Feeding your baby in the laid-back nursing position

Nursing in the Laid-Back Position

When your baby is first born, your birth attendant is likely to place your baby on your chest for some immediate skin-to-skin time. Baby may root around and flirt with the idea of nursing while in this laid-back position. However, as time passes in the immediate postpartum, many nursing parents are asked to sit upright to nurse. Nursing parent and baby then move from an instinctual nursing position to one that requires multiple hands, pillows and props. During lactation consultations, we often help the nursing parent get back into this laid-back position to nurse. Why? Laid-back breastfeeding, also known as the biological nurturing position, may be the best kept secret in breastfeeding. It is full of benefits for nursing parents and babies.

Laid-back nursing is one of the best positions for many nursing parents. When you have been getting little to no sleep, waking around the clock to actively manage your baby’s latch, and using muscles you never knew you had, a comfortable position can be a very welcome relief. This position allows you to recline, rest your head and neck, and relax your arms and wrists. Instead of wrestling with a pile a pillows, blankets, and boppies, you can just use your body as the perfect prop for your baby. In this position, you can harness the power of gravity instead of fighting against it. While it may not seem tiring to hold your tiny baby at first, doing so a dozen or more times a day for many minutes each time adds up to some sore and strained muscles. In addition to being more comfortable and sustainable, the biological nursing position allows baby to achieve a deeper latch which can relieve some types of nipple pain.

Those are a lot of reasons to try laid-back nursing and we haven’t even gotten to the benefits of this lovely position for your baby. Babies are born with a set of innate reflexes – instinctive behaviors designed to help them survive in the world. You may have noticed that your baby grips your finger when placed in his palm or extends his arms if moved abruptly. These are examples of innate reflexes. Babies also have reflexes that are meant to help them get food. When baby is placed belly to belly with the nursing parent with the face against her breast, he or she feels light pressure against the chin, torso, hips, legs and feet. This light pressure triggers your baby to root around, bob the head, gape the mouth and find the ultimate food source – human milk! The nursing parent will often unconsciously help trigger these reflexes in their baby by stroking their cute little bodies and, because the laid-back position frees up your hands more, you are able to do more stroking. This is also the ideal position to make eye contact with your precious new babe. As we noted before, the laid-back position helps baby get a deeper latch and can also help your baby gently work out any kinks or position preferences they formed while in the womb and during birth. It is truly a genius design!

So, now that we know why laid-back feeding is good for the nursing parent and babies, let’s talk about how and where to try this position. Couches can be an ideal starting place since they are designed to support our relaxation in a number of positions. With your back and neck against the arm of the couch, baby can be placed in the crook of the arm that is against the back of the couch. The cushions there often naturally support the arm that is holding the baby. If not, you can roll up a baby blanket to place under your arm. This position can work well in recliners and beds as well. In bed, a supportive back pillow, like the kind that used to be called husband pillows but are now more often called bed rest pillows, can be very helpful. Once a place has been chosen, all you now need to do is lie back, hold your baby belly-to-belly at an angle across your body with the baby’s nose at nipple level, firmly hold baby’s back between the shoulder blades (not on the back of baby’s head – doing so will trigger another innate response that causes baby to pull the head away from you!), and let baby nestle their chin against the chest. Next, wait for baby to open wide the mouth and, once your baby’s mouth is wide open, quickly and firmly pull baby toward the breast with the hand that is between their shoulder blades. It may take a few tries at first. Your baby may bob around looking for, and missing, the target the first couple of times. Some find it easier to latch the baby while sitting more upright and then slide down into a more relaxed position. Once baby is nursing, you can let your head rest all the way back and relax all those tense muscles. After baby finishes nursing on one side, rotate on the couch so that your back is now against the other arm of the couch and start again. If you had a cesarean birth, position baby’s body so that your incision site is protected from little kicking feet. Some nursing parents feel better when there is a blanket or towel giving an extra layer or two of wound protection. This position works with any additional tools you may be using such as nipple shields or a Supplemental Nursing System.

A note on the neck…
There has long been a healthy but misunderstood fear of not properly supporting babies necks. Even those who don’t know much about newborn care know you must support the neck! But, this is unnecessary when baby is in the laid-back nursing position. In the laid-back nursing position, we ask you to allow your baby’s head and neck to have more range of motion. It is perfectly fine for the baby’s head and neck to roll back while in this position. In fact, it is beneficial! When a parent is able to relax around this fear, allow some freedom of movement in their baby’s neck and head, the baby is able to assume an ideal drinking posture: head back and throat open to achieve what we in our practice call the lizard pose. The lizard pose helps baby with their suck-swallow-breathe pattern and engages the mouth and face muscles in the optimal way for nursing. With the head tilted back, baby is able to get a deeper latch and properly engage his tongue to really stimulate the breast, allowing the milk to flow. It helps to think about what your head and neck do when drinking. We do not tuck our chins to drink – we tilt our heads back to open our throats and airway. This is exactly what we want your baby to do while nursing!

Now that you know that your body is the only prop you need to successfully breastfeed your baby, we hope you feel more confident to nurse your little one wherever you are. Once you are ready to get out and about with your baby, please consider joining us for our 0-6 month Breastfeeding Support Group. We meet every Wednesday from 11:30-1:00 at Zenana Spa. The weekly group is a great place to get questions answered and meet other new nursing parents. We can support you at-home with learning laid-back breastfeeding if more help is needed with a private consultation.

Written by our esteemed apprentice Melissa Curry. Thank you to Lindsey Eden Photography allowing us to use this image.

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