How many new moms are taught to breastfeed this way: sit up in a chair with your back straight and your feet on the floor, use pillows under baby to support him at breast level, then latch your baby. When you see this in action, many times it’s mom hunched over with baby laying on the pillows on her lap. Not the best for latch, milk transfer or mom’s comfort. What if moms were taught something more comfortable from the start? Enter laid-back breastfeeding, or using a reclining position to feed your baby.
According to Suzanne Colson RM, PhD, author of An Introduction to Biological Nurturing, a “laid-back” position for nursing unlocks breastfeeding reflexes in baby and mom. Many moms associate this position with skin-to-skin time at birth, but really it can be done whenever – at birth, during the days postpartum, anytime until weaning. You don’t need to be skin-to-skin unless you want – you can use this same position fully clothed. There’s nothing extra to buy, there’s no new skill to learn. You simply relax wherever you’re sitting, lean back, and bring the baby to your breast to feed.
To “do” laid back breastfeeding, sit in a reclining position – in bed, on the sofa, in a chair – with your head and shoulders supported. You don’t want to be flat, but reclining comfortably. You’ll find how far reclined is comfortable for you – and it might change from feeding to feeding and it might take some trial and error. Place baby on your body with his head at breast level (gravity will help to keep him tummy to tummy with you). Often this looks like baby laying across mom’s body at an angle with his head at the breast and his feet off to the opposite side by her lap or waist. But you can use any position where your body is reclined and baby’s head is at breast level.
Once you’re both comfortable, make sure your breast is accessible. You may need to support your breast if you are large breasted or if it’s heavy because it’s full of milk. You can guide baby to latch, or you can allow him to self-attach. He may bob around a bit first, but he should eventually latch. Then you can just relax and allow him to feed while gently supporting him and keeping him from rolling off your body.
Colson’s research suggests that babies have 20 inborn “primitive neonatal reflexes,” behaviors that help them in their search for food and security. What she also found it that mom’s position in relation to baby can help or hinder the awakening of these reflexes. We can take advantage of those natural traits with laid back positioning to feed.
The biggest benefit of laid back positioning is that it’s so relaxing for mom. You’re not holding your body stiff or in an unnatural position. You’re sitting in a normal way to relax your whole body – a position you’ve probably used thousands of times when you’re decompressing from work, getting in a nap or just “chilling out.” Your baby benefits, too. With laid back breastfeeding, babies tend to get a deep, asymmetric latch, which is the best for good milk transfer (and maternal comfort). This position is especially helpful if mom has a forceful let-down reflex since the milk flow will need to work a little against gravity.
Sometimes having illustrations and videos is extremely useful. You can learn more about Colson’s “biological nurturing” in her book or on her website. La Leche League International also has an information sheet you can print.
There’s no right or wrong way to breastfeed. But some positions help more than others. You want to find one that’s comfortable for you, and that works for your baby. You don’t need to use a reclining position every time you feed – it’s just another tool to have in your nursing repertoire. If you aren’t sure how to get started, talk to a lactation consultant or breastfeeding counselor. She can help you and your baby thrive with laid back breastfeeding.
Colson, S. (2010a) What happens to breastfeeding when mothers lie back? Clinical applications of biological nurturing. Clinical Lactation 1, 9-12.
Colson, S. (2010b) An Introduction to Biological Nurturing: New angles on breastfeeding. Amarillo, TX; Hale Publishing.