Breastfeeding lying down is often touted as the promised land of nursing positions, but it’s not the easiest one for some new moms. Still, it’s worth trying, as it can help make breastfeeding more comfortable for you and your baby.
Wondering how to get it right? A couple of lactation consultants who have helped many parents master this position share their best tips.
What is the side-lying position used for?
Ask anyone who has mastered breastfeeding lying down and they’ll say the biggest benefit is that it helps sleep-deprived new moms get more rest by lying down for some of their baby’s feedings. “It’s really relaxing,” says Dallas Parsons, an international board-certified lactation consultant based in South Surrey, BC. It’s also less disruptive to your sleep if you’re able to pull your baby into bed rather than sit up to nurse them.
But aside from helping parents feel more rested (no small feat!), the breastfeeding lying down can be useful if your perineum was damaged during your baby’s birth, as sitting on your sitz bones to nurse can be painful, says Taya Griffin, an international board-certified lactation consultant based in Toronto. There are other postnatal circumstances that this position can be handy for as well. Griffin explains that one of her clients was unable to sit up without vomiting because of an epidural headache, while another one had postpartum depression and stayed in bed. In both cases, the side-lying position was a lifesaver.
In addition to being a boon for the parent, side-lying can help some babies nurse better. “If the baby has had a lot of birth trauma, has torticollis or other neck issues or has undergone a forceps or vacuum delivery, they often benefit when their mother spends the time to learn how to breastfeed lying down because there’s no pressure placed anywhere on the baby’s skull or neck,” explains Griffin. “Once the baby has latched, they might actually be happier and more relaxed and open their mouth wider because they’re just lying on their side.”
If a baby is frustrated with the flow of milk, breastfeeding lying down may help in this situation, too. “I’ll often try the side-lying position if the baby is fussy because sometimes both mom and baby are more relaxed and the milk flows better,” says Griffin. If a lactation consultant has determined that the opposite is true, where you have a ton of milk, the side-lying position can come to the rescue also – you can lie on a towel in bed and any milk that dribbles out of your baby’s mouth lands on the towel, not your stomach, as it might if you were sitting up, says Griffin.
How to breastfeed lying down
Here’s how Griffin and Parsons suggest that you breastfeed lying down. You may need to make some adjustments to find what works best for you and your baby.
1. Make sure that there are no blankets or duvets near your baby on the bed and that the bed sheet is tight on a firm mattress.
2. Place your baby on the bed on their back.
3. Lie down on your side beside your baby.
4. Place a pillow behind your back to lean against slightly. “This will lift your nipple and breast off the bed a little so that your baby can get a lot of the areola in their mouth,” explains Griffin. “This, of course, will depend on the size of breast. If the breast is smaller, you might not have to lean in. If the breast is larger, you might need to lean back a little farther.”
5. Check your leg position. Some babies are quite strong and will push their legs against your upper legs, which can affect their latches. To avoid this, keep your legs straight and aligned with your hips rather than curl your body around the baby, suggests Griffin.
6. Place a pillow between your knees to neutralize the spine and make it more comfortable, says Griffin, and place a pillow under your head.
Is ‘breastsleeping’ best?7. Once you’re all set up, place your baby on their side so that you and your baby are facing tummy to tummy. Your baby’s nose should be lined up with the nipple of your bottom breast to encourage them to look up and open their mouth wide.
8. Bring your baby onto the breast deeply (just as you would with a regular latch), with your top hand behind their shoulder blades, and pull them in when their mouth is open. “Some moms need to actually lean on their elbows and support their breasts while their babies latch on,” says Griffin.
9. Roll up a receiving blanket and place it alongside your baby’s spine. This will help keep them propped up and prevent them from reaching deeply for the breast without your hand on their back, says Griffin. This also frees up your top hand to do breast compressions, adds Parsons, which can speed up a feeding when you increase the flow by gently squeezing your breast.
10. Depending on your routine, you may need to switch sides. Some moms are able to lean over toward their baby and offer the top breast, which means that you don’t have to flip your baby over. But if that doesn’t work for you, lie on your back, place your baby on your chest, reposition yourself and nurse them on the opposite side. Parsons says that it’s important to not continuously neglect the other side because it could end up blocked or uncomfortable.
Is it safe to fall asleep while breastfeeding lying down?
Both the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) say that bed sharing is not recommended. The CPS lists several risk factors for babies sleeping in adult beds, including a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), falls, suffocation and overheating. That being said, many people still end up sleeping with their babies, whether intentionally or not.
If you’re nursing in the side-lying position, it’s a good idea to create the safest sleep environment possible in case you do end up falling asleep, suggests Parsons. “It’s better to set up your bed safely for those instances,” she explains. La Leche League has developed a set of guidelines for safer bed sharing called The Safe Sleep Seven. They say that those sharing the bed should be non-smokers and sober.
While breastfeeding has been found to reduce the risk of SIDS, research has found that when babies are primarily breastfed, the nursing mother tends to position herself in a way that protects the baby from accidental suffocation (from either the parent or a blanket). As well, the baby tends to adopt a position near the breast, safely away from pillows and other possible dangers. The baby should also be healthy and full-term, sleep on their back and be lightly dressed (not swaddled). The sleep surface must be safe, too, which means a fairly firm mattress free of extra pillows, toys and heavy covers; no dangling strings or cords nearby; any cracks (say, between a headboard or wall and the mattress) packed with rolled-up blankets or towels; and, if you cover the baby, bedding that is lightweight and away from your baby’s head.
Can you feed a newborn lying down?
Yes, you can! However, both Griffin and Parsons say that it takes practice, so parents who aren’t confident in nursing may be intimidated by this position. Griffin adds that it’s a good idea to know a good latch beforehand because latching while lying down is slightly trickier, and she has seen clients who have damaged their nipples from doing side-lying nursing without getting that sorted out first. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try—you just might need some help if it doesn’t work out the first time. “You need to make sure that the baby’s lined up properly and latched on deeply,” says Parsons. “If it hurts, try adjusting. If you can’t get it right then, you might want to ditch it for now and come back to it.”
Griffin, who wasn’t able to master this position until her oldest child was two months old, used to latch her daughter in a cross-cradle position while sitting on the edge of the bed and then slowly inch her way down. “I’d have a pillow ready and hold onto her tightly,” she explains. “Then, when I was almost lying down, I’d let go of her bum and fall onto the bed.” She would then place a rolled-up receiving blanket along her baby’s spine to keep her in position. “Seven out of 10 times, I would actually get a really good latch,” she says.
How to get help with the side-lying position
There are plenty of resources, both online and offline, to give you a hand with breastfeeding lying down. Parsons, who only started using it regularly with her third baby, says it’s worth seeking help and trying to figure it out. “It’s such a wonderful thing to be able to lie down to feed your baby,” she explains. “If you’re struggling, look for that YouTube video that works or go to a La Leche League meeting and get someone to show you how to do it. It really is one of the best things about breastfeeding,” she says, laughing. If you can afford it, investing in a lactation consultant who will come to your house to teach you is a great idea, too. “Having someone come into your home, with your pillows and your bed, can be a big help,” says Griffin.