For some women breastfeeding comes naturally, for others it is a learned skill. Breastfeeding can be a great way to nourish and bond with your baby, or it can be an immense source of frustration, guilt and anxiety. If you are experiencing pain or if your baby is not feeding well and gaining weight as expected, you may feel as if you have failed. But don’t despair; while breastfeeding feels as if it should be the most natural job in the world, it can often take practice to get your baby latched properly and to find a position that works best for both you and your baby.
There are four common breastfeeding positions. The football and cross cradle holds are often easier to manage with newborns, while the side lying position can be more comfortable for women who have had Cesarean sections. The cradle hold is an easier position with an older baby who is latching well and can hold up his head. Experiment to see which position you find most comfortable.
Before you choose your position, make sure you are as comfortable as possible (use the bathroom before you start - you may be nursing for a while!) Select a spot to breastfeed that allows you to support your back and have a pillow nearby so that your baby is at breast level. Keep a glass of water nearby; breastfeeding can make moms thirsty!
Dr. Jack Newman is a pediatrician who used to work at the Hospital for Sick Children. He is highly regarded both in Canada and overseas and is renowned for his efforts in encouraging breastfeeding. Watch his video for an example of a mother who is using the cross cradle hold with her baby.
Football hold: Baby’s head is at breast level, while his body is tucked under your arm, alongside your back.
Cradle hold: Baby’s head is at breast level, resting in the crook of your arm as you tuck his body close to yours.
Cross Cradle: Baby’s body is tucked close to your body, your arm is underneath your baby’s back, with your hand supporting your baby’s neck and head.
Side lying: Support your head with a pillow. Lie baby with his tummy next to yours, feeding him with the breast closest to the mattress.
If possible, it is best to start breastfeeding within half an hour of birth to help ensure proper latching. Skin to skin contact should occur immediately after birth and should continue, ideally, for two hours, unless medically indicated otherwise. Skin to skin contact should continue as often as possible for the first number of weeks following birth. If the mother is not available, a partner or support person can also provide skin to skin contact. Some of the positive effects that can be experienced through skin to skin contact include:
- Mom is more likely to breastfeed
- Baby is more likely to latch properly
- Regulation of body temperature
- Calms and relaxes mother and baby, promotes sleep
- Helps prevent allergic diseases
- Maintenance of heart rate, respiratory rate, blood sugar and blood pressure
- Stimulates hormones to support breastfeeding
- Feeding on demand cues are more apparent
Watch for cues from your baby to know when he is hungry. These cues are often when the baby is in a quiet alert stage and can include:
- Rapid eye movement during light sleep
- Wiggling, hands and feet moving
- Hand to mouth movement
- Rooting – moving head and opening mouth
- Trying to reach things with their mouth
- Sucking sounds and movement
Bring your baby to the level of your breasts. Tuck his entire body close to you: baby’s head, shoulders and hips should be facing into your body.
Place your hand behind your baby’s shoulder and back and your finger and thumb at the base of baby’s head (just below ear level). Let baby’s head tilt back slightly. Always remember:
- tummy to mummy
- face to breast
- nose to nipple
- bottom tucked in
Support your breast by cupping it with your thumb and finger - keeping them well back from your nipple area forming a “C” with your hand with the football or cradle position and a big “U” with your hand in the cross-cradle position.
Point your nipple towards baby’s nose (or rub your nipple across baby’s lips and nose to encourage him to open his mouth wide). Once his mouth has opened wide, bring baby to your chest. Your baby’s chin and lower lip should touch the breast first.
Squeeze on your breast to express colostrum milk to help encourage baby’s root and latch reflex.
Look for the following clues to tell if your baby has a good latch:
- Baby’s mouth is wide open and lips are flared
- ¾ areola in mouth
- Ear wiggles and jaw drops with sucking
- No dimpling or smacking clicking sounds
- Audible swallowing
- It should not feel like pinching
View this helpful video for more information on latching.