The past few weeks I’ve started reading and talking with my midwives about breastfeeding to *try* and shorten the learning curve come birth day, and I’ve been picking up lots of great advice regarding positioning, proper latching, good nursing pillows, and things to try when it just isn’t working. I want to be prepared! Today I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far and talking about some of the standard positions that can be helpful when first learning, and even later when you’ve become and old pro!
Breastfeeding is by and large a very natural process for mums and babies, however it’s not something that comes naturally to most people. Intuitively we get the idea of breastfeeding and some might be lucky enough to get it right on the first try, but for the rest of us it takes some technique to ensure that it is a positive and successful experience for both us and our little one.
A proper latch is perhaps the most important step in breastfeeding, as it ensures the baby is getting enough milk, and helps to prevent sore, cracked nipples later. Before getting the baby to latch though, it’s important to ensure we are holding the baby (and our breast) in a way that gives us the most control. Here are three breastfeeding positions, presented in the order that they may be most helpful when first starting out.
The football hold is not the most popular hold, however it can be helpful when first starting out, particularly if you have had a c-section or are having difficulty getting a good latch.
Using your dominant arm, lie the baby along your arm with its head cradled in your hand. Her legs and bum will be under your arm pointing back towards the chair. Make sure the baby is lying on its side facing you and her head is at a good angle to latch on.
Here is a great video showing how to hold the baby in the football hold (as well as some great latching tips!):
Cross Cradle Hold:
Similar to the football hold, have the baby lie along your forearm with his head cradled in your hand. You will be holding the baby across your body in this position, using your right arm to nurse on the left breast and vice versa. This position is great when you’re first starting out because you have excellent control over the baby’s head, which is important for latching (you’re bringing the baby towards your breast, not thrusting forwards when she opens her mouth). Ensure you have a good nursing pillow when using this position, as it can be quite tiring for your arm.
The most popular breastfeeding position, the cradle hold is very similar to how you hold the baby while cuddling and is the best way to support the baby’s weight with your arm, in terms of preventing fatigue. One important thing to keep in mind is the positioning of the baby’s head and neck. When the baby is resting with its head in your elbow it can often push the baby’s head forward so that her chin is down towards her chest, however its important the baby’s chin be up when she is nursing. Consider when you drink out of a glass or bottle – you tilt your head back to to so, you don’t hold your chin down or your nose would get in the way and your oesophagus wouldn’t be straight. You may need to hold the baby lower on your arm with her head closer to your wrist if you’re unable to get good positioning at your elbow.
The baby’s head will be slightly more upright in this position, so hold or ‘sandwich’ the breast by making your hand into a ‘C’ shape.
No matter what position you are using, here are three tips to always keep in mind:
1. Tummy to tummy. Always have the baby lying on its side facing towards you. You want the baby’s head to be facing straight towards your breast and not turning its head towards it. Think about it. When you’re drinking out of a glass or bottle its pretty uncomfortable to do it with your head turned in either direction! Having the baby stripped down tummy to tummy also helps to keep them stimulated and awake while feeding, so your time isn’t extended by a sleeping baby!
2. Leave those chubby cheeks alone! Most parents have heard of the rooting reflex, wherein stroking a baby’s cheek will have him turning his head in that direction. The reflex, while helpful when getting a good latch, can disrupt a baby while feeding and wreck a good latch just as fast. Keep your fingers back from the baby’s cheeks while holding his head by positioning your thumb and fingers behind his ears and support his neck and shoulders in your palm.
3. Prevent disruptions. Babies naturally like to bring their hands up to their face, but this can be as disruptive to latching as stroking his cheeks. Have their one arm lying straight underneath their body and use your thumb on your cradling arm to help hold the other arm down. If your baby is exceptionally wriggly, it may be helpful to swaddle the baby to help keep movement under control. You’ll have to unwrap him between breasts to help wake him up again, but it may help you get through a breastfeeding session easier. When the baby gets a little bit older, and their rooting reflex has diminished, having the top arm free will often be a unique bonding experience as the baby may hold your breast or (when old enough) reach up towards your face and mouth with he while eating. :)
Sometime soon I’ll discuss latching, common problems, breastfeeding resources, and share a few breastfeeding anecdotes from friends. I invite any nursing mothers to share their tips and stories!