Supporting the baby’s neck

Will I hurt the baby’s neck by holding it?

Some mothers worry they will hurt the baby by holding the neck. In fact, babies find this comforting when done properly. Newborns and young babies have relatively weak necks. Supporting the neck helps to stabilize the head and keep it in the right position for breastfeeding. To do this, place the palm of your hand behind the neck and shoulders. Place the pad of your thumb behind one ear and pad of your index (pointer) finger behind the other, so that your hand and the rest of the fingers are curled around the back of the neck and the upper back. The head should be straight and lined up with the rest of the body in the sniffing position. 

A) Why neck support can help younger babies breastfeed

Younger babies have relatively weak necks. You can see this when you try to sit them upright; their heads flop forward. This is normal. At about four months of age, they can hold their heads up while sitting. This is called head control.

When the head is not in the sniffing position and lined up with the baby’s body but rather is bent forwards or sideways or twisted, it can be harder for babies to breathe and swallow. This can be prevented by proper positioning or by supporting the baby’s neck with your hand.

Mothers may worry they will hurt the baby by supporting the baby's neck. Babies actually find this comforting as this stabilizes their head on their body and compensates for weaker neck muscles, allowing them to relax while breastfeeding.

B) Supporting the baby’s neck with your hand

The baby is breastfeeding on the right breast in the cross-cradle hold. His mother is supporting his neck and back with her left hand.

The baby’s neck can be supported by the mother’s hand while breastfeeding in the cross-cradle or under-arm holds. Mothers can support the baby's neck when latching in the side-lying or laid-back holds.

1) How to support the baby’s neck using your hand:

  1. Place the palm of your hand behind the baby’s neck and shoulders.
  2. Place the pad of your thumb right behind one ear and the pad of your index (pointer) finger right behind the other so that your hand and the rest of the fingers are curled around the back of the baby’s neck and the baby’s upper back.

2) Make sure the head is straight and lined up with the rest of the body

The head should not be:

  • Bent to the side.
  • Bent forward or backward.
  • Turned to the side.

3) Ensure the following

a) Do not touch the baby’s face

Do not touch the baby’s face with your thumb or fingers. If you do, your baby will think this is the nipple and will turn (root) toward them and away from the breast and nipple making latching and breastfeeding impossible.

b) Do not push the back of the baby’s head

Do not place your fingers behind the baby’s head. That may force the chin onto the chest, which is stressful for the baby as it is uncomfortable and makes it hard for them to breathe and swallow.