How to Use the Cross-Cradle Hold When Breastfeeding

Verywell / Mira Norian

The cross-cradle hold for breastfeeding is one of the most commonly used positions because it gives the most support to your baby. Plus, you have complete control over your infant with just one arm. Learn why this position, also called the crossover or traditional hold, is so useful and how you can use it the next time you feed your baby.

When to Use the Cross-Cradle Hold

The cross-cradle hold for breastfeeding is an easy nursing position to learn. It is a great position when you are first starting out with breastfeeding because it allows you to easily view your nipple and your baby's mouth.

This position also works well for breastfeeding preemies, newborns, or babies who have trouble latching on to the breast. You also may want to use this position if your baby does not have strong sucking skills or is having trouble staying latched.

When Cross-Cradle Is Best

The cross-cradle breastfeeding hold is helpful when:

  • Your baby's head needs extra support
  • Your baby is having trouble staying latched
  • Your baby does not have strong sucking skills
  • Your baby was born prematurely or is small
  • You and your baby find this position the most comfortable when breastfeeding

How to Do the Cross-Cradle Breastfeeding Hold

If you are just learning to breastfeed, it may take a few tries to get your baby latched on. To increase your chances of success, make use of the nurses and lactation consultants in the hospital to help you learn how to establish a good latch.

With a little practice and solid instructions, you should feel like a pro in no time. But if you are still struggling with getting a good latch or if you are experiencing any other challenges with breastfeeding, make sure you reach out to a lactation consultant. They are a great resource and their services are often provided at no cost.

If you need a refresher on how to do the cross-cradle nursing position, or if you are just establishing your breastfeeding relationship and want to give this position a try, use these instructions.

Step-by-Step Instructions for the Cross-Cradle Hold

Begin by sitting comfortably with your baby level with your breast. A nursing pillow such as the My Breast Friend or Ergo Baby Natural Curve can help provide support if you need it.

  1. Tuck your baby's bottom in the crook of the arm opposite the breast you are using and place your forearm along the length of the baby's back. If you are feeding from your left breast, you will be holding your baby with your right arm.
  2. Support your baby's head with your right thumb and forefinger, just behind the ears.
  3. Hold your baby so that you are tummy-to-tummy.
  4. Use your left hand to hold the left breast in a U shape or a C shape. Put your thumb on the outer part of the breast and your remaining fingers on the inner side.
  5. Make sure your fingers are back against the chest wall and not too close to the nipple. The best analogy is to make your breast into a sandwich by squeezing the "U." This makes the breast more compact. When adults eat a sandwich, they don't stick their whole head into it; they press it together to "latch" onto it as easily as possible. This is the same concept.
  6. Line your baby up so that your nipple is opposite their nose.
  7. Tickle your baby's lips with your nipple and pull back slightly until they have a wide-open mouth.
  8. Refrain from allowing your baby to glide onto the nipple. This will cause sore, painful nipples and at the same time, they will not be able to remove an adequate amount of milk from your breast.
  9. Push your baby's whole body in toward you quickly once they open wide and make sure that the latch feels comfortable. Your baby's upper lip may hit just above the top of the nipple. Most often, you will see more of the areola above the upper lip than below it.

When your baby is latched on correctly, they should be touching your breast from nose to chin. Try not to press your thumb into the breast to make an airway for your baby. This can force the nipple upward and rub it against the roof of your baby's mouth, causing nipple abrasion.

Babies can breathe absolutely fine while nursing and if they are stuffy or otherwise need to take a breath, they will pull off the breast on their own. 

If the latch was perfect, when your baby comes off of your breast your nipple will be round, and you will feel comfortable. If your nipple comes out angular or looking like the tip of a new tube of lipstick, and you feel pain, the latch was incorrect. If you aren't sure what you're doing wrong, a lactation consultant can help to fix the problem.

Additionally, if you feel a pinching feeling while your baby is feeding, you can gently pull down on your baby's chin while they are still latched on and attempt to flip the baby's bottom lip out. If this does not work, take your baby off the breast and relatch. Remember, babies do not nipple feed; they breastfeed. As a result, they need to latch on to the underside of the breast.

Signs of a Good Latch

Your baby likely has a good latch if:

  • You feel comfortable and the latch is pain-free.
  • Your baby's head is straight—not turned to the side—and their chest and stomach rest against your body.
  • Your baby's mouth opens wide around your breast (not just the nipple) and their chin touches your breast.
  • Your baby's lips turn out and their tongue cups under your breast.
  • You hear swallowing sounds or you can see your baby swallowing.
  • Your baby's ears are moving slightly as they feed.

A Word From Verywell

If you are just starting to breastfeed, you may want to experiment with different breastfeeding positions until you find one that works best for you and your baby—though many people find the cross-cradle hold for breastfeeding easy to use. The key is that you both can relax and enjoy the experience. Ideally, you should not feel uncomfortable or any pain while breastfeeding. Instead, you should be able to relax and enjoy the closeness with your baby.

If you do experience pain when your baby is feeding or if you cannot get them to latch on well, you should consider getting help from a healthcare provider or a lactation consultant. They can give you tips on how to get your baby to latch on properly as well as watch your baby nurse to ensure they are getting enough milk.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long should you breastfeed?

    Most health experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of your baby's life. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that babies should be exclusively breastfed for about 6 months before complementary foods are introduced.

    Once solid foods have been introduced, the AAP recommends breastfeeding along with the solids for one year or longer.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or longer.

  • What are the most common breastfeeding positions?

    While there are a number of ways to hold your baby during breastfeeding, the most common positions include the cradle hold, the cross-cradle hold, the football hold, the laid-back nursing position, and the side-lying position. If you are a beginner, you may want to stick to one of these positions and then try other less common positions as you become more confident and your baby gets bigger.

  • Why do babies sometimes have trouble latching on to the breast?

    It is not uncommon for babies in the first days of life to have trouble latching on or maintaining their sucking skills at the breast. However, sometimes there are other things that impact a baby's ability to latch. These include prematurity, jaundice, infection, heart disease, medications, and many other reasons.

    Mechanical issues also may play a role, such as being tongue-tied or having a cleft lip or cleft palate. If your baby is having trouble latching or if you are concerned that they are not getting enough milk, talk to a healthcare provider or get help from a lactation consultant.

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. Mbada CE, Olowookere AE, Faronbi JO, et al. Knowledge, attitude and techniques of breastfeeding among Nigerian mothers from a semi-urban communityBMC Res Notes. 2013;6:552. doi:10.1186/1756-0500-6-552

  2. WIC Breastfeeding Support. Cross-cradle or traditional hold.

  3. WIC Breastfeeding Support. Signs of a good latch.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breastfeeding: Frequently asked questions.

  5. Stanford Children's Health. Problems latching on or sucking.

By Melissa Kotlen
Melissa Kotlen is an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and Registered Lactation Consultant.