The early weeks of breastfeeding are easily the toughest you will ever experience. Between the frequency of feeding and simply adjusting to the techniques of breastfeeding, you can experience painful sore nipples or even nipple infections. However, properly positioning your baby for breastfeeding is the key to preventing any problems.
The first major position is called the cradle hold. This is easily the most common of all breastfeeding positions. Start by laying your baby on his side across your lap. Rest his shoulder and his hip level with his mouth, which should, in turn, be level with your nipple. This is best if you use pillows, especially the nursing pillows, to lift your baby to nipple height. You should also be able to rest your elbows on the pillows. Support your breast by forming a “U” or a “C” with your hand and cupping it around your breast. In this position, your baby’s head should be resting on your forearm. Your baby’s back will be along your inner arm and palm. As you look down toward your baby, you should see his or her side. When the baby gets ready to latch on, his or her mouth should cover about a half an inch of your areola. His ear, shoulder, and hips should be in a straight line across your lap. Both the baby’s head and bottom should be level with each other during the first several weeks of using this position.
This position works well for most people, but it is important to vary your position. A good variation on this position is the cross-cradle hold. This provides the same ease of the cradle hold, but it gives you more control during a feeding session. Throughout this position, your baby will be supported by a pillow across your lap. Again, a specialized nursing pillow is most helpful throughout the entire breastfeeding process. The pillow should help raise the baby to your nipple level. They can also help to support the weight of your baby, as your arms will usually tire before the feeding is complete. With this position, if you plan to feed with your left breast, your left hand should support it by forming a “U” and cupping it. You will be supporting the baby with your right hand. Place your whole hand behind the baby’s ears and neck. The neck should rest between your thumb and index finger. The rest of the palm of your hand should be between your baby’s shoulders. When you are ready, be sure the baby’s mouth is close to your nipple. When he or she opens the mouth, push the baby forward. As with the cradle hold, the baby’s mouth should cover about a half an inch of your areola.
There are a number of other breastfeeding positions including the clutch or football hold and the side lying positions, but both the cradle hold and the cross cradle hold are the best early nursing positions for most new mothers. If you have problems positioning your baby for a feeding, contact a lactation specialist, as they can help you decide what will work best for both you and your baby.