Lie Back and Relax! A Look at Laid-Back Breastfeeding

Jean Merrill, Maryland

What is more relaxing than chilling out in your recliner? Not much, and research has shown that breastfeeding our babies in this reclined position stimulates natural feeding reflexes in both mothers and babies. So, you have full biological permission to chill out and breastfeed your baby as you lie back and relax!

For years the trend in teaching mothers to breastfeed has been to push a managed approach to positioning and latch. Mothers sit straight upright as they offer the breast or even slouch forward as they try to bring the breast to the baby. Then, they must offer support to their breast as well as baby’s head, back, and body throughout the feeding. While that six-pound baby might not seem heavy at first, holding this position for the length of a newborn feeding eight to 12 times a day can take its toll.

This managed approach to breastfeeding positioning isn’t only tiring for mothers. Suzanne Colson, as part of her doctoral thesis, studied infant feeding reflexes and biological nurturing. She found that, beyond just rooting and sucking, there are many more innate reflexes associated with infant feeding.  These include infant leg, hand, and head movements that help a baby locate and latch on deeply to the breast. Dr. Colson found these movements help babies to latch if a mother was in the laid-back breastfeeding position: reclined and using gravity to hold her baby on her chest. These reflexes and innate infant latching behaviors were so powerful during laid-back breastfeeding (also known as biological nurturing) that babies can latch effectively even when in light sleep.

Babies aren’t the only ones with feeding reflexes, according to Colson. When breastfeeding babies in the laid back, biological nurturing position, mothers showed reflexive nursing instincts as well. Studies show that mothers stroke their baby’s feet at just the right time during latching and feeding, which triggers infant toe reflexes that also release lip and tongue feeding reflexes. The timing was like a well-choreographed instinctual dance.

When a mother reclines backward, relaxing her back and neck, tilting her pelvis forward, and allowing gravity to hold her baby to her chest and abdomen, her hands were free to stroke and admire her baby. Her hands aren’t busy rigidly maintaining a feeding position. This sounds pretty pleasant, doesn’t it? Our babies are little for such a short time—what a relief to be able to enjoy all of that feeding time more! Also, when all of those instinctual feeding behaviors are used to facilitate latch, mothers report that nipple pain was immediately relieved. Those of us who struggled with latch and sore nipples know how truly fantastic this sounds! Laid back breastfeeding allows the baby to become an active participant in the feeding process, and this seems to smooth out a lot of the wrinkles.

Isn’t it funny that allowing our children to become active participants at every single stage of their development is the way to go? This is true from facilitating breastfeeding in a way that allows their natural infant behaviors to help them to latch on, to offering simple choices to toddlers, and all the way through to allowing our adolescents a bit of room to make decisions. There is really some amazing wisdom to that old mother-to-mother adage to “let baby take the lead” and “watch the baby not the clock.” Baby instinctually really does know best!

Dr. Colson states it beautifully in her article, What Happens to Breastfeeding When Mothers Lie Back, when she writes, “It was as if the position the mother sits in could transform breastfeeding from a method reliant upon skills, into a relationship.” Isn’t that just what we are after as mothers—the relationship with our children. It turns out that relaxing back into motherhood might just be the perfect way to get started down our mothering paths.

Your Laid Back Breastfeeding guide: (from The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th edition, pg. 449):

Laid-back breastfeeding, or Biological Nurturing, means getting comfortable with your baby and encouraging your own and your baby’s natural breastfeeding instincts. See for further information.

  • Dress yourself and your baby as you choose.
  • Find a bed or couch where you can lean back and be well supported— not flat, but comfortably leaning back so that when you put your baby on
    your chest, gravity will keep him in position with his body molded to yours.
  • Have your head and shoulders well supported. Let your baby’s whole front touch your whole front.
  • Since you’re leaning back, you don’t have a lap, so your baby can rest on you in any position you like. Just make sure her whole front is against you.
  • Let your baby’s cheek rest somewhere near your bare breast.
  • Help her as much as you like; help her do what she’s trying to do. You’re a team.
  • Hold your breast or not, as you like.
  • Relax and enjoy each other.

References and Resources

  1. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th edition, 2010 pgs: 63-67, 114, 123, 133, 349-52, 411, 449
  2. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple; A Guide for Helping Mothers, 2010,  Nancy Mohrbacher IBCLC, FILCA
  3. “Biological Nurturing: The Laid-back Breastfeeding Revolution” by Suzanne Colson
  4. “Biological Nurturing or Laid Back breastfeeding” (one mothers story)-
  5. “What Happens to Breastfeeding When Mothers Lie Back”
  6. Biological Nurturing FAQ’s