Breastfeeding Positions: Tips On The Football Hold, The Cradle, And More

Breastfeeding Positions For A Comfier Feed — Plus Tips, Because The Breastfeeding Struggle Is Real

October 19, 2020 Updated February 8, 2021

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Want to know more about breastfeeding? Check out our package on the baby rooting reflex, how to unblock milk ducts, how to treat sore nipples, caffeine and breastfeeding, how to increase milk supply, and more. 

So, you’re a mama. Isn’t it wonderful? And exhausting? Wherever you are on your breastfeeding journey, you already know the triumphs and tribulations of motherhood. Even if you’re “just pregnant,” you’re probably so sick, swollen, and tired that you’re starting to understand the changes to your body bearing a child brings. Once you decide to start nursing, a whole new set of challenges can arise — from getting the much-talked-about “perfect latch” to suddenly changing your diet because the baby ends up allergic to something you’re eating. The struggle is real, and it can be tough. Fortunately, effective breastfeeding positions can help.

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If it feels like you spend half your nursing sessions awkwardly fumbling to get situated, you’re in good company. One of the breastfeeding problems that many mamas struggle with is finding the right position. Not only do you have to be comfy, but your baby also does. And, you could potentially be in that position for nearly an hour (maybe longer if your sweet chunk falls asleep on your lap). So, how do you get comfortable while breastfeeding? The key might be in one of the many popular positions… or in finding your own. It helps to change it up, too. While babies thrive on routine, they also need mamas who don’t have blown-out backs, sore shoulders, and cricks in their neck. Rotating through a couple of different positions throughout your little one’s many meals each day will go a long way toward getting you to love breastfeeding.

The “Official” Breastfeeding Positions

Football Hold

You know why football players tuck the ball under their arm when they run? It’s an incredibly secure position. The same is true when holding or feeding your new baby. Hold your baby upright, with their body tucked under your arm for a safe, comfy breastfeeding position. When they’re done, turn them over in your arm and hold them in that same position while you pat their back and burp them.

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The Cradle

The cradle will often feel like the natural first position to try. As children, we learn to cradle our dolls, baby siblings, and infant cousins under the length of our arm and against our bodies. We’re warm and safe, which makes baby feel warm and safe, too.

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Cross Cradle

What’s the difference between the cradle and the cross-cradle position? At first glance, they’re basically the same. Notice, though, that in the cross-cradle position the baby is held by your arm on the opposite side of the body from where they’re feeding. In other words, when your sweet babe is latched on the right, you’ll support them with your left arm.

Laying Down: Side-Lying And Laying Back

Breastfeeding is less of a sprint and more of a marathon. You’re going to be feeding a lot in those first weeks, and you’re going to be exhausted. Don’t feel like you need to sit upright all the time. Try laying on your side, with your baby snuggled up next to you or on your back with your infant resting their belly against yours. Just be mindful when you use this breastfeeding position to make sure there aren’t any excess pillows or blankets near baby that could pose a suffocation risk.

Tandem Nursing

Have twins? That’s double the blessing but double the work. Feeding those hungry, hungry babies doesn’t have to take double the time, though. Granted, tandem nursing may not be for everyone — it’s totally okay if the mere thought of this seems like a lot to you. But, if you can master the football hold with both hands, you’re in a prime position to do tandem nursing.

Another Look

Need another angle? These simple cartoons might help better illustrate each position.

Less Common Breastfeeding Positions

Here’s the thing: Fed is best, right? While the positions above might be the most common, they’re certainly not the only options. You’ve probably already learned this, but a big part of being a mom is being creative and adaptable. If none of the above positions work with your current situation, keep trying. Root around some. Let your baby wiggle into place. Gather and try out various chairs, pillows, and perches. Keep adjusting until you find something that works (while also making baby’s safety a priority, of course).

We particularly love these adaptable moms’ positions.

The WFH

Raise your hand if you had a baby during the COVID-19 pandemic! You may be struggling to adjust — to new motherhood, to working from home with a newborn, and possibly to being quarantined away from the help you thought you’d have. If it makes you feel any better, you’re not alone. UNICEF estimates that 116 million babies will be born during this pandemic. This mama is making WFH and breastfeeding duties work for her.

The Scoop

Babies are wiggly creatures, especially when they start learning to sit up. If your little chunk is having a hard time laying back these days, feeding in a more upright position might do the trick. Plus, it may ease discomfort if they suffer from a particularly bothersome case of infant reflux. See also: Just because they’re sitting up doesn’t mean you have to.

The Yogi

As your baby gets older, they get even more squirmy. Eventually, you have to adjust again. Positions. Expectations. Everything. Is there a more relatable look than this one?

The Pumping Goddess

Is pumping while wearing Versace realistic for most of us? Uh, no. But, here’s why we still love Rachel McAdams’ picture. Because wearing Versace is part of her life. Working postpartum is part of her life. Pumping is part of her life. Whether you and your baby never find a good latch or your work schedule just makes it easier to exclusively pump, it doesn’t matter. You birthed a human. You’re keeping that human fed. Good job, Mom.

Upright Breastfeeding

This is also known as the koala hold. This is when you sit your baby up on your thighs so they’re straddling you (much like how koala babies straddle their mommies). Make sure your baby’s spine and head are straight and upright. Don’t forget to hold their heads — once they’re older, you won’t need to do this as much.

This is an ideal position for babies who have reflux issues or ear infections, and who don’t necessarily love being on their side or laid down. It is also a great tongue and low muscle exercise for their small developing bodies. And not that you have anything to hide (because breastfeeding in public is completely normal), but many moms also attest to the privacy of the position (just in case you prefer to feed your baby on the low-low).

The Chair

We wanted to leave you with one more seriously helpful image. At some point, you’ll find yourself feeding your wildling while out and about. While many places are beginning to offer comfy nursing rooms or pods for our convenience, that’s not always the case. When you find yourself in one of Starbucks’ notoriously uncomfortable seats with a baby fussing for food, keep the tips below in mind. Note: A bunched-up baby blanket or coat can work for the pillow. For your feet? Use the rung on another chair or the basket on your stroller. Shoot, even your diaper bag will work. You can wash it later!

What to Do If You Can’t Get Comfortable

Let’s say you run through every breastfeeding position here — and some you even made up on your own — and nothing feels like the right fit. Or, worse, everything you try leads to painful cracked nipples. If you’ve also already tried all of the tried-and-true ways to treat sore nipples, it might be time to consult your doctor or a lactation specialist. They’ll be able to help you find the right position and/or the right latch to get your breastfeeding situation back on track.

The reality is that getting a proper latch between baby’s mouth and your breast is crucial to your comfort (not to mention the effectiveness of the feeding). To ensure you have a proper latch, start by tickling baby’s lip with your nipple. This should kick in their reflexes, so they’ll open their little mouth wide. Bring your mouth-agape baby toward your breast and let baby take in your nipple, making sure they cover both the nipple and at least part of the areola.