When you’re first learning the basics of breastfeeding, the journey can feel anything but laid-back. Trying to master the process of latching, experimenting with different holds, and worrying about whether your baby is getting enough can be stressful and challenging.
Fortunately, lactation consultants and other breastfeeding advocates have shared advice and encouragement on a process sometimes referred to as laid-back breastfeeding (also known as biological nurturing), which works with a baby’s natural feeding drive to simplify the breastfeeding process.
Sound too good to be true? Learn more below!
Laid-back breastfeeding allows a newborn’s natural reflexes and a breastfeeding parent’s innate behaviors to work together to encourage breastfeeding success while the parent literally lies back.
While much time has been devoted to describing the correct latch and different types of breastfeeding holds, this approach simplifies things to allow more opportunity for natural instincts to work.
Researcher Suzanne Colson studied the natural sucking and rooting reflexes in newborns. She found that some of these typical newborn behaviors, such as head shaking, leg scrambling, and arm thrashing, would sometimes help with latching and feeding but often hindered a successful latch and feeding session.
Parents instructed to hold their babies in the typical belly-to-belly cradle hold sometimes struggled to work on latching, while it seemed their newborns were at best uncooperative and at worst refusing the breast.
Colson found that these natural reflexes are much better suited to a laid-back position in which the baby and parent are in full physical contact and the baby is able to seek and latch with less direction and control on the part of the breastfeeding parent.
In such a position, you’re able to work with gravity instead of against it. It can be far more relaxing and comfortable for both baby and parent.
If you’ve ever nursed your little one in the bath with their body cradled against yours and both of you feeling content and comfortable, you’re familiar with how pleasant laid-back breastfeeding can be.
Essentially, it’s a lot like it sounds.
The ideal positioning allows for the breastfeeding parent to lay semi-reclined, in a chair or bed, with adequate support for their back, neck, and head. This shouldn’t be a fully flat position, but one that allows for you to make eye contact with your baby when they’re placed onto your chest.
Given that you’re fully supported in this position, your arms are free to stroke, cuddle, or support your baby without the discomfort or fatigue that can be associated with other breastfeeding holds.
Once you’re positioned, the baby should be placed in full contact, chest down, with their head close to your breast area. There are a variety of angles and positions in which baby can initially be placed, and we’ll discuss below.
Different placements may have advantages for those who have delivered by cesarean section (C-section) or have other comfort or movement considerations.
You may wish to use this technique with minimal clothing to allow for increased skin contact and connection with your baby. Alternatively, you may opt to simply adjust your clothing to allow for unrestricted access to your breast area.
This position in which parent and baby are connected chest to chest allows more control for baby and less work for you. Keeping baby’s legs and feet in contact with your body or the surrounding area gives them the chance to push themselves toward the breast, which is a natural instinct.
Their head may bob up and down or side to side as they seek the nipple. You’re free to help as little or as much as needed while the baby moves toward your breast and finds a latch.
The previously mentioned behaviors that seemed to prevent success — kicking, head shaking, and arm thrashing — become an asset as baby is allowed to seek your breast and feed.
Yes! As each breast and nipple is circular, the baby can approach from almost any direction. (As anyone who has tried to nurse a toddler will tell you, even draped across your face is a potential position.)
Many breastfeeding parents will enjoy the baby placed onto their stomach area, with their head near either breast. This allows you to see your baby, make eye contact, and use your arms to support or caress your little one.
If you delivered via C-section, you may want to avoid placing your baby onto your belly area, where their kicking movements may cause pain to your incision area those first few days. Instead, you can drape the baby across your chest, with their head close to one breast and their feet toward the other armpit.
You may also place your baby above your shoulder, with their head close to your breast and their body and feet stretching past your shoulder and beside your head. You can nuzzle your face close to their body without the weight and pressure on your belly and incision area.
You also have the option to place the baby sideways next to you, with their head next to your breast and their body under your armpit area, supported on the bed or chair next to you.
In addition to these approaches, you can adjust the degree of your recline, finding that reclining little more or less helps you to find a comfortable position to really relax and enjoy the time spent breastfeeding your baby.
While people have been breastfeeding for as long as babies have been born, we’re still learning about how to support and encourage the breastfeeding relationship.
If you’re looking for a way to work with your baby’s natural reflexes and alleviate some of the stress and pressure of breastfeeding, laid-back breastfeeding may be a great option for you.
As always, speak with a lactation consultant if you need further support. Hopefully, laid-back breastfeeding will become a positive experience in your nursing journey.