The Best Breastfeeding Positions for Mom and Baby

Get the hang of breastfeeding by trying four popular positions—the cradle, cross-cradle, side-lying, and football holds—to find the best one for your baby.

Breastfeeding Positions
Photo: Lopolo/Shutterstock

While newborn babies can nurse instinctively, it often takes some time to get the hang of breastfeeding. "It's supposed to be the most beautiful time in your life, yet you're full of insecurities, not knowing if you're doing it right," says Irene Zoppi, RN, a certified lactation consultant outside of Boston and a clinical education specialist with Medela. To get more comfortable during feedings, play around with these popular breastfeeding positions to find what works best. You'll become a nursing pro in no time!

The Cradle Hold

Sit with your baby lengthwise across your abdomen (use a pillow to bring them to breast height). Your elbow supports their head and your hand supports their bottom. Your other hand supports the breast. If you're feeding with your left breast, the baby should be cradled in your left arm—and vice versa.

When to Use This Breastfeeding Position: This is a common position for older babies who can easily latch. But Margaret Bauer, of Keller, Texas, used it to nurse her daughter Hailey. "She was so small, and it just felt comfortable to me," Bauer says. Note: it's a little harder to control your baby's head when nursing in this position.

The Cross-Cradle Hold:

Lay baby on their side, well supported (consider a nursing pillow) and touching you. If you're feeding on your left breast, use your right arm to support baby's body and your right hand to support her head. Your fingers support the left breast.

When to Use This Breastfeeding Position: Many parents prefer the cross-cradle hold during the first few weeks since it offers the most control. Jennifer Macchiarola, of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, naturally fell into it with her three kids: "It felt instinctual and nurturing—I liked how most of my body touched theirs while nursing."

Side-Lying Position

To feed on the left breast, lie on your left side with your back supported. Lay your baby on their side facing you, their chest against yours. Your right arm will support their body, and your right hand will support their head, bringing them toward your breast. Some mothers are more comfortable with the baby supported in the crook of their arm, as pictured here. A pillow behind your baby's back can prevent them from rolling away as they're feeding.

When to Use This Breastfeeding Position: The side-lying position is popular during first feeds and at night. "This position is a cinch when your baby wakes you in the night or in the morning when you're already lying down," says new mother Christine O'Brien, of Bayside, New York, whose daughter Sophia is three months old. But before trying this breastfeeding position, it's best if baby can latch first.

The Football Hold

Hold baby at your side, face up and lengthwise, supported by pillows. If nursing on your right side, use your right arm to support your baby at your side, and guide their head to your breast. For reference, their bottom should be near your elbow, with their legs and feet tucked under your arm.

When to Use This Breastfeeding Position: Bridget Pelosi, of Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, says this was a favorite breastfeeding position with both of her sons, who were on the bigger side. Plus, it's great for beginners: "It's an easy hold, so I could concentrate on the latching and then tinker with mastering other positions," Pelosi says. This hold is also a helpful option after a cesarean section, since it will keep your baby away from your incision. That said, it can be difficult for women with a long torso or smaller breasts.

Remember that breastfeeding is a process that evolves over time, says Stacey Rubin, MN, author of The ABCs of Breastfeeding (AMACOM). Stick with it, she says, and with practice you'll become a pro.

That said, if your baby can't latch properly or you can't find a comfortable position, it's time to call in the experts. A certified lactation consultant can give you valuable information and a major confidence boost.

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