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Some Ins and Outs of Laid-Back Breastfeeding

In an earlier post I explained why it’s time to change the way we teach breastfeeding.  I described research findings indicating that early breastfeeding is easier when mothers lean back with their babies’ weight resting on their body.1  (See my new Blog History category “Laid-Back Breastfeeding” in the right column for a link to all my posts on this subject.)  These laid-back positions not only make breastfeeding less work for mothers, they also make it easier for babies to take the breast deeply, especially during the early weeks.  That’s because in these positions gravity helps rather than hinders babies’ inborn feeding reflexes, which can make a huge difference when babies are at their most uncoordinated. 

After decades of teaching mothers to breastfeed sitting upright or lying on their sides, many have difficulty visualizing this new approach.  One common question I am often asked is whether these positions are practical after a cesarean birth.  The answer is most definitely yes.

A number of adjustments can be made to help a mother customize laid-back breastfeeding (also known as “Biological Nurturing”) to her body type and situation.  As you can see from these line drawings, one adjustment is changing the direction of the baby’s “lie” on her body.  In all laid-back positions, baby lies tummy down on mother, but this can be accomplished in many ways.  The baby can lie vertically below mother’s breast (as on this website’s banner), diagonally below the breasts, across her breasts, at her side, even over her shoulder.  As Suzanne Colson explains in her DVD, “Biological Nurturing: Laid-Back Breastfeeding,” the breast is a circle, and the baby can approach it from any of its 360 degrees, except for positions in which the baby’s body covers mother’s face.  So after a cesarean birth a mother can use many laid-back positions without baby resting on her incision.

Another possible adjustment is the mother’s angle of recline, or how far the mother leans back. In laid-back positions, the mother leans back far enough so that her baby rests comfortably on her body without needing to support her baby with her arms but is upright enough so she and her baby can easily maintain eye contact.   Because most hospital beds are adjustable, finding their best angle of recline is especially easy during the hospital stay.  At home, I suggest mothers imagine the positions they use to watch their favorite television show.  Most of us lean back on a sofa, chair, or bed, using cushions or pillows so we can relax our shoulders, head, and arms.  Colson says the best laid-back breastfeeding positions are those that mothers can easily and comfortably maintain for up to an hour.

When using laid-back breastfeeding, ideally each mother finds her own best variations by trial and error.  In light of these insights, I think the time has come for us to stop naming and teaching specific breastfeeding “holds.”  (After all, no one teaches bottle-feeding mothers how to hold their babies during feedings!)  That way, mothers will no longer waste their time trying to duplicate feeding positions taught in classes or pictured in books that may not be right for them or--even worse--may even make early breastfeeding more difficult. Instead, each mother’s focus will stay exactly where it belongs: on her and her baby.


1 Colson, S. D., Meek, J. H., & Hawdon, J. M. Optimal positions for the release of primitive neonatal reflexes stimulating breastfeeding. Early Human Development 2008; 84(7):441-449.


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Reader Comments (7)

Excellent post. I'm so glad that you mention c-sections. It can be so tough for c-section moms to get the hang of breastfeeding and you offer some great advice.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Hi Nancy:

Excellent summary of Suzanne Colson's observational work. My son was one of those that invented his own version of "upside down" nursing. I would lie on one side. He would dangle his legs over my backside, his tummy pressed on top of my side, with his head facing downward to nurse on the breast closest to the bed. Maybe he liked the rush of blood to his head. I don't know. But for a while that was his favorite nighttime nursing position.

Best, Susan

PS. What's with all the insertions of bag ads here. Did someone hack your website?

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Burger

Nancy, I'm so excited to see you writing about Suzanne Colson's work. I heard her speak in 2007 when I was living in the UK and was just blown away by her ideas. It occurred to me then that we needed a big overhaul in how we teach breastfeeding and latching, etc. to moms using this information. But when I came back to the States, I didin't hear anyone here talking about this. Now that you are in on it, I am confident that the word will get out quickly and beautifully. I don't have your new book yet, and am curious to know if it includes this. I love your work and am grateful for it, on behalf of all the moms and babies you help!

December 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean Nunnally

I am SO excited to read this! This is exactly how I breastfeed my youngest son, and it feels completely natural and easy. It's a shame that I wasn't able to relax and "go with the flow" like this with my last 3 children. I was always so nervous about doing it just right. Achieving "proper positioning" was so nerve-wracking for me, that I doubted myself and my ability to produce enough milk. Finally now, on baby number 4, I have just gone with what feels the best for both of us. And so most of the time, I breastfeed in my recliner or reclined against some pillows, and my son lays on me and kind of positions himself. It's wonderful! I'm thrilled to find this is being written about. I never knew it was called "laid-back breastfeeding", but that's the perfect term for it! Thanks!

November 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMarlena Williams

I LOVE THIS!!!!! Everyone thought I was so weird when I told them how I feed my son ( I lay down on my back and let him sit next to me with his feet in my armpit) thank you for sharing this, I think more women should know that you can do it how ever it works for them

November 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

I began using some of these positions (mainly across the breasts) from the early days of our breastfeeding relationship. It was just more convenient and comfortable! It made cosleeping so easy as well, as we didn't have to get up and sit in a chair to feed (we have a waterbed). I wish this would be seen by more new moms so that they know they don't have to be so uncomfortable!

December 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Bayless

I just stumbled across your site and post after searching for information on why my baby wanted to breastfeed laying across my tummy (legs dangling to the side). I'm a new mom (at 40) and my 2 1/2 month old girl fussed and squirmed last night until she had herself in this position to feed. She had never done this before as I usually feed her by laying supine in the bed with her lying next to me. I found this was easier because I am large breasted and the holds I was taught in the hospital were very uncomfortable to maintain. I am glad to read that this new position is normal and ok. I am looking forward to reading more from you!

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
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