When my little peanut finally came out, after one heck of a 3 day induction, I remember seeing her sweet little body being held above me for about 2.5 seconds before my husband insisted on the skin to skin contact. As they laid the baby on my deflated stomach, the nurses rushed to clean her body as I tried to get a good look at her. But all I could see was a dark head of hair. Everyone around me kept saying how beautiful she was as I craned my neck to glance at her face. When all the wiping and fussing was done, I finally got my hands on her and lifted my baby to my chest. The nurse was preparing the baby’s chart and hospital bassinet as she casually said, “Give me a second and let me show you how to get baby to latch. Now, she may not be hungry right this minute but – Oh!” Shocked to see I was already breastfeeding she exclaimed, ” Looks like she’s all set! Definitely knows what she’s doing.” And she did! From the moment I looked into her eyes, we simply connected. And this connection had a lot to do with everything we learned at our Bradley Birthing Method class during my pregnancy. We discovered that during that first meeting between mom and baby, there is a lot of bonding that happens to prepare both mother and baby to breastfeed. Much of this connection had to do with the importance of skin to skin contact so that baby is able to literally map his or her way to the breast. When a baby is born, they are hard at work getting to know their mom and her body.
Breastfeeding was natural for us. I was so thankful too because I knew it wasn’t for so many others. As I came to later learn, breastfeeding was a very touchy topic for lots of moms. There were all sorts of ways to nurse and some positions worked better for babies and mothers than others, depending on baby’s latch, nursing stamina and, most importantly, the comfort of the mother. Breastfeeding was really important for our family. After taking the Bradley Method Birthing course, we had familiarized ourselves on how to establish a positive breastfeeding environment in our baby’s first few days of life. In the beginning, I just laid naked in bed with her, and she would nurse all day. For the first three days, there were no visitors, no crowds, and no interruptions. Then my milk came in, and she never stopped sucking! We made sure to follow these specific guidelines for breastfeeding because we wanted to get off to a good start. And after getting to know many new moms, I realized all they wanted was the same thing. We we’re lucky we didn’t have to try hard. But what about the other moms who did? They deserved the same opportunity for them and their baby. And in all that I have learned on my breastfeeding journey with my little one, I wanted to share all the things that worked to make breastfeeding the EASY part of raising a baby.
Get Cozy with Baby
Despite what many people think, breastfeeding has more to do with the mother than the baby. When a mother feels confident breastfeeding, the baby’s natural instincts take over. Some babies do need assistance with latch but with the right support, lactation consultant and practice, breastfeeding can become second nature. The most important part of breastfeeding is to make the mother COMFORTABLE! Yes, it’s a must. Lean back, get cozy and bring those pillows. If you are comfy and relaxed, the baby is more likely to latch correctly. When starting to breastfeed, it’s best to sit in a chair with good back support and armrest, lean back, and prop pillows under arms where baby’s head rests (Raising Children Network). You can encourage your baby to relax by angling their body toward your breast and keeping baby’s feet supported. Many mothers like to sit in a glider or a cozy chair with an armrest. (Raising Children Network).
Learning to Latch
When you first meet your baby, there is a lot going on between the two of you. You’re looking at each other in the eyes. Laying skin to skin with one another. You may stroke your baby’s head and the baby may, in turn, rest his or her hand on your chest. This is how mother and baby first bond. Through all of their senses. They are getting to know each other in many ways. And nursing, is one of those important ways that you get to know your baby. I think of that initial latch as the first handshake between mom and baby. You want to make it a good firm one. When my daughter first latched on, I made sure her mouth was open wide and that her tongue was down. I supported my breast with my free hand by putting my thumb on top and fingers at the bottom to make a C-shape. Then I gently tickled my baby’s bottom lip and chin with my nipple to cue my baby’s mouth to open. Another way you can prompt the baby to feed is by gliding the nipple on the baby’s cheek. The baby’s first reaction will be to turn his or her head and begin to suck. This is called the Rooting Reflex (Ameda). Once my daughter opened her mouth, I quickly brought her mouth to my breast. I ensured a deep latch by making sure my baby took in as much of the areola, dark skin around the nipple, as possible. The baby was able to suck easier this way, and this limited any discomfort (Ameda). While my baby breastfed, I always kept an eye on the positioning of her nose to make sure she could still breathe. You want the baby’s nose to almost touch your breasts, but not be pressed against it. I knew my baby had properly attached to my breast when I saw her lips were turned out and I could hear her swallowing, as she made “K” sounds in the back of her throat. As I nursed, my baby’s sucking only ever felt like a tugging sensation. If I ever did feel pain or was uncomfortable, I would stop nursing and reposition my baby on my breast.
How Many Ways CAN You Nurse?
1. Classic front hold / cradle hold position
This is one of the most popular and commonly used breastfeeding holds. In this hold, cradle your baby’s head in the crook of your arm with your baby’s nose pointing directly at your nipple. The hand you hold the baby with will support your baby’s bottom. You will position your baby, belly to belly with you, so that baby is turned on his or her side. Once the baby is in the front hold, you can then raise your baby to breast to starting feeding (Kids Health).
The cradle hold was my on-the-go position. In church, at the park, in the restaurant, at the mall, heck, even at that big family party. It was the most convenient for us. This specific breastfeeding position provided quick, easy-access for baby to nurse on demand. I also found that I was able to nurse, even without a nursing cover at times, because I was able to cover my exposed body with baby’s body. I think my baby favored this position too because as she breastfed, she enjoyed looking at me and being able to touch my chest. For more or less, she liked being in control when she ate. She a year now, and this hasn’t changed a bit.
2. Underarm position / Football hold
The Football hold involves cradling your baby, facing upward, while holding your baby’s neck in the palm of your hand and tucking baby’s side closest against your side. The baby’s body may be supported with a pillow underneath. Then raise baby to your breast to feed. This breast-feeding position is preferred by mothers of twins who want to feed both their babies simultaneously, and mothers who have experienced a C-section. In addition, the underarm position benefits mothers who have a forceful milk ejection reflex, or let down. Babies in this hold are able to take more milk easily and with less choking (Kids Health).
When my baby kept choking on my fast let down coming from my right breast, I was on the search for a position that would fix the problem. After trying the underarm hold when I fed her on my right side, I found that my daughter would choke less on my let down. What also helped with this position was tilting the baby’s head upward so that she was level with my breast. That way, when I had my let down, my baby was able to better regulate the flow of milk in her mouth. It’s a great hold also for when you need that extra hand to pick up the phone, read a book or grab a couple bites of lunch.
3. Side lying position
The side lying position is when you and your baby are laying down on your sides facing each other. The baby’s nose should be aligned with the nipple. The mother is able to use her one arm to wrap around baby’s head and back for support, and her other hand can guide baby to breast for a good latch. If that specific position is not comfortable for the mother, she can also tuck a rolled-up receiving blanket behind baby so that her arm his free to support her own head, or support the breast (Kids Health).
This is by far the nursing position that saved my life, sanity and sleep! My daughter is an on-demand cluster feeder. She nurses during the night, all the time. Which meant, I needed a way to maximize my sleep while allowing her to feed. Side lying was the way to go. My baby was naturally a side sleeper, no matter how many times I attempted to turn her on her back. So when I used the side lying position in my bed to nurse her to sleep, she was already in the right position. To make sure I was comfortable, I arranged my pillow diagonally underneath me to support my head, neck, hips and back. I would use my legs to curl around my baby’s back and support her body as I snuggled her in close to breastfeed. I found this position also helped my daughter feed, without choking on my strong let downs, because her head and my breast were equally level.
4. Laid-Back / Reclining position
The Laid-Back position involves placing baby on your belly with baby’s head between the breasts while the mother sits reclined, or on a propped up pillow in bed. Then baby is brought to breast to feed. Mothers are most comfortable in this position when their hips are forward and they have good neck, shoulder, arm and back support. The baby’s feeding reflexes will be triggered when his or her chin comes in contact with the mother’s body, and baby will then begin to seek out the breast. Make sure to adjust baby’s body to ensure baby can breathe properly during feeding (Ameda).
One night, my baby had a cold. And there was no getting her to fall asleep. It seemed like I nursed her forever, but she just wouldn’t shut those eyes. She was so congested, and every time I would lay her down on the bed or in my arms to nurse, she would scream. It realized it was so difficult for her to breathe, that she wasn’t comfort in the usual front hold or side lying position. So I breastfed my baby in the reclined position. I prefer laying in bed with a pillow propped up behind me so that I am sitting at a reclined angle. That way, baby can be elevated enough to nurse, breathe well and rest on my chest to take a snooze. If we do end up sleeping in this position for the night, I make sure to put pillows on either side of myself to support baby.
5. Cross Cradle / Crossover hold position
In the Crossover hold, you use one hand to come around the back of your baby and support your baby’s head, neck and shoulder by placing your hand at the base of baby’s head with your thumb and index finger. Make sure your baby is in the belly to belly position with you as well. The other hand is used to support your breast by making s C-shape with your fingers. This Cross Cradle position gives you more control over your baby latch. Many moms report a deeper latch while using this hold (Ameda).
When my little one is teething, this breastfeeding position comes in handy. Nothing is worse than getting a bite taken out of your breasts from those razor sharp teeth. It can sometimes be hard to tell when your baby is ready to chop down, but while using the Crossover hold, I find that my fingers are arranged in such a way that gives me easy access to stop the next bite from coming. With the hand I am holding my breast in, I use my fingers to rest near my baby face so I can stick my finger in her mouth to prevent her from biting.
Nursing definitely takes some practice. My daughter is now a year old, and I’m still working at it. To really make breastfeeding a success for you and your baby, you need to have patience, creativity and vigilance. Life is pretty crazy. So breastfeeding on-the-go isn’t always convenient for moms. We can get discouraged really easily and need a lot of support to keep at it. So have some patience with your little one. If it’s hard to nurse on one side, try the other. If the baby isn’t interested in nursing when you want to feed, take a break from all the practicing, and pump. Don’t stress. It will happen. And remember you have options. There are so many different ways to breastfeed that sooner or later, one of these positions will work out for you and your baby. Think outside the box and try a position you normally wouldn’t use to nurse your baby. You may be surprised at how much more comfortable it is, and how your baby may be more inclined to breastfeed. So give yourself a break. You are just getting to know your baby. The most important thing at the end of the day is to read your baby’s signals during breastfeeding. Watch your baby’s body language while nursing. Does baby’s body feel relaxed, or is there some arching of the back? Is your baby facing your nipple or turning away because he or she isn’t that hungry? A baby’s cues can tell you a lot about how he or she wants to be held, and what nursing position works best. We just have to be more aware of them. That’s the funny thing about babies, they demand for us to pay attention so that they can run the show. Nursing is natural for them. They know what to do. All we need to do is listen. And maybe then, breastfeeding can be natural for us too.
Raising Children Network (2018). Breastfeeding positions Guide | Raising Children Network. [online] Available at: http://m.raisingchildren.net.au/articles/breastfeeding_positions.html [Accessed 3 Mar. 2018].
Healthcare Professionals. “Latching and Breastfeeding Positions.” Ameda, 2014, www.ameda.com/milk-101-article/latching-breastfeeding-holds/.
“Nursing Positions.” Edited by Amy W. Anzilotti,KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Jan. 2018, kidshealth.org/en/parents/nursing-positions.html.