leaning over your baby.
  • Hold your baby on your lap, so they are lying on their side, facing you, with their head and upper body along the forearm closest to the breast they’ll be feeding from (so, right breast = right arm) and the hand of the same arm is supporting their lower body
  • Lift your baby up so that their nose is at the same level as your nipple (and your breasts are at their natural resting height).
  • Make sure your baby’s body is in line with their head and their ears, shoulders and hips are in a straight line.

Top tip for success: “I opted for the standard cradle position but found I always needed pillow for back support, and a cushion to lie my baby on to raise him high enough to latch on,” says Michelle E, on our MadeForMums Facebook page

Before you start to breastfeed

Whichever breastfeeding hold you choose, do ensure each feed is as smooth as possible by running through this little checklist before you start:

  • Put a glass of water within arm’s reach, in case you get thirsty
  • Gather together your phone, snacks, the TV remote – anything you might need while you’re feeding
  • Have a wee. It may be a while before you can go!
  • Make yourself comfy: get in place any pillows or cushions you need to support your back or arms
  • Relax and give yourself time for the feed to take as long as your baby needs
  • Check your baby’s head, neck and line are in line, and that however you’re holding them, their body is stable and supported
  • Be alert to the need to get a good latch when your baby first attaches to your breast. Have a look at our picture guide to how to get your baby to latch on correctly or consult a lactation counsultant or breastfeeding specialist (see Where to get help with breastfeeding, below).

2. The reclining hold or laid-back hold
reclining breastfeeding position

Also known as ‘biological nurturing’, this position is the one most new mums try first, especially if your midwife places your baby on your chest or tummy straight after the birth. It offers your whole body plenty of support and, studies suggest, not only encourages your baby’s instinctive breastfeeding reflexes1 but can also helps you feel more relaxed2.

Good if: You’ve had a long or difficult birth; you’re in the very first few days of breastfeeding; you have large breasts or a forceful ‘let-down’

May not be so good if: You’re not at home or in hospital and/or you’re not able to feed in privacy

As soon as mothers lie back, they look comfortable, relaxed and focused upon their babies—often smiling, giggling and oblivious to the world. The baby finds the breast using his inborn reflexes that look smooth and purposeful
Suzanne Colson, RGN, RM, PhD, author of What Happens to Breastfeeding When Mothers Lie Back?

How to get into position for the reclining or laid-back hold:

  • Lie back, propped on pillows or cushions, on a bed or sofa, so that you’re gently semi-reclining, rather than lying fully back
  • Rest your baby (tummy-side down) on your chest, skin to skin, in any way which is comfortable for you both
  • Your baby should be able to find your nipple and self-attach
Top tip for success: “This position is a godsend if you have big boobs and a small baby. It was only way I able to feed my daughter at the beginning. I tried everything else but could only get a latch this way,” says Jane M, on our MadeForMums Facebook page

3. The side-lying hold

side-lying breastfeeding position

In this breastfeeding position, both you and your baby lie on your side, belly to belly. Many mums who use this find it very comfy and restful.

Good if: You’ve had a C-section; you’re feeding at night

May not be so good if: You’re not at home or in hospital and/or you’re not able to feed in privacy

How to get into position for the side-lying hold:

  • Lie on your side on a bed
  • Use pillows or cushions to make yourself comfy, behind your back, under your head and/or between your knees. (Always keep pillows well away from your baby’s head).
  • Place your baby in front of you, with their body parallel to yours and their tummy to your tummy
  • Use your free hand to guide your baby towards your breast. You may want to keep that arm behind your baby’s back to keep them close to you.

Top tip for success: “Don’t keep struggling to sit up to feed after a C-section. It’s too sore and too exhausting. This position is a lifesaver,” says Helen P, on our MadeForMums Facebook page

4. The football hold (or the rugby hold or the clutch hold or the koala hold)

breastfeedingpositions2

In this position, also known – less ‘sportily’ – as the clutch hold or the koala hold or the underarm hold, you hold your baby snugly along your arm but away from your abdomen (helpful if you’re sore there, after a C-section). If offers your baby plenty of support and allows you a good view of their face.

Good if: You’ve had a C-section; you’re tandem-breastfeeding twins; you have very large breasts

Maybe not so good if: You haven’t got a pillow to raise your baby up to the right level

How to get into position for the football hold:

  • Sit in a chair or propped up in bed
  • Tuck your baby to one side, resting them along the arm closest to the breast they’ll be feeding from (so, right breast = right arm), with your hand supporting the back of their neck
  • You may find you need a cushion or breastfeeding pillow to help bring your baby to the correct level (their mouth should align with your nipple)

Top tip for success: “We found the football hold very successful but I definitely needed a pillow to be able to do it properly”, says Laura C on our MadeForMums Facebook page

5. The cross-cradle hold

cross cradle breastfeeding position

This variation on the traditional cradle hold allows you to support your baby behind the head with your hand, rather than your elbow. This can help your baby latch on more quickly, especially as you can remove your lower arm to help you support and position your breast so your nipple is better aligned with your baby’s mouth.

Good if: You’re breastfeeding a very new baby; you’re struggling to get a good latch

Maybe not so good if: You’ve had a C-section

How to get into position for the cross-cradle hold:

  • Sit in an upright chair. Rest your feet on a stool or another raised surface, if you need to, to stop you leaning over your baby.
  • Gently place your baby along the opposite forearm to the breast they’ll be feeding from (so, right breast = left arm) and put the hand of the same arm behind your baby’s ears and neck with your thumb and index finger behind each ear. Your baby’s neck will rest between your palm and fingers for extra support.
  • Bring your free arm across to give extra support or use your free hand to position your breast for a good latch. Be careful not to push your baby’s chin down towards their chest with your other hand or you could get a latch that’s too shallow

Top tip for success: “This is actually a great hold if, like me, you need to know you’ll have a hand free – for the TV remote or your phone or even a bit of a snack,” says Georgia S, on our MadeForMums Facebook page

Which hold should I use to breastfeed twins?

How on earth do you feed 2 hungry babies at once?

Try the rugby hold (1 on each side) which should keep them both well supported and allows you to see what both are doing.

Rest both babies on a pillow on your lap lying either side of your body so they can latch on easily.

rugby

6. The side-lying cradle hold

This variation on both the cradle position (no 1, above) and the side-lying position (no 3, above) isn’t very well known but offers your good support as you feed without you both having to lie right down on your sides.

Good if: Breastfeeding at home

Maybe not so good if: You’re somewhere you can’t lie back easily

How to get into position for the side-lying cradle hold:

  • Lie back on a sofa or bean bag or propped on a bed, resting on your side
  • Hold your baby upright and, supporting their head in the crook of your upper arm, use your opposite hand to help guide your baby to your nipple

7. Inverted side-lying hold

This variation on the side-lying hold (see no 3, above) is, according to the US-based Woman’s Healing Centre a good choice if you have a blocked milk duct or you feel your breasts aren’t being emptied fully.

Good if: You have a tender spot on a breast; you feel your breasts aren’t being emptied fully

Maybe not so good if: You’re not at home (!)

Nursing baby 'upside-down' is a great way to make breastfeeding on a nipple with a sore spot more comfortable because a different part of baby’s mouth will be on the sore spot
Dr Amy Grove, A Woman's Healing Center

How to get into position for the inverted side-lying hold:

  • Lie on your side, just as you would for the side-lying hold (see no 3, above)
  • This time, position your baby so they’re lying in the opposite direction from you (so their head is towards your toes and their toes are towards your head).

8. Straddle hold or Australian hold

We have to confess that we hadn’t heard of this one until Farkana on our MadeForMums Facebook page  told us, “I don’t even know the names of this position: I sit my little one on my lap facing me and he latches and unlatches himself. He is 8 months now, so he’s a pro!”

After a bit of research, we discovered she was referring to the straddle hold and we found a video on YouTube from Sikana Health which showcases it perfectly.

Good if: Your baby’s over 2 weeks old (they’ll need some ability to hold their head) and it works well for you; you have an older baby

Not so good if: You’ve had a C-section; you don’t feel very confident supporting your baby’s head and neck

How to get into position for the straddle hold:

  • Sit with a cushion behind your back and raise your feet
  • Place your baby straddled over your thigh
  • Hold your baby’s shoulderblades with the palm of your hand
  • Place your index finger and thumb behind their ears to support their head
  • Use your other hand to support the baby’s hips and/or help you position your breast

Pics: 1 to 5, courtesy Ameda: Ameda on YouTube. Pic 8: Sikana Health on YouTube

Where can I get help with breastfeeding?

  • La Leche League GB (LLLGB). They have local leaders (all breastfeeding counsellors) you can call and support groups in many areas where you can meet with other breastfeeding mothers and get support from LLLGB’s accredited counsellors. LLLGB also runs a helpline on 0345 120 2918.
  • Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM)helpline. Call 0300 330 5453 (open every day, 9.30am to 10.30pm). ABM also runs local support groups and webchat breastfeeding support.
  • NCT National Breastfeeding helpline. Call 0300 330 0700 (open every day, 8am to midnight).
  • National Breastfeeding helpline. Call 0300 100 0212 (open every day, 9.30am to 9.30pm)
  • The Breastfeeding Network supporter line in Bengali and Sylheti: Call 0300 456 2421
  • Baby Café is a network of breastfeeding drop-in centres. Find your nearest drop-in by entering your postcode.
  • The Breastfeeding Network provides breastfeeding support and information.
  • Lactation Consultants of Great Britain can help you find a lactation consultant near you.
  • Twins and Multiple Births Association (TAMBA) has information about feeding twins and triplets.

References

1. Optimal positions for the release of primitive neonatal reflexes stimulating breastfeeding Colson SD et al. Early Hum Dev. 2008 Jul;84(7):441-9. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2007.12.003. Epub 2008 Feb 19.
2. What Happens to Breastfeeding When Mothers Lie Back? Clinical Applications of Biological Nurturing, Suzanne Colson. Clinical Lactation Vol 1 Issue 1. DOI: 10.1891/215805310807011864

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