29/08/2014 09:34 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 10:12 BST

Breastfeeding Positions You Should Know

Mother breastfeeding her baby

They say breastfeeding is the most natural thing in the world, but trust us, when you first get going, it doesn't always feel that way.

Breastfeeding takes time, patience and practice. Lots of it. It's a skill new mums have to learn after some trial and error, and experimenting with different positions until you find the ones that are comfortable for you and your little one (and that you can happily stay in for extended periods). And it's also something that's completely different from one child to the next.

Initially, finding a breastfeeding position that's comfortable can be tricky, awkward and even stressful (especially if you're trying to feed your screaming newborn out in public for the first time without giving the whole restaurant an eyeful), but don't despair.

Whether lying down, in your favourite armchair with a nursing pillow or on the move with your newborn in a sling or carrier, there are many options when it comes to breastfeeding positions and there's no right or wrong answer.

"It's important that parents know that breastfeeding shouldn't be painful," says Rosie Dodds, Senior Policy Adviser at NCT.

"If the baby takes a big enough mouthful it may be strange, but not painful. If you're in pain, you should get help from a midwife or counsellor or the NCT line.

"As far as breastfeeding positions, we give suggestions rather than recommendations - it's whatever works for you, anything that's comfortable for mum and baby."

No matter what position you choose, you'll want to make sure your baby is latched on properly (this is not only comfortable and optimises the milk they're getting; it can also help prevent sore, cracked nipples and mastitis).

For a good latching-on position, make sure the baby is facing the breast so they don't have to turn their head to the side and the baby's mouth is wide open (like they're looking for food). Lead the baby's chin to the breast (and the nose to the nipple), and when the baby latches on, the nipple should be lying on the roof of the mouth, according to NHS guidelines.

"Babies like to feed tucked in very close and particularly with the chin in close to the breast because it means that they can swallow well," says Dodds. "You don't want the baby's head twisted because then it isn't comfortable for them to swallow."

Here's our breakdown of the breastfeeding positions you should know, with handy tips to help you enjoy your breastfeeding experience.

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Happy mother breastfeeding her child

Laidback breastfeeding

According to Dodds, a reclining position where you're lying back (either in a chair or in bed) with the baby on top of you and your body entirely supporting your little one's is especially helpful in the beginning when the baby's instinct is to breastfeed. This is also a good choice in the early days when you're trying to maximise your skin-to-skin contact.

"Letting the baby take the breast can mean comfort for baby and mother," says Dodds. "The most important thing is that mothers are comfortable since they may be in the position for some time. One of the things that makes it comfy for baby is being against the mother very closely - tummy to mummy."

Edward Carlile Portraits
Mother with eyes closed breastfeeding baby in sunshine through window.

Lying on your side

A lying position may also be a good choice for tired mums (or those recuperating from a difficult or C-section labour) - you can lie on your side and breastfeed the baby by facing him towards your breast (parallel to you) and supporting him with your hand. Use a pillow under your head for support (women with larger breasts may also want to try folding a towel under their rib cage to lift their body up slightly).

This position is a common choice for early mornings and late nights - just remember, after you've finished feeding, it's recommended that you put baby back in their Moses basket or cot.

Sitting in a chair (cross-cradle and cradle holds)

A comfortable seated position (ideally in front of your favourite telly programme, with snacks handy) is another option for breastfeeding mothers.

There are many options for feeding your little one in a seated position, like the cross-cradle hold, a choice that's commonly used with newborns and younger babies (since it gives the mother more control), which involves the mother bringing the baby across the front of her body and holding the baby with the opposite arm to the breast you're feeding on. Support the baby's head with one hand and cup your breast with the other in a U-shaped hold.

Mother breastfeeding baby in living room

The cradle hold is another seated option where you support the baby with the same arm as the nursing breast, cradling the infant in the crook of your elbow while the baby faces your breast.

A way to check that your baby is in the right position? The "spine and line," Dodds explains. "It doesn't mean they can't be curled up, but you can draw a straight line from the head down through the spine."

And in case you're wondering, you can even breastfeed sitting on the floor (a pillow against your back might help).

Breastfeeding pillows

For seated breastfeeding in particular, nursing pillows can often be helpful for mums, providing additional support and stability (and freeing up a hand so that you can have some water or chat on the phone).

"Some mothers find they need pillows at the beginning but generally for a short time," says Dodds.

If you do choose to get a nursing pillow, they can also provide back support during pregnancy and also double as a baby nest for your little one to relax in.

Underarm (Rugby ball position)

Yet another breastfeeding position is the underarm hold (also known as the "rugby ball" position), where you tuck your baby under your arm (their legs extend behind your body) and support the baby's neck with the same hand as the side they're on.

This is a particularly popular technique when breastfeeding twins since it allows them both space to feed at the same time and is also good for keeping babies away from C-section incisions.

Another technique for tandem-nursing, according to Dodds, is to "criss-cross babies at the front (in a cross-cradle position), with one breast each."

"There's no bad or dangerous position as long as both mum and baby are comfortable," she says.

Breastfeeding an older child

If you choose to continue breastfeeding beyond six months, you will find a new range of positions to suit you and your growing infant.

"Breastfeeding positions evolve naturally," Dodds explains. "It's not something you need to think about. Older children feeding sitting in a mother's lap can be comfortable in a much wider variety of positions."

If you're feeding a toddler and have a newborn as well, the older child can be more flexible when it comes to their positioning.

Breastfeeding issues

The solution for solving breastfeeding problems like a blocked duct or mastitis? Feed through them. While painful, there are certain positions that are preferable when your nipples are feeling sore and your breasts aren't feeling their best.

"For blocked ducts, we suggest feeding with baby's chin against the sore part of the breast," says Dodds. "A blocked duct can lead to mastitis and may not be a problem if it clears straight away and if baby's chin is against the side with the blocked duct it's more likely to clear."

While she stresses there hasn't been enough research on many aspects of breastfeeding, one thing that helps women with a fast flow (that comes too quickly for a young baby to cope with) is to feed uphill so the baby is on top (and gravity is working against the flow of milk). This helps prevent spluttering when the oxytocin starts flowing during the letdown reflex.

Vice versa, if you have a baby who isn't able to suck very well, you can try feeding them downhill.

If you have do have cracked or sore nipples, anything from Breast Angels Silverette feeding cups to Lansinoh cream may help, while cabbage leaves have been known to soothe engorged breasts.

As far as lifestyle concerns during breastfeeding, particularly with alcohol and breastfeeding, small amounts of alcohol passes to breastfed babies through the milk, according to the NHS.

The recommendation for breastfeeding mums is not to exceed one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week, since alcohol may affect how your baby feeds (one unit is approximately a single measure of spirits, half a pint of beer or half a standard glass of wine). It isn't safe to be drunk when looking after your baby.

Breastfeeding in public

Often, you'll find that your baby needs a feed when you're out and about. You can feed your baby while moving them around in a sling or carrier. Your positions will be more limited but it's still possible to feed and the same criteria apply: as long as mum and baby are comfortable, it's all good.

Dodds stresses an important point to remember: Mothers have the right to breastfeed in public places, from restaurants to swimming pools to libraries to shops.

"Equality Action UK say that women have a right to feed anywhere and can take a complaint anywhere for anyone who discriminates against them," Dodds advises.

Take a look at our pick of the best breastfeeding clothes and dresses.

For further information on breastfeeding positions, try the following:

NCT breastfeeding positions

La Leche League International

NHS breastfeeding positioning

More on Parentdish: Breastfeeding advice