Breast-feeding is beneficial to both a mother and her baby. However, for first-time and even seasoned breast-feeders, it can come with its ups and downs.
Getting started doesn't have to be a challenge. There are many tips that can guide mothers through the experience more easily.
While breast-feeding is a natural body function, it takes practice and patience. Some women can find it frustrating at times, especially if they are breast-feeding multiples or other older children simultaneously.
This guide on how to breast-feed will look at the most comfortable breast-feeding positions for mothers and their newborn babies, latching on tips, and breast-feeding for the first time.
Fast facts on breast-feeding:
- Milk from a baby's mother has many health advantages, such as providing antibodies, proteins, and fats that cannot be replicated by formula milk.
- There are numerous positions a mother can try during breast-feeding so that they and their baby are comfortable and able to breast-feed easily.
- Breast milk can come in a variety of colors - including green or orange when eating green and orange colored foods.
- One breast may produce more milk than the other. This is normal.
Breast-feeding for the first time after birth provides the baby with a kind of milk called colostrum. This is milk with a higher protein content and antibodies that are highly beneficial for a newborn baby.
Getting a good latch is vital to successful breast-feeding. In order to obtain a good latch, the baby will need to open their mouth wide while the mother pulls them into the breast.
The baby's back needs to be well supported, and their mouth needs to cover a good portion of the areola (the circular ring around the nipple). No matter what position the mother is holding the baby, they should be facing each other.
As nursing continues, latching and feeding may become easier or more difficult at different times as the baby develops.
Mothers should make sure they are comfortable. Roll the bed up, or get into a position where the mother is sitting. Once in a comfortable position, the baby should be positioned close to the mother's body in a way that:
- The baby's hips are flexed.
- Their head is supported by the mother's hand.
- The baby's mouth and nose are facing the nipple so that the mother can begin initiation of breast-feeding with a good latch by tickling the baby's lip with her nipple.
Bringing the baby into the breast chin first with the nipple pointing toward the roof of the mouth will help the baby to latch better.
Breast-feeding tips after latching
Once a good latch is obtained, the baby's chin and nose will be touching the breast and the mother will feel their nipple being pulled into the back of the baby's mouth, not just on the tip of the nipple. If the nose is pushing too much into the breast, the mother can bring the baby's bottom closer in and the nose will come off and allow for easier breathing.
A baby will come off the breast if the nose is pushed into the breast too much.
Breast-feeding should not be painful, so if a mother is experiencing pain, they should release the baby's latch and try again for a deeper latch, so the nipple is further back in the mouth.
Before discussing breast-feeding positions, it is important first to understand some terms that describe how mothers can support the breast that will be used to feed.
There are two holds used to support the breast - the "C" and "U" holds:
The 'C' hold or the 'palmer grasp'
To use the "C" hold, the top of the breast will be supported with the thumb on the top and the rest of the fingers will hold the bottom portion of the breast. Mothers should make sure the thumb or fingers are not too close to the areola.
The U hold or the 'scissor grasp'
To use the "U" hold, the mother will cup her breast with her fingers in a "U" shape. The La Leche League describes how to do this by placing "your fingers flat on your ribcage under your breast with your index finger in the crease under your breast. Drop your elbow so that your breast is supported between your thumb and index finger. Your thumb will be on the outer area of your breast, and your fingers will be on the inner area."
There are many different positions mothers can experiment with when trying to get into the best position for themselves and their baby. Positioning is important for maintaining nipple health and optimal feeding of the infant.
This position is also referred to as laid-back breast-feeding because it allows the mother to be lying back in a reclined position (leaning back) with the front of the baby's body in full contact with the front of the mother's body.
Mothers should make sure they have adequate head and shoulder support for comfort. As long as their bodies are in full contact, the baby can be in any position that is comfortable.
The cross-cradle hold is usually the best first position for breast-feeding. If the mother is right handed, the baby lays on their side, on a supporting pillow, across the mother with feet towards the right breast and latching on the left breast. The mother holds the baby in her right hand and arm, with her hand at the base of the baby's head.
When supporting the baby's head, it will rest in the mother's hand with thumb and index fingers supporting the ears. One hand supports the baby's neck with the baby's shoulder blades supported by the palm of the hand; the hand helps to push the baby forward when latching.
Mothers may or may not find it helpful to have the baby's legs and feet straddling the supporting arm or use a pillow for support.
She holds her left breast in her left hand with thumb above the nipple and fingers well below the areola. She touches the breast to the baby's lips and once the mouth is wide pulls her baby into the breast. Once the baby has breast-fed well on the first breast, the baby should be offered the other breast.
Football or clutch hold
If the mother is large breasted or has had a cesarean section, the football hold may be the best first position. For this position, the mother sits up in the bed. A pillow under her right arm supports the baby. The baby's bottom is against the back of the bed and the baby lays on the side facing the mother.
The mother scoops the baby with her right arm and hand, holding the back and shoulders with her palm and tucks the baby under her arm. The right breast is held in the mother's left hand and the baby is brought to the nipple when the mouth is wide.
The baby is brought to the nipple with her right hand and latches onto her right breast. This position allows the mother to better see the baby's mouth and reduces pressure on a cesarean scar.
Pillows may or may not be helpful for this hold.
The mother cradles the infant in the arm of the breast she plans to use; then rests the baby on their side against the mother's stomach and across their lap.
The baby's mouth should be at the same level as the nipple, while their head rests on the elbow or along the forearm; the baby's back and buttocks will then rest on the inner forearm and hand, providing cradled support.
When breast-feeding in the side-lying position, mothers will be lying on the side in they will feed from, with the baby facing them on their side, tummy-to-tummy.
Some mothers might place a rolled blanket or pillow along the baby's back to help stop the baby rolling backward and away from them, while others will simply use their arm to cradle the baby's back.
There are a range of techniques for breast-feeding twins and other multiples.
Double hold clutch
This position allows for two babies to be fed simultaneously using the football/clutch hold for each baby. Using pillows may be helpful in this position.
Cradle and clutch hold
This position again allows for two babies to be fed simultaneously using both the cradle and clutch holds. One baby will be fed using the cradle position, while the other is fed using the football or clutch hold. Again, using pillows may be helpful in this position.
Women who need more information or help with their specific breast-feeding needs should speak with their doctor or a lactation consultant.