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The Best Breastfeeding Positions for Newborns



Newborn babies are born with the instinct to find their mom’s breast through their sense of smell. They are also born with reflexes to help them gape, latch, suck and swallow. But even though so many reflexes are involved, that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding is always automatic. Breastfeeding comfortably can be a learning process for both mom and baby, especially in the early days. 


Since newborns are such tiny humans, they need more support at first. It helps to know where to hold which parts (on you and your baby) so your baby can latch on deeply and empty your breast as efficiently as possible. The way you position your baby and hold your breasts can change over the course of your breastfeeding experience, but here are four different breastfeeding positions for newborns to help make breastfeeding go more smoothly in the early days.


Cradle Hold

The cradle hold is a classic breastfeeding position many new mothers find comfortable and intuitive. It's often the first position that comes to mind when people think of breastfeeding.


Here’s how to do the cradle hold:

  1. Sit comfortably on a couch or chair with your back straight and supported. 

  2. Place a nursing pillow or other soft rectangular pillow on your lap.

  3. Lay your baby on their side, facing you, with their tummy against your chest.

  4. Gently cradle your baby’s head with the same arm as the breast you’ll be nursing from.

  5. Using your opposite hand, lift your breast from underneath.

  6. Use your forearm to bring your baby closer to your breast.

  7. Once your baby latches on, release your breast and wrap your opposite arm around your baby.


In the early weeks, especially with smaller newborns, you may need extra support to stay in this position comfortably. You can place smaller pillows under your arms and behind your back to relieve strain. If your baby can’t stay latched onto your breast, it may help to continue to support your breast from underneath using your opposite hand through the whole feeding session.


If your baby has gape restriction, this position may be challenging.


Cross Cradle Hold

The cross-cradle hold gives you better control over your baby’s head position to give them more support while latching them on. This position is very similar to the cradle hold. The difference between them is the way you use your arms. In the cross-cradle hold, your baby’s head is supported by your hand instead of the crook of your arm.


Here’s how to do the cross-cradle hold:

  1. Sit comfortably on a couch or chair with your back straight and supported. 

  2. Place a nursing pillow or other soft rectangular pillow on your lap.

  3. Lay your baby on their side, facing you, with their tummy against your chest.

  4. Use your hand on the same side as the breast you’ll be nursing from to form a “U” shape with your thumb and forefinger.

  5. Hold your breast from underneath with that hand, exposing your entire areola.

  6. Squeeze your breast slightly using your thumb and forefinger to flatten it.

  7. With your opposite hand, support your baby’s head by placing your thumb and forefinger under their ears.

  8. Bring your baby’s nose toward your nipple. Don’t bend or lean down.

  9. When your baby smells your nipple, they should open their mouth widely. This is called the gape. 

  10. Using an upward motion, latch your baby onto your breast by lining up their lower lip to the lower edge of your areola then pushing them gently, but firmly, onto your nipple and areola. 

  11. Once your baby starts sucking, let go of your breast and use the same arm to cradle your baby’s head for support.


As with the cradle hold, it helps to use pillows to support your arms and back. You may also need to continue holding your breast for the first few weeks if your baby can’t support it alone. Placing a rolled baby blanket or burp cloth under your baby’s head can help relieve strain in your hand.


Football Hold

The football hold is another popular breastfeeding positions for newborns. It provides excellent support and helps your baby feel securely close to you. You can also see your baby’s face while they nurse.


This position is a good choice for moms recovering from a C-section as it avoids pressure on the tummy or incision area. It’s also great for feeding twins at the same time.


Here’s how to do the football hold:

  1. Sit on a couch or chair, a few inches forward from the back.

  2. Place a pillow on the same side as the breast you’ll be nursing from.

  3. Lay your baby on the pillow perpendicular to your, with their head close to your breast and feet behind you

  4. Hold your baby’s head from underneath using the hand on the same side as your breast.

  5. Using your opposite hand, lift your breast from underneath.

  6. Bring your baby’s head towards your breast to latch them on.

  7. Once your baby latches, you can let go of your breast.


When your baby is small, continue to support their head in that position. As they grow, you can use a pillow or rolled baby blanket instead of your hand.


Laid Back or Reclining Hold

Laid back or reclining hold is when you breastfeed in a semi-reclined position on a bed or sofa. This is often how moms start breastfeeding in the delivery room. This position works well for newborns because there’s so much skin-to-skin contact.


If you’ve had a C-section, a reclining hold allows your baby to rest across you without putting too much pressure on your incision. It’s also one of the best breastfeeding positions if you have a very big milk supply because it helps your baby nurse against gravity.


Here’s how to do the laid-back or reclining hold:

  1. Place a pillow on the back of a couch or against the wall or headboard behind your bed.

  2. Sit on your bed or couch and lean back against the pillow.

  3. Hold your baby facing your, with their chest against yours.

  4. Use your hand on the same side as the breast you’ll be nursing from to form a “U” shape with your thumb and forefinger.

  5. Hold your breast from underneath with that hand, exposing your entire areola.

  6. Squeeze your breast slightly using your thumb and forefinger to flatten it.

  7. Bring your baby’s nose to your nipple so they gape when they smell your breast.

  8. Gently latch your baby onto your breast while they’re on top, facing you, continuing to support your baby’s head through the entire feeding session.


You can continue to support your breast when your baby is very small, and let go as they get older and develop more head support.


Frequently Asked Questions


What is the best position for breastfeeding a newborn?

The best positions are ones where you support your breast and your baby’s head comfortably to help get the deepest, most comfortable latch. If you had a C-section, the laid back or reclining hold and football hold are good choices, because they minimize pressure on your incision. The laid-back hold also encourages maximum skin-to-skin contact, which can trigger the release of oxytocin and help your letdown. For baby’s with gape restriction, tongue tie, or after procedures to treat these conditions, the cross-cradle hold offers the most support.


Is it safe to do side-lying breastfeeding?

The side-lying hold doesn’t allow you to provide as much support as the other four mentioned here, but it works well for bigger babies and if your baby latches easily. This is a favorite overnight position, especially if you are a fan of co-sleeping. It can also be more comfortable than sitting if you’ve had a C section or stitches.


Summary

There are many breastfeeding positions for newborns, but these four provide the most support.


If you want more medically-based, doctor-created, and patient-tested content on all things breastfeeding, check out Better Breastfeeding’s interactive platform. Get 24/7 access to information and solutions to help you effectively feed your baby, whether you are breastfeeding, pumping, or both.


Reviewed by Linda Dahl, MD

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