The Best Positions for Breastfeeding If You Have Back Pain

Best Positions for Breastfeeding With Back Pain: Football hold, cradle hold, side-lying position, and laid back position

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Most of us associate certain discomforts with breastfeeding, such as nipple pain or soreness from a clogged duct. But there’s an often overlooked source of pain that many of us experience while nursing—back pain. Think about it: breastfeeding requires you to spend a lot of time holding and positioning your baby at your breast. If you do so in a way that puts strain on your muscles, you are apt to experience some muscle tensions and pain—sometimes quite a lot!

If you are concerned about how breastfeeding might cause or exacerbate back pain—or if you are experiencing it currently—you should know that there are some concrete things you can do to ease the pain. First and foremost, contact a healthcare provider, such as a chiropractor or orthopedic doctor, to diagnose the problem.

You can also work with a board-certified lactation consultant on how to ease back pain. In addition, choosing a few back-friendly nursing positions, and doing them with care, can also work wonders at easing the pain.

We reached out to experts for some thoughts on breastfeeding positions that work best for back pain and how to do them, as well as some other basic tips for making sure you stay pain-free while feeding and caring for your little one.

Why Your Breastfeeding Position Matters

Breastfeeding parents spend a good portion of their day breastfeeding. In the early weeks, your baby will come to the breast about 8-12 times a day for 20-30 minutes each time. That can add up to three to six hours a day holding and positioning your little baby at the breast! If you are breastfeeding in a way that strains your muscles, you are likely to feel negative effects.

Practicing proper body alignment and body mechanics is important in general when it comes to preventing injuries and healing from any injuries that you already have, explains Pamela Abramson-Levine, DC, IBCLC, a lactation consultant and chiropractor specializing in perinatal and pediatric care. It’s no different when you are nursing your baby—it’s vital to pay attention to things like posture and alignment, she says.

Mykale Elbe, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC

Good positioning will also ensure proper latch to prevent nipple soreness and help with the flow of breastmilk.

— Mykale Elbe, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC

“When breastfeeding a baby, if your posture and body mechanics are improper, prior injuries can be exacerbated, and new imbalances can form, leading to aches and pains,” explains Dr. Abramson-Levine.

New parents may be especially vulnerable to the effects of back and neck strain because abdominal muscles are weaker post delivery, says Mykale Elbe, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC, director of the MSN Nurse Practitioner Program at Maryville University. Ensuring that new parents are comfortable and well positioned while breastfeeding can prevent muscle pain in the back, neck, abdomen and shoulders, says Dr. Elbe. “Good positioning will also ensure proper latch to prevent nipple soreness and help with the flow of breastmilk,” she adds.

Positions for Breastfeeding With Back Pain

When it comes to the “best” breastfeeding position for preventing back pain, it varies from one parent to another, says Dr. Abramson-Levine. That’s because each parent is unique and has different needs.

That said, there are certain positions that might work better than others—though a big part of it isn’t just what position you choose, but how you do it. Here’s what to know.

Football Hold

The football hold is a favorite of Dr. Abramson-Levine's, because in this position you are less likely to be hunched over your baby than in positions where you sit up and cradle your baby at the breast. The football hold is a good position to use when your baby is a newborn, and can also take the weight off of any healing C-section incisions.

A person using a football hold for breastfeeding (Best Positions for Breastfeeding With Back Pain)

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Football hold looks exactly as the name suggests—it involves holding your baby by the side of your body like a little football. In this position, you sit upright on a couch or chair, says Dr. Abramson-Levine. You can use a footstool if that feels comfortable, and you may consider placing a nursing pillow or any standard bed pillow at your side so that you can position your baby high enough to reach the areola and nipple.

“Baby is on top of the pillow(s), head forward, on the back, or on the side facing mom,” Dr. Abramson-Levine describes.

Cradle Hold

Cradle hold is a probably the most traditional breastfeeding hold, and involves cradling your baby in your arms, at your breast. Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, a private practice lactation consultant in New York City, likes this position for breastfeeding in a back-friendly way, and says that it can be made more ergonomic in a few key ways.

In the cradle position, the parent sits on a comfy seat, such as a sofa, lounge chair or rocker, with their feet supported, says O’Connor. “If the seat is deep, a pillow behind the parent's back can aid in good posture,” she offers. While nursing, you can hold your baby’s head in the crook of the elbow that corresponds with the breast your baby is nursing on.

A person doing a cradle hold for breast feeding (Best Positions for Breastfeeding With Back Pain)

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

The most important thing here is that you bring your baby close to you while you hold them: this prevents you from leaning forward and hunching over your baby, both of which can lead to back and neck strain.

“Imagine there is Velcro attaching the baby to your belly,” O’Connor describes. In other words, make sure that your baby is tummy to tummy with you, and that you are bringing your baby to the breast, rather than bringing your breast to your baby.

Side-Lying Position

O’Connor is also a fan of the side-lying position, and says that it’s a great position to use if you are trying to avoid back pain. In this position, you and your baby are lying down on a bed or other flat surface on your sides, both of you belly to belly. This is also a wonderful position to use when you are recovering from a C-section or are just looking to rest while you feed your baby.

A person in a side-lying Position for breastfeeding (Best Positions for Breastfeeding With Back Pain)

Here's how O’Connor says it can be made more ergonomic: “The parent lies on their side using three pillows: one under the parent's head, one tucked firmly behind the back, and one between the knees,” O’Connor describes. These pillows provide support for the head, neck, back, and hips.

“When using the position, I encourage a rolled-up swaddle blanket tucked behind the baby to keep them securely attached,” she adds.

Laid Back Position

Laid-back breastfeeding is a position that involves reclining while holding your baby on your chest. You can use a chair that reclines, or you can sit on a couch or bed in a position that allows you to lean back a bit. In this position, your baby is belly-to-belly with you, in an upright position. It’s thought that laid-back breastfeeding allows your baby to tap into their natural breastfeeding instincts.

A person in a laid back breast feeding position (Best Positions for Breastfeeding With Back Pain)

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

A reclined breastfeeding position is really helpful for people who want to avoid backaches, says Dr. Abramson-Levine, because it keeps stress off the breastfeeding parent’s body. “This position helps avoid hunching over and supports [a parent’s] whole back and neck, when pillows are properly used,” she says. “It is a good position to do in bed, with lots of pillows supporting [you] in a semi-reclined, ‘laid-back’ position.”

Other Postpartum Tips For Managing Back Pain

Choosing a breastfeeding position optimized to reduce back pain is important, but it’s also helpful to be attentive to how you use your body throughout the day. After all, having a baby involves a lot of lifting and carrying, and your body is still recovering from childbirth.

“Proper body mechanics when lifting your baby is essential,” says Dr. Abramson-Levine. “Avoid carrying your baby in the car seat, as they are heavy and cumbersome and can be hard on the back,” she suggests. This is especially true in the early days after giving birth when you are especially susceptible to muscle strain and when strenuous exercise and heavy lifting is advised against. You can talk to your doctor or midwife about when it’s safe to lift heavy objects and the best way to do so.

Dr. Abramson-Levine also recommends being cautious when baby-wearing. “Learning how to wear your baby can definitely be a back saver,” she says. There are many tutorials on YouTube and Instagram that you can use to help choose the best wraps or slings for your baby, along with ideas for how to properly use each one, Dr. Abramson-Levine suggests.

Be sure to consult the manual for each baby carrier you use, and follow instructions carefully. And if it causes any back discomfort, take a break from using it.

A Word From Verywell

Learning how to hold your baby in a mindful way that protects your back while breastfeeding is vital. Choosing the right position for your body and your baby can make the difference between comfortable nursing and nursing that makes your back, neck, hips, and shoulders feel strained.

At the same time, sometimes simply tweaking your breastfeeding position isn’t enough, and you need professional help. Please reach out to a chiropractor, physical therapist, or lactation consultant if you need more help making breastfeeding the comfortable experience it’s meant to be.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nemours Children's Health. Breastfeeding FAQs: How Much and How Often.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Positions For Breastfeeding.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Positions For Breastfeeding.

  4. Colson SD, Meek JH, Hawdon JM. Optimal positions for the release of primitive neonatal reflexes stimulating breastfeeding. Early Human Development. 2008;84(7):441-449. doi:10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2007.12.003

  5. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Exercise After Pregnancy.

Additional Reading

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.