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Latching On and Positioning in Breastfeeding

This article provides three different breast-feeding positions and tips.

Latching On and Positioning in Breastfeeding

Positioning is everything in breastfeeding. If your baby doesn't latch on correctly, nursing will not last for long.

Breastfeeding is a natural function, and most babies know what to do intuitively. Chances are, your child will be eager to begin suckling soon after birth. But don't be surprised if you both need a little help getting started, especially if you've had a long and difficult delivery or baby is not hungry right after being born. Learning to latch on may take a bit of time and patience, but you'll both soon get the hang of it.

There are three positions you may use to feed your baby: cradle hold, football hold, and lying down. Try the cradle hold to learn how to latch on properly. Get comfortable in bed with pillows to support your back, or in a chair. Place baby in the crook of your arm, rotating his entire body toward you. Bring baby's head up to your breast. Check to see that he is facing straight toward you and that his head, chest, and abdomen are all aligned. Using the opposite hand, take one of your breasts and tickle baby's lips lightly with your nipple. Stroking his lips with the nipple stimulates the rooting reflex, and he is inclined to open wide to get the breast in his mouth. Use your other arm to cradle baby and support his head.

Now comes the tricky part. Once baby's mouth is fully open, swiftly bring him to the breast. Your baby's instinct will tell him to latch on and begin nursing. Avoid the urge to lean closer to baby to get the breast in his mouth. It's tempting to go to baby, rather than bring baby to you, but it causes you to hunch over, which could lead to back strain.

How do you know baby's on the breast the right way? Pain can be your guide. The goal is getting baby to compress the areola (the dark area around the nipple) to get milk, not to nurse from your nipple. In fact, your nipple needs to be in the back of baby's mouth during nursing in order for him to correctly compress the areola and activate milk flow. The correct latch will be fairly tight, and you can check correct positioning by looking to see whether most of the areola is in baby's mouth. If nursing hurts, chances are your baby is latching on to the nipple. This is a sign to remove the baby and reposition. Gently insert your pinkie finger into your baby's mouth to break his grip on the breast and begin again.

Finding the Perfect Position
Once you've mastered latching on, it really doesn't matter which of the three most common nursing positions you use. I was a fan of the cradle and football holds for my first two girls. But once Emma came along, I was too tired to sit up, especially at night. That's when I began lying down to breastfeed most of the time.

Each position has advantages. For example, I got a lot of reading done when nursing sitting up, but a lot more rest when I did it lying down. Don't forget to nurse from both breasts no matter which position you choose.

The cradle position is rather self-explanatory: Your baby lies in the crook of your arm, which you use to move her around to get close to your breast. Sit up with plenty of support for your back. I also put a pillow on my lap to help lessen the strain on the arm that I was using to cradle the baby. A lap pillow also helps when you are switching sides, as it provides a soft place for baby to take a short time-out between breasts.

I think this position offers more control when trying to get baby to latch on properly, largely because you can better guide his head. To begin, you'll need at least two pillows. Place one pillow on your lap and the other pillow to the side of you. Put the baby on your lap with his legs pointing toward your back, keeping your hand under his head and back for support. Make sure his mouth is level with your nipple before you begin. This is a great position for nursing twins because you can feed two simultaneously. It's also good after cesarean delivery since it keeps pressure off your abdomen.

Lying Down
This position was invented for tired moms! Begin by lying next to baby on the side you want to nurse on. Turn baby to face you, making sure his mouth is level with your nipple while you support his head and back with your free arm. This is a great nursing position for women recovering from a cesarean birth.

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