Back to Health News & Stories

Proper Positioning and Latching for Successful Breastfeeding

Proper positioning is critical when you're breastfeeding your baby. In this article we cover some of the basic breastfeeding principles.

This information is part of Virtua’s Breastfeeding resources collection. Please see our Breastfeeding Support Resources page to view the entire series.

Proper positioning is essential for effective breastfeeding, allowing the baby to form a deep latch. Good positioning is the best way to avoid sore nipples and prevent engorgement.

Here are the basic breastfeeding principles to remember:

  • Position your baby at breast level
  • Turn your baby toward you so that you’re chest-to-chest
  • Make sure the baby’s chin and nose are touching your breast.

Cradle hold: Hold the baby in the crook of your arm, close to your breast, facing you, chest-to-chest. Your baby should be up high on your chest, with their legs even with your other breast. 

When your baby’s mouth opens wide, bring them to your breast with your forearm. Your baby should not be in your lap or turned on their back. This can cause an improper latch that will injure your nipple.

This may feel like the most natural way to hold your baby for breastfeeding. However, it may be harder to use this hold when you’re just starting, as it may be more challenging to guide your baby onto your breast for a deep latch. Once you and your baby have some practice, this hold will become easier.

Football or clutch hold: Tuck the baby along your side with their feet behind you, against the back of the chair or bed. Place pillows under your baby to raise them to the level with your breast. 

Support your baby's neck with your hand, and use your forearm to support their upper body. Be sure to tuck your baby back along your side so you’re not leaning forward over them. You should be able to sit upright comfortably when you guide the baby to your breast. 

This is a good position to use after a C-section when you don't want the baby to touch your abdomen. It’s also good if you have large breasts or are nursing a small or premature baby.

Cross-cradle hold: Support your baby's neck and back like in the football hold, and hold your baby across your chest to the opposite breast. Support your breast with your other hand. Like the football hold, this position gives you more control in guiding the baby to the breast for a deeper latch.

Side-lying hold: As with the cradle hold, your baby should face you. While lying on a bed, place your baby along your side and nurse from that side. You may need a pillow to raise your baby to breast level. The side-lying position is excellent for nursing at night or if you’re uncomfortable sitting.

Signs of a good latch

A good latch is important for your comfort and for your baby to breastfeed effectively. During the early days of breastfeeding, it can take time and patience for your baby to latch on well.

Here are some signs that you have a good latch:

  • The latch feels comfortable to you and doesn’t hurt or pinch.
  • Your baby's chest is against your body, and they don’t have to turn their head while breastfeeding.
  • You see little or no areola (which also depends on the size of your areola and your baby's mouth). If you can see your areola, you should see more above your baby's lip and less below.
  • When your baby is well-positioned, your breast should fill their mouth.
  • You might not see it, but your baby’s tongue should be cupped under your breast.
  • You hear or see your baby swallow. Some babies breastfeed quietly, so a pause in their breathing may be the only sign of swallowing.
  • You see the baby's ears "wiggle" slightly.
  • Your baby's lips turn out, not in.
  • Your baby's chin touches your breast.

Get help with latch problems

To determine if you’re having latch problems, ask yourself these questions and then meet with a lactation consultant for solutions.

Are you in pain? 
You may have breast tenderness initially until you find a comfortable breastfeeding position and a good latch. Once you have done this, breastfeeding should feel comfortable. 

If breastfeeding hurts, your baby may be sucking only on the nipple. Gently break your baby's suction by placing a clean finger in the corner of their mouth and trying the latch again.

Also, your nipple should not look flat or compressed when it comes out of your baby's mouth. It should look round and long or the same shape as before the feeding.

Are you or your baby frustrated?
Take a short break and hold your baby in an upright position. Try placing your baby between your breasts, with skin-to-skin contact. Talk, sing, or let your baby suck on your finger for comfort. Try to breastfeed again after a few minutes. Your baby may start moving to the breast from this position.

Does your baby have a weak suck or only make tiny sucking movements?
Break your baby's suction and try again. Their latch may not be deep enough to draw milk from your breast. Talk with a lactation consultant or pediatrician if your baby's suck feels weak or you’re unsure your baby is getting enough milk.