Breastfeeding Holds: Cross-Cradle, Football Hold, Cradle, Side-Lying

It can be difficult to eat a meal when your chin is tucked down into your chest or when your body is awkwardly positioned. The same principle applies to newborns: The better supported and positioned they are, they more effectively they'll be able to breastfeed. Because your newborn has very little muscle control, it's up to you to position her in a way in which her whole body is well supported so she can access your breast easily.

To help you do so, you can try practicing four common breastfeeding holds. The cross-cradle and the football holds are great during the first few weeks of breastfeeding. The cradle and the side-lying positions are more effective after a few weeks, when both you and your baby are more experienced breastfeeders.

Cross-Cradle
Football Hold
Cradle
Side Lying

And don't forget to position yourself correctly first. You should be seated comfortably upright with your feet flat on the floor and a nursing or bed pillow on your lap to raise your baby to breast height.

Breastfeeding Holds for Newborns

Most new moms start breastfeeding using the following two positions, since they provide much-needed support to her newborn in the early days and weeks.

The cross-cradle hold (or transitional hold)

In this hold, you feed your baby in one arm and with your opposite breast. For example, hold him in your left arm with his feet toward your left side and his head in your left hand while you feed him from your right breast.

  • Place your baby on his back on the nursing or bed pillow in your lap. Make sure the pillow is pulled in as closely to your body as possible. (See - Breastfeeding: How to Position Yourself)
  • Ensure that your baby's arms are by his side. This is important, because you'll find out that if this wiggly and surprisingly strong arm isn't moved out the way, it can greatly interfere with a proper latch onto the breast.
  • Once your baby's arm is by his side, roll him over stomach-to-stomach with you, making sure the arm you're holding him with is running along his spine for support. You may want to tuck his bottom into the crook of your arm or, if you're large breasted, you could tuck his body under the opposite breast.
  • Gently supporting your baby's head with your thumb and forefinger behind each ear, pull him up closely to your body, with his nose lined up with your nipple—that's right, with his nose, not his mouth, lined up to your nipple.

The football hold

This position is ideal for women who have had a cesarean section and want to avoid touching tender incisions. It's also a good position for large-breasted women because it will help them feel like they have more control over their breasts.

The trick with this position is to hold your baby just like you'd hold a football at your side. For example, hold your baby with your right arm, with his feet toward your right side, his bottom in the crook of your right arm and his head in your right hand while you feed him from your right breast.

  • Place your baby on the nursing pillow with his arm at his side.
  • Roll him stomach–to-ribs with you, bringing him in as close as possible.
  • Position your forearm up the length of your baby's back along his spine, with your thumb and forefinger gently on or behind each of his ears.
  • Place your baby's body far enough back so he comes to the breast at a good angle. You might need to make room for his legs by adding extra pillows behind you to move you forward. When you feel he's far enough back, push him back a bit more.

Breastfeeding Holds - Baby is 3 to 4 Weeks

Once you and your baby have mastered the above breastfeeding holds, you might want to try two other positions. Both of them offer less support to your baby, so it's best to wait until your baby is at least 3 or 4 weeks old, has stronger neck muscles and is latching on and feeding easily.

Cradle

This is the classic and most commonly pictured image of breastfeeding mothers. It's a popular hold because it encourages a more relaxed position and frees up your arm. In this hold you'll cradle your baby in your left arm with his head in the crook of your left elbow and his feet pointing toward your right side, and you'll feed him from your left breast.

  • Place your baby on the pillow and roll him stomach-to-stomach with you, placing his lower arm around your waist.
  • Place your forearm under his neck and spine, with your hand supporting his bottom or upper thighs.
  • Your baby's body should be in a straight line, with his nose lined up with your nipple.

Side-lying

This position allows both mom and baby to get much-needed sleep because it's done while you're lying in bed. Keep in mind that it's an advanced position because you don't have the full use of your hands, and latching the baby on deeply enough might be a problem when you're both learning to nurse.

  • Lie on your side on the bed and position your pillows so your head and back are supported.
  • Line up your baby stomach-to-stomach with you, with his nose lined up to the nipple of your lower breast.

Now that your baby is well supported, you'll want to make sure his head and body are properly aligned so he can drink at a comfortable angle.

Tips for success

  • Newborns have very little muscle control, so make sure you support your baby's whole body.
  • Try the cross-cradle and football holds first because they're ideal for newborns.
  • Once you and your baby are more experienced and efficient breastfeeders, try the cradle and side-lying positions.

Source: Heather Kelly is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who also sits on the Bravado Breastfeeding Information Council. Heather has been practicing in New York City since 2001.

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Heather Kelly
Heather is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
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