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Positioning – how to hold your baby to breastfeed

There are various ways you can position your baby to breastfeed and there is no one best way.

 The right way is what works for you and your baby.

Cradle hold

You can help your baby to attach and feed well by positioning them so they are close to you and can take a good mouthful of your breast.  

Your baby has natural instincts which enable them to find your breast from birth with little or no help from anyone. These instinctive behaviours include:  

  • sticking tongue out 

  • turning head from side to side 

  • wriggling 

  • finding and grasping the nipple 

  • latching-on to the breast 

  • suckling 

You may choose to let your baby find their own way to your breast. This is called baby-led attachment and many mums use this method while lying in a reclining position. You can also choose to  position your baby in the way that suits you and to help your baby to attach. Sometimes we call this mother-led attachment. 

Options for mother-led attachment 

There are a number of ways that you might choose to hold your baby to feed. Try a few and see which you and your baby find the most comfortable. 

Steps to attach your baby

Whichever position you choose, you need to be comfortable with your back and feet supported (except if you're lying down). 

  • Unwrap your baby and hold them close so that their chest is touching your chest. Babies are easier to position if their arms are free and they aren’t enclosed in tight wrappings. However, if your baby is very fidgety or their hands are hitting your sore nipples, you can try using a light wrapping.  

  • Your baby’s head, shoulders and back should be in a straight line and facing your body. Their head will be at the same level as your breast with their mouth and nose level with your nipple. Their body can be lower than their head, often tucked under your other breast.   

  • Allow your baby time to display feeding cues and open their mouth. If you bring your baby to your breast and touch or gently brush their lips with your nipple or lower side of your areola, this can encourage them to open their mouth wide. 

  • When your baby opens their mouth wide their tongue will be down and forward. Aim your nipple at the roof of your baby’s mouth. This encourages your baby to draw your nipple in and far enough back into their mouth.  

  • Your baby's lower jaw or chin should touch your breast first, on your areola, well down from your nipple. 

  • As your baby's mouth closes over your breast, they should take in a large mouthful. 

  • When your baby attaches and begins to suck, try to relax your shoulders to help your let-down reflex and to keep yourself comfortable. Move your hands, wrists and arms to be in a more relaxed position, if necessary, as long as your baby remains closely tucked into your body.  

Do pillows help or not? 

Pillows can work for some mums but make it harder for others to position their baby well. There are a few things to check if you use a pillow: 

  • Be careful that the pillow puts baby at the level of your breast or just under it – not too high and not too low or you may end up leaning over. 

  • Continue to hold your baby with your arms (or resting on your body) rather than on the pillow. If your baby is lying directly on the pillow, it can be difficult to keep them close enough. Baby needs to remain chest to chest with you, not lying back on the pillow with their head on the side.  

If you like using a pillow under your forearms to help you hold your baby, you could try using a more laid-back position so your body takes  more of your baby's weight rather than your arms.   

Watch another video showing mothers holding their babies in different positions.  

© Australian Breastfeeding Association April 2022

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