Thursday, June 17, 2010

Side-lying nursing: A breastfeeding tutorial to give you more sleep

I want to put a tutorial out there for how to breastfeed lying down, because it makes such a significant difference to how enjoyable cosleeping and breastfeeding will be for most mamas.

If you want to get the best sleep while breastfeeding, I recommend cosleeping. And if you want to get the best sleep while cosleeping and breastfeeding, I highly recommend learning side-lying nursing early on!

It can take a little time to get the hang of it, but once you've got it down, you can pull your baby in for a feed and then both of you can drowse, safely, back to sleep.


Side-lying nursing: A breastfeeding tutorial to give you more sleep = Hobo Mama

First, let's imagine you're in the cosleeping position I recommended in my cosleeping tutorial, or something like it. To recap, the most important bits are (you can find more details in the link):
  • lying on your side (hence the side-lying nursing — get it?)
  • making sure pillows and blankets are safely out of the way of your little one
  • having your boobs nice and accessible (I prefer a shelf-bra cami so there's no fiddling in the dark)
That wide flat space next to you is for the baby.

All right, now you lay your baby down next to you in the bed, and here is how you position the baby:
  • with her mouth roughly in line with your breasts
  • on her side or back — if she's on her side, she'll be in line to eat. If she's on her back, she'll just turn her head to nurse; this is easier with older nurslings who have bigger heads and more neck control. Regardless of how you position your little one to feed, she'll probably roll onto her back after the feeding; this is completely normal and a testament to the safety of cosleeping while breastfeeding.
  • with the baby's legs wherever they want to go — you'll see in the picture that I prefer sleeping with my knees pulled up to round my back, which means that only the smallest newborn has room to put his legs straight down. That's OK, though, because your baby can fold his legs as well, angle his body and legs off to the side, or stack them on top of your thighs like a cozy ottoman, whatever's comfortable for both of you. Experiment to see what works.

So here's how it looks:


Side-lying nursing: A breastfeeding tutorial to give you more sleep = Hobo Mama

This is with a toddler, of course, but the principle's the same no matter the age of the baby. I was going to try to take some pictures with a doll to simulate a newborn, but we couldn't find any of the dolls! They get around; what can I say?


Side-lying nursing: A breastfeeding tutorial to give you more sleep = Hobo Mama

Here's the view from the child's back.

In both of these pictures, I'm nursing with what we'll call the "bottom" breast, as in, the one closest to the mattress. This is usually the easiest breast for mamas to learn side-lying nursing on.

So now you've seen it done, here are the steps to getting the baby latched on to the bottom breast while you're both lying down:
  • Lean back slightly until your nipple is at a comfortable angle to fit into your infant's mouth. I find having a pillow tucked well down behind my back and bolstered against something sturdy (a bedside table) helps to support me as I lean. How far back you'll need to lean depends on your own particular breast (size, fullness, etc.). Just use your observations and common sense to gauge it: Is your nipple angling down into the mattress? Then you need to lean back farther. Is your nipple pointing more toward the ceiling? Then you need to turn more fully onto your side. You want your nipple at the height where it will be comfortable for your baby to latch on.
  • Now pull your baby in close to you. Really close. There are many ways to do this. For very light babies, you can snake an arm underneath and gently pull the baby over. For older and heavier babies and toddlers, I prefer the method of yanking the arm and leg closest to me (well, he's never complained!). Some mamas find it easier to place the baby onto a thin receiving blanket or prefold diaper and pull on the cloth instead. Once your baby's kind of close, really snug her in tightly, by using your upper arm to push on her bum. Particularly for very young babies, her lower body should be touching your tummy. The shape you make together, your torso and her body, will now feel something like a V.
  • If your baby needs support to stay on his side, you can tuck a rolled-up receiving blanket or prefold behind his back. Don't place it behind his neck or head, because he needs freedom to pull away from your breast when he's done eating or needs a break to breathe. You can also use your bottom arm to hold him closer, letting his head rest on your upper arm.
  • If the baby's too young to latch on immediately, help her latch. Try teasing her upper lip with the nipple. You might need to support that breast with your upper hand (as in, the one not pinned under your body) and guide it more fully into your baby's mouth, doing the C-hold as necessary to match your infant's mouth shape. If the baby's latched on and something doesn't feel right, wet one of your fingers and slide it beside your baby's mouth to break the suction, and then try again. Don't get discouraged if it takes awhile to learn, because it does get easier and it is so worth it in the end.
  • Older babies will just get what's going on (hey, nummies are nearby!), so not as much persuading is necessary.
Now for the kicker!

You can switch sides when your baby needs to switch breasts, or…you can learn to nurse from both breasts while lying on the same side. More sleep = win!

Side-lying nursing: A breastfeeding tutorial to give you more sleep = Hobo MamaTo switch breasts without switching sides, you need to learn to nurse from the "top" breast, as in, the one closest to the ceiling. Since nursing from the bottom meant leaning back, nursing from the top means leaning forward a bit. How far forward you lean depends, again, on your breast size and shape. I have large breasts and find I'm almost perfectly perpendicular when nursing from the top rather than pitched very far forward. Just do what works for you, again using your own observations to note when your nipple is in line with your baby's mouth.

As you're pitching yourself forward, you might find you need to use your top leg to act as a sort of kickstand, angling it slightly off your bottom leg onto the mattress.

I find with the top breast even more so than the bottom that the baby is often more comfortable on his back, his head slightly turned toward you (as in the photo to the right). Experiment with putting your baby on his back or side to see what works.

If you want to switch sides for your own comfort while sleeping, here are a couple tips:
  • Sit up and hover over your baby while pulling her to the other side. Again, this is where a thin receiving blanket or prefold under your baby can help you in sliding her over.
  • While lying down, pick your child up onto your chest, and then roll together with him. You might need to scootch one direction or the other afterward, too, depending on how close you are to the edge.
I've done the switching-sides thing, but I much prefer the staying-put idea for the better sleep it gets me. See what works best for you!

In the comments on my cosleeping post, Kristin of Intrepid Murmurings, a mama of (adorable) twins mentioned one more way to nurse lying down that worked for multiples and works for singletons as well: Lie or recline on your back, and have your baby or babies sleep on top of you, with pillows to support your position as necessary. I found having Mikko sleep on my chest was especially good when his nose was stuffed up, either in those early days of post-birth congestion or in later times of having a cold.

As your nursling gets older and more mobile, she'll find her own ways to nurse lying down. This is one of Mikko's favorites:


Side-lying nursing: A breastfeeding tutorial to give you more sleep = Hobo Mama


Half sitting, and leaning in, and when I'm on my back, he has free access to switch breasts to his toddler's heart's content. I'll often wake up to find him just so.

If side-lying nursing is not working for you now, it's always worth trying again in the future. As you and your baby become more comfortable with latching in general, and your baby gains some head and neck control, you might find side-lying nursing possible in a few weeks or months.

So stick with it, because eventually nursing lying down will become so easy for both of you that you can literally sleep right through it!

More resources and pictures for nursing lying down:
How has side-lying nursing worked for you? Any other tips to pass along?


Safety Disclaimer: I am not a health or safety professional.
In sharing how we do things in our family, I am not trying to suggest
bed sharing is right for you. Please consider the safety issues,
and take all precautions when considering where your children will
sleep. Most government agencies and health professionals warn against
bed sharing with infants, particularly under six months.
You need to consider this decision carefully and make a choice you can
own. Don't rest your children's well-being on any one blog post, even mine.

19 comments:

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I can't remember how old Kieran was when we finally figured out side-lying nursing . . . 4 months? At any rate, my sleep satisfaction skyrocketed after we were able to do this effectively! He is such an expert now that he can latch on any time during his sleep and he barely stirs.
Great tutorial!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures and the lovely tutorial! I wish this had been around when I gave birth to my Son, ten months ago!

I quickly realized the MANY benefits of breastfeeding and co-sleeping! My baby was content and happy, and I got way more sleep than I thought I would!

We actually still co-sleep and breastfeed, and even though my son is now ten months old, I let his head rest on my arm, for my peace of mind as a safety measure of sorts. I have no fear that he, or I, will roll over and he LOVES the closeness! He likes to be uncovered, with his foot, or feet, on my belly or legs. As long as some part of him is touching me, he is content and sleeps deeply. Once he's milk drunk and sated, he'll roll onto his back with secure abandon and sleep for as long as I do!

shortstack said...

Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures and the lovely tutorial! I wish this had been around when I gave birth to my Son, ten months ago!

I quickly realized the MANY benefits of breastfeeding and co-sleeping! My baby was content and happy, and I got way more sleep than I thought I would!

We actually still co-sleep and breastfeed, and even though my son is now ten months old, I let his head rest on my arm, for my peace of mind as a safety measure of sorts. I have no fear that he, or I, will roll over and he LOVES the closeness! He likes to be uncovered, with his foot, or feet, on my belly or legs. As long as some part of him is touching me, he is content and sleeps deeply. Once he's milk drunk and sated, he'll roll onto his back with secure abandon and sleep for as long as I do!

shortstack said...

P.S., sorry about the double posting!

TopHat said...

It was months before I was able to nurse from the top breast lying down- even after a feeding, my lower breast (well, both) was so engorged it hurt to put my weight on it. It was the one thing I was looking forward to after pregnancy: sleeping on my stomach, and I couldn't do it!

dohiyi mama said...

TopHat - I too looked forward to sleeping on my stomach but it hurt too much! All the being pregnant and breastfeeding and co sleeping have now ruined me for anything but sleeping on my side, haha.

I'm so glad we got the hang of side-lying nursing right away or I would never have gotten any sleep while my daughter was younger...

Sheila said...

I have a much easier time nursing on my back, at least while the baby's so little. He has a ton of trouble latching on, but I've found that lying down with him on my chest works best for helping him find his way. He can move himself into the position he wants with his arms, and then gravity holds him on once he's latched on. He will even fall asleep that way, which I love.

Side-lying is nice too, but he never, ever falls asleep doing it. No, to put him to sleep I usually have to sit up in the rocking chair and nurse him ... which is one of several reasons why cosleeping didn't work out, even though I tried it.

Rana said...

I'm new to your blog and I love it. I wish I had a tutorial like this when I was nursing. At least my mom was here to help. I loved nursing this way and I would nurse on my back with my twins on either side of me. This made it so much easier than taking turns nursing them in the middle of the night. I could do both at once and get some much needed sleep.

Olivia said...

I love your level of detail. I was determined to figure our side-lying nursing early on, and we got it figured out by two weeks. By one month she was latching on by herself. All I had to do was pull her close.

I'm so glad to see I'm not the only mother yanking on arms and legs to get my bigger baby closer. Sometimes I felt bad for not being more gentle, but like you said, I haven't had any complaints.

Megan said...

Great tutorial! I wish I would've had this when my daughter was younger. The only thing I could find about nursing while lying down was so vague. Lie on side, pull baby close, and it should just happen kind of thing, but it didn't. I ended up having to sit up every time and nurse her in bed and then would fall asleep like that. Not so comfy. So she got put in a cradle and then transitioned to her crib. We finally gave it another shot and figured it out when she was 9 months or so (she's 12 mo now), but by that point she was used to her crib and thought it was play time whenever we brought her into bed with us. Now we nurse lying down whenever I nurse her at night (rarely) or when my nipple has split a little and I need a different position to nurse in so it can heal.

Marcela said...

This is such a great post! I love the side lying because it also gives me an excuse to just lay down, relax, and not worry about anything else.

I sometimes fall asleep with my toddler during nap time when I nurse side lying. I like this ( :

Michelle Potter said...

Awesome tutorial! That's pretty much exactly how I nursed and slept with all five of my babies, except that I curled my arm around the baby's head and behind his back. To me it was just natural and instinctive, and I was surprised that it wasn't for other moms, so it's great that you've done this tutorial to help those who haven't gotten the hang of it, yet!

Inder-ific said...

I love this ... I think I might have finally figured out how to nurse from the "top" breast based on this tutorial, and my baby is now thirteen months old! Still, it's never too late to get more sleep (never, ever, ever too late)! YAY!

Hippie Mommy said...

I *LOVE* this tutorial! Awesome! When I was expecting, I went and visited my best friend in another state specifically so I could watch her nurse her 1 year old. Best thing I could have done to get my own bf'ing up off the ground.
When my little one was turning a year old, my best friend came to visit me with her 8 month old. The first night she was here, she laid in bed with me and nursed her son while I nursed my daughter. And then, she switched sides, still facing me! She didn't roll over, roll the baby over, nothing, just followed your steps for using the "top" breast. It revolutionized my breastfeeding! And having done it almost exclusively side-lying for a whole year, I thought I knew all the "Tricks"! Ha! It was great to read another description! Great post!!

Felicity said...

Thanks for sharing this! The pictures and explanations are great. I always dread side 2 since I do the rolling, shifting, side 2 shuffle to switch sides with my son and your post is very helpful!

Felicity said...

Thanks for sharing this! The pictures and explanations are great. I always dread side 2 since I do the rolling, shifting, side 2 shuffle to switch sides with my son and your post is very helpful!

veggievinyasa.com said...

Thanks for the pictures! I'm a new mom with a 3 week old. Is it necessary to burp them after side lying nursing in the middle of the night? My little guy falls asleep while nursing and then gets mad when he wakes up for burping. He'll eat again for a few minutes and then pass out.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

@veggievinyasa.com: I've had two unburpable babies, but if your little one's waking up so soon after eating to burp, I'd try to pat his back when he's almost done eating or just after and see if that helps!

Kelly Rae said...

love the side-lying position. I couldn't have survived breastfeeding without it.

Related Posts with Thumbnails