Newborn nursing positions – find what works for you
When you think about breastfeeding, do you imagine a mom holding her baby across her body with both arms?
That’s the cradle position and it’s very popular – but there are LOADS of other ways you can position your baby for a feed. Maybe you’ll like football hold or upright breastfeeding positions?
The only things that matter are practicality – well, it’s not easy to do the lying down position in a car or a shopping mall – and comfort – you will find some positions more comfortable than others. Beyond that, you can feel free to experiment and see what suits you and your baby.
Today I’m going to share with you 8 nursing positions you can try with your newborn, baby or toddler and how to do them. We’ll also dig into the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
Let’s imagine I’m sitting down with you, my pregnant or new mommy friend and telling you everything I’ve learned about positioning babies for breastfeeding from nursing my three.
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Not medical advice: I am not a medical professional and nothing in this post or on this site should be taken as medical advice.
What is the best way to breastfeed?
Cradle and cross cradle are very popular positions – and some things are popular for a reason. Lots of moms also prefer football hold and lying down pose – and we’re going to get to all these in a second. If you’re looking for the easiest breastfeeding position, this post will give you a good start.
#1 Cradle hold breastfeeding
The classic breastfeeding hold you’ll have seen everywhere.
For cradle hold breastfeeding, you’ll sit up in a chair or bed, preferably with some kind of back support pillow, with your baby in your arms held across your body. Baby’s head rests in the crook of your elbow and your other hand is free to help them latch to the breast or support their weight during the feed.
Once latching is done, this is a relaxed position if you can support your arms with pillows. For the best chance of latching well, hold that little one close and turn their body in towards you so they are ‘tummy to mommy’.
Pros and cons of cradle hold
Cradle is one of the easiest breastfeeding positions for everyday nursing when it’s going well and both you and baby are relaxed and know your parts. Because your baby’s head rests in the crook of your arm when you nurse cradle style, you don’t have a huge amount of control of what that tiny head is doing. Which is just fine most of the time.
But there are times when it helps to have a little more direct control of your baby’s movements. If you are just getting started, for example and you are both still learning to latch well, you might prefer the extra control you have with cross cradle. Let’s take a look at the difference.
#2 Cross cradle
Cross cradle looks very similar to cradle hold. Anyone who isn’t a breastfeeding mom will probably not even notice the difference. Take a look at the image below – the difference is in how you support your baby’s head.
Baby still lies across your body with their belly to yours but instead of resting their head in the bend of your arm, your hand directly supports their head and neck. Your other arm helps to support your baby’s weight so that you don’t put too much strain on your wrist and back.
Cross cradle – pros and cons
By having your hand right behind your baby’s neck, you can support a tiny newborn head and help to bring them to the breast the way you want them to come (chin first with a big gaping mouth). Your other hand can guide and direct latching, which really helped me when I had a baby with tongue tie and had to be VERY careful to latch well. In the early days, the beauty of cross cradle is how much you can help and guide your baby to latch well because both hands are available.
While I absolutely love cross cradle for newborns and all that control is great, if you use this position all of the time, watch for signs that you’re over-using your wrists. I was holding my tongue-tied son’s head steady throughout the feed, at every feed and within a few weeks my wrists were in agony.
Supporting the weight of his head so often took its toll….And so I saw my lactation consultant and got wrist supports and a great nursing pillow.
#3 With a nursing pillow
Whatever way you decide to nurse your baby, supporting your baby’s weight is important. It matters for you because you don’t want to strain your arms and wrists with constant lifting and you don’t want to hurt your back by slouching. And it also matters for your baby because if you aren’t in a good position, you might not have a great latch. Poor latch means less efficient nursing for baby and pain for mommy.
You don’t need to buy a special nursing pillow – regular pillows that you have already will work fine. If you do want a specific, purpose made nursing pillow, I recommend this one. I only got it with my third baby after finding it by chance – but it changed so much for me!
No more aching back! No more weird wrist braces – and no more nipple pain! It got my baby into such a great position – and kept her there with no effort from me – that everything from my latch to my sore wrists got better fast. I love it so much, it’s still in my house – even though my girl has outgrown in, I can’t bear to part with it. For cradle, cross cradle and football positions, this pillow is the business!
#4 Side lying nursing – how to do it safely
If you’re anything like me as a new mom (ie constantly tired) you’re gonna love side lying! You need to plan a little to keep your baby safe but once you figure it out, it is such a relaxing position, you’ll do it loads!
To get into the side lying nursing position, lie your baby in the middle of a big bed (or in a comfy spot on the floor) and place a pillow behind your back to support you. Lie on your side facing your baby and turn them so their body is facing you and pressed in close. Go ahead and latch as usual. You might find a rolled up towel behind them helps to keep your baby from rolling onto their back while they feed.
Keep trying with side lying
One thing I really want to say here is that if you try this position at the start of your breastfeeding journey and it doesn’t work out, don’t give up! Your baby’s mouth is very tiny and they are just learning to latch on – and when you’re lying down you can’t help them as much. I found I got sore nipples from side lying at the beginning but by about ten weeks in, it was my favourite position. Leave it and come back to it if it’s not working – but it’s totally worth giving it another try.
Side lying pros and cons
Nursing lying down is great because it lets mommy relax too – and it’s perfect for nursing your little one to sleep if you want to. Safety could be an issue though.
Safety while nursing lying down
BUT, but, but – when you’re as exhausted as new moms often are, it’s pretty easy to doze off yourself too. It’s possible. And it’s possible you might roll onto your baby so you need to think about how to be safe.
# Have someone around in case you doze off so they can check on you to be sure your baby is safe.
# Think carefully about any pillows or other items you use for support – could they be smother risks?
# Could your baby roll out of bed? How can you make sure they don’t without creating a smother risk (ie using pillows)?
If you can figure it out so you’re confident your baby isn’t at risk, side lying nursing could become your best friend in the early months.
#5 Football hold
Have you heard of this one? As newborn nursing positions go, underarm breastfeeding, also known as football or rugby ball hold (depending where you are in the world) is a great choice for new moms.
It’s perfect for nursing moms of twins – because then you can nurse both at once. But you don’t need two babies to make this position work for you. A lot of moms just find underarm nursing really comfortable.
Football hold breastfeeding – how to do it
To make this nursing position work, your baby needs to lie alongside you with their legs sticking out behind you. Try placing a couple of pillows behind you so their legs have somewhere to go. Have your baby’s body turned towards yours and your hand at the nape of their neck to support the weight of their head.
It also helps to have a pillow under your baby’s body too, so not all their weight is coming down on your wrist. Adjust baby backwards or forwards until their chin is right under your breast and then you’re ready to latch as usual. Your hand at the back of their neck lifts them up to the breast as they latch and you can use your free hand to guide them on if you need to.
Pros and cons of underarm breastfeeding
This weird looking position has a load of hidden benefits, from simple comforts to easing pain. For example, if you’re in a hot climate it might be a little cooler having your baby lay alongside you instead of across you.
Underarm nursing also works really well if you are trying to collect milk from the other breast with a Haakaa. Haven’t heard of the Haakaa pump? Check out this post right here for my Haakaa how tos! I loved my milk collector because it was effortless to use and also cheap – and if you nurse underarm your little one will not be able to knock it off and waste your precious breast milk.
Or, if you have sore nipples, your provider might suggest using football hold because you can control your baby’s latch well from there. Also, because your little one’s chin will be right under your breast, they are already in a great position to come to the breast chin first and grab a huge mouthful of breast – the basics of a great latch.
#6 Laid back breastfeeding
This might be the position you use for your very first breastfeed! Could this be THE easiest breastfeeding position?
It’s a position that you don’t really see many mammas using out and about so if you’re not familiar with it, basically you nurse your little one while reclined on a bed or in a chair (or anywhere where you can prop yourself up and it’s safe, I suppose.)
How to do laid back breastfeeding
To make this position work, you’ll be half-sitting, half-lying so your body is not horizontal but it’s flat enough that your baby can lie there without falling straight off. (And obviously, you will have at least one arm around them.)
Once you’re comfortably reclined (pillows behind your back and neck to avoid aches and pains), lie your baby on your belly with their head close to your breasts. It’s perfect for skin-to-skin, which has loads of benefits of its own, but that doesn’t mean it’s just for newborns. If a position suits you, stick with it!
Help your baby to latch on and support them to stay in the same position so they don’t slip down your body. And relax.
Pros and cons of the laid back position
This is a relaxing position for tired, brand-new moms and newborns but it works forever – my nearly-two-year-old loves reclined nursing and I love taking a few minutes out to relax with her. There aren’t really any disadvantages of laid back breastfeeding – maybe that you need to support yourself at the correct angle to make it work? Or it’s tricky to do in a restaurant? Nope, that’s it!
#7 Nursing in a baby carrier
Want to get things DONE but there’s a hungry baby around and you are their food source? Well, you could say, ‘stuff it!’ to the chores and sit down for a nice cross cradle session – or you could strap baby into the sling and nurse on the go.
How to nurse in a baby carrier
Nursing in a baby carrier needs a slightly different position than regular carrying. Depending on the type of sling you use, you’ll end up in either a lower upright nursing position or cross body (like the illustration above) – and it’s not too important if everyone is comfy and the milk is flowing well.
If you’re just doing regular baby-wearing, walking the dog or shopping, you want your little one’s head to be right below your chin – where you can just bend forward and kiss the top of their head.
For breastfeeding in a baby carrier, you need them lower. How low depends on you! How big and how high your breasts are will tell you where to position your baby for nursing.
Place them in the sling at regular carrying height and then adjust the straps lower so that their mouth is right next to your breasts. You need to support your baby safely while you adjust the straps so maybe get someone to help you the first few times. Check the instructions for your baby carrier to find out how to nurse safely in it.
Pros and cons of breastfeeding in a sling / carrier
In those early days of endless, endless nursing, all I wanted was some extra hands (and some sleep) so nursing in the baby carrier was great. I could hang laundry, chop vegetables, walk the dogs, watch my older son’s football game – all while nursing my hungry baby.
But you’ll always be aware of your baby nursing while you do other things and they will still get in the way a bit – or a lot depending on the age of your infant. It takes longer to hang clothes with the weight of a baby, for example – and there are some things you can’t do – like cooking things that spatter. Nope – not with my tiny babe in front – I don’t think so.
But if you’re dying for the chance to get a few things done, nursing in the sling could work great for you.
#8 Face to face / nursing with baby sitting up
This is the classic toddler nursing pose – legs around mommy’s waist and latched on sitting up – but it can work for babies too. It’s not easy with newborns or young babies who need help supporting their heads and are still mostly flat-lying.
How to nurse face to face
If you’re nursing a toddler, you probably won’t have to do much as your little one will do it all for you. Sit them on your lap facing you and open your clothes enough to let the access a breast. A toddler will do their own latching in most cases.
If you’re nursing a baby in your lap, you’ll have to position them. Their legs won’t go round your waist yet so sit with your legs a little apart and let baby straddle the leg on the side they’re feeding. From there, it’s similar to laid back feeding because they lean into you and you support them to latch on.
Pros and cons of face to face feeding
Once your baby gets a little older, give upright nursing positions a try! It’s definitely easier with older babies who can control their heads well but your arms will thank you. It works great for toddlers because they are supporting their own weight instead of you trying to hold a big 18 month old to your breast.
And mommy gets snuggles with a little one who is getting bigger but still needs and loves mommy milk. And you probably love it too or you would’ve weaned by now.
So which position is best for you and your baby?
Well, mommy, only you can find that out.
Each mama has different needs and so does her baby. And we all have different sizes and shapes of breasts which make a difference to what’s comfortable and what’s not.
Try a few different positions. Heck, try them all! If you hate one, just unlatch and switch to one you know you like. And remember that as your baby grows and develops and you both become more skilled and more confident, positions that were not fun the first time you tried them might really suit you now.
What to do now?
You’re doing such a great thing right now by learning about breastfeeding before it happens. It’s easy to think that we should be able to breastfeed easily because it’s ‘natural’ but the truth is, it’s a skill you have to learn like walking.
A great way to get prepared is to take an online class and I just love The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class from Milkology.