Our team of breastfeeding and early parenting specialists are here to support your journey. In the following blog article Laura, one of our Breastfeeding Counsellors, shares her top three tips she uses when working with families on positioning their baby at the breast. If your baby is struggling to latch at the breast, getting upset, or causing you pain while feeding, this is a great place to start.
Laura has been supporting new parents in Tunbridge Wells for five years, and is one of the founding directors of the Baby Umbrella Charity.
When I meet a family I usually try to start with where they are rather than reinventing the wheel! Many families have just about managed to get their baby latched but this is either a tricky process or they are experiencing pain or damage when they do. Instead of taking the baby off the breast completely, I often find it can be less stressful for everyone to begin by making small adjustments to their existing positioning. I hope these tips will empower you to do the same. You can use these principles with every breastfeeding position, and throughout your whole breastfeeding journey. If you need more help, please book in for free support.
Tip 1: Hug baby closer
After your baby has latched, if you look down, can you see your baby’s lips either side of their mouth? If so, your baby could be closer! Try hugging your baby’s body into yours, and watch their cheeks come into close contact with your breast. As you look down you’ll see a straight line where your baby’s cheeks make contact with your breast - no lips to be seen.
It can be tempting to push your baby’s head into the breast to get a deeper latch, but this can end up in a bit of a battle. If you focus on bringing in your baby’s body and especially their tummy and chest into close contact with your body, their head will follow. Avoiding pushing your baby’s head in will also ensure they can pull back if they are struggling to breathe.
Holding your baby firmly against you helps them to feel secure and stable and then they can focus on latching. It also brings their body into more of a chest-forward position to enable that chin to tip up and back and allow a deeper latch, rather than a banana shape with their chin on their chest. Imagine you’re drinking from a can - you’d bring your chest forward, tip your head back and chin up to open wide and glug - exactly the position it’s easiest for your baby to drink in too.
Tip 2: Free the nose, bury the chin
Now, while your baby is latched and you’re hugging them nice and close, take a look at their nose. Is it buried in breast tissue or is their chin tipped down onto their chest? If so, try sliding your baby’s whole body a little towards their toes.
If you are holding your baby across your body this means you’ll slide them round towards your other breast. If you’re holding your baby more up-and-down your body (laid back), you’ll need to slide them down your body a bit (try sliding your foot out to drop your knee) or lean back.
Because their mouth is fixed on the nipple, this will allow some more space under their chin, allowing their whole face to tip up and freeing up their nose. It’s almost like your baby is looking up at the nipple while latching or feeding.
With their head back and chest out (as above), this will also facilitate a wide open mouth for a big mouthful of breast tissue.
Tip 3: Angle cheeks equally
Now it’s time to take a look at both of your baby’s cheeks. Are they equally planted in breast tissue? Or can you see a gap to the breast on one of their cheeks?
If the top cheek is planted tight to the breast, but there’s a gap to the bottom cheek - like the photo - try scooping your baby under the breast a little to bring the bottom and top cheeks more equally into contact. Again, the same principles apply, move your baby’s body and their head position will follow.
I often liken this to a suction cup on a window, if you pull the sucker to one side, it’ll pop off right? Same with your baby! If your baby is angled more to one cheek than the other, there will be tension on the latch where that gap is - the nipple is being dragged out of your baby’s mouth. So moving your baby towards that gap or that tension (sometimes you can see the skin of the breast a little tight there too) will help your baby maintain an easier suction to the breast.
Conversely, if you see a gap at the top cheek, you can try rolling your baby in towards you, bringing their whole body in towards you, tummy to tummy, and allowing their head to follow.
When feeding in a more vertical/ up-and-down your body or laid back position, you can experiment with ‘rotating’ your baby’s body around your body, to the left or right, to change their cheek angle. You can try your baby straddling either one of your thighs too, to become either more straight or more diagonal on your body.
Hug baby closer (pull baby’s back and shoulders right in to your body)
Free the nose, bury the chin (move baby towards their toes to free their nose)
Angle cheeks equally (scoop baby under or roll them in to plant cheeks equally)
In the breastfeeding world you might hear this type of positioning and attachment work called “micro-movements” or “Gestalt breastfeeding”. It can often be easier and less stressful than endlessly popping your baby off the breast and starting the latching process all over again. The trick is making a small movement and watching and feeling what happens after a few seconds, then trying something slightly different and checking how that helped again. It’s all about small experiments and slowly finding your own unique way to fit together with your baby. I hope it helps! And if you’re still struggling, come along and see us for more support.