Here we provide tips on breastfeeding positions, including lying down, sitting in a chair, and underarm positions.
The way you hold your baby or position them will affect how easy it is for them to breastfeed effectively. You can breastfeed your baby in many different positions, so it’s good to try different ones. This helps you find what’s most comfortable for you and allows your baby to get just the right mouthful of breast to feed effectively and easily.
Breastfeeding positions for newborns
When you first start breastfeeding your newborn, they will not be able to hold themselves in a good position. So you’ll have to maintain a comfortable position for both of you for quite long periods. It takes time for your baby to develop the muscles and skills to feed effectively.
Our video has some great tips on different ways to hold your baby.
If you're having problems breastfeeding, or with latching or attachment, do call our infant feeding support line on 0300 330 0700 to talk to a breastfeeding counsellor. Your midwife or health visitor can also signpost you to your nearest breastfeeding support group.
Getting some support with breastfeeding can help you to get comfortable in one or more of the breastfeeding positions that we describe in this article.
Here’s how to get started…
Preparing to feed
Whichever nursing positions you use, your baby will feed better if they’re calm and you’re comfortable. Holding them against you, talking to them or perhaps wrapping them securely in a towel or shawl might help if they need to be calmed. Or they might want to have their hands free to touch and stroke your breast.
Read more about getting started with breastfeeding in our article here.
Laid-back, relaxing position
With laid-back breastfeeding, your body completely supports your baby’s body. You’re facing each other and closely touching. Your body is reclined at about 45⁰ and well supported with pillows, or cushions. You could use a changing bag or your coat to support you if you’re out and about.
Research suggests that lying like this encourages your baby’s instincts, such as rooting, and is often more comfortable, which helps breastfeeding. It also means gravity works in your favour, generally encouraging a deeper latch (Coulson, 2012). To read more about laid-back breastfeeding, see our article here.
Sitting in a chair
These are the positions you see most women using when they are out with their baby. It’s worth getting comfortable yourself, so you don’t have to support your baby’s weight. You might want a cushion or pillow for this when your baby is small and taking longer to feed.
To breastfeed sitting in a chair, let your baby lie across your lap, with their head supported on your forearm and their nose towards your nipple. Make sure their ear, shoulder and hip are in a line, not twisted round (UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative and Public Health England, 2015). You could also try laying them across your lap, with your opposite hand and wrist supporting their upper back and neck.
Underarm or rugby ball
For this position, you place cushions at your side for your baby to rest on, with their legs pointing behind you. You’ll probably need cushions behind you to leave enough room for their legs to go past your back. Your baby will be tucked under your arm for support.
You can bring your baby towards your breast using your right hand (if your baby is under your right arm). You can place your hand behind their shoulders and neck once they’ve attached and support their weight with pillows.
Starting nose to nipple generally helps your baby attach well. This is because their head will automatically tip back, allowing them to take a large mouthful.
The underarm/rugby ball position can work well for twins as each baby has their own space.
You lie on your side and rest your head on a pillow that goes on top of your lower arm. Your baby can then tuck in close to your body. You can guide them to your breast and support them with your free hand.
A pillow behind you will support your back. A thin pillow or folded towel under your rib cage will lift your body slightly and is helpful if you have large breasts.
If you’ve had a caesarean or need to stay in bed, breastfeeding lying down can be relaxing and help you get more rest.
Breastfeeding positions for a fast milk flow
If you have a fast milk flow, this could be due to a large supply of breast milk. Some mums who have a fast milk flow worry their baby might have reflux if they’re having problems, but it could be that their baby needs more control when they’re feeding. If this is the case, laid-back feeding could be useful as it helps your baby to attach better and pull back if they need to take a break.
Breastfeeding your baby as they get heavier
As your baby grows, they become more active in getting themselves into position, as well as being larger and heavier. You might need to adjust you and your baby’s position to continue to feed comfortably and effectively.
A laid-back breastfeeding position could be useful with larger or older babies as you do not have to use your arms to hold their weight. You can always ask a breastfeeding counsellor for support with finding positions that suit you and your baby.
Breastfeeding position tips
Whichever breastfeeding position you choose, remember…
- Bring your baby to your breast or let them attach themselves rather than leaning towards them.
- Tuck your baby in closely to you.
- Check that their ear, shoulder and hip are all in a line – not twisted round.
- Make sure your baby is facing your nipple – they shouldn’t have to turn their head.
- Using cushions, special breastfeeding pillows and other supports might help in the early days, but you might be equally comfortable without them.
(UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative and Public Health England, 2015)
Many women take a while to get used to holding their baby comfortably. Trying different positions can help you find the ones that work best for you and your baby.
Page last reviewed: November 2019
NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.
National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 021.
For further information on how to breastfeed, including positioning and breastfeeding attachment, and a section on expressing your breastmilk by hand, visit Unicef's Baby Friendly Initiative support area for parents.
Bump to Breastfeeding DVD: available from your midwife or library – see more at www.bestbeginnings.org.uk
UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative; Public Health England. (2015) Off to the best start. Available from: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2010/11/otbs_leaflet.pdf [Accessed 16th August 2019]
Coulson S. (2012) Biological nurturing: the laid-back breastfeeding revolution Midwifery today. 101. Available from: https://midwiferytoday.com/mt-articles/biological-nurturing/ [Accessed 16th August 2019]