The sniffing position

What is the sniffing position for the baby’s head?

The sniffing position is the best position for the baby’s head and neck while breastfeeding. In this position, the baby’s head is turned slightly upward and forward in relation to the body. It’s the position someone might use to sniff a flower or drink from a glass. This position allows the baby to breathe and swallow easily. The chin should not touch the chest or the shoulder and the earlobe should not touch the shoulder. The cross-cradle, under-arm, and laid-back breastfeeding holds provide extra support to keep the baby’s head in the sniffing position.

A) Describing the sniffing position

It is very important to position your baby’s head, neck, and body properly. The best position for breathing and swallowing is the sniffing position. It is called this because in this position it looks as if someone is sniffing or smelling a flower.

The head is turned slightly upward and forward in relation to the body. It is the position we automatically use when drinking from a glass.

When babies are breastfed, their heads should be in or close to the sniffing position. Signs that the baby is not in the sniffing position include:

  • The head is turned and the chin is closer to one shoulder than the other.
  • The chin is close to or touching the chest.
  • The earlobe is touching the shoulder.

B) Why the sniffing position is important

The relationship between the head and the body affects the structures in the neck. Bending or twisting the neck can affect the ability to swallow and breathe, because the swallowing tube (esophagus) and the breathing tube (trachea) travel through the neck. Also, liquids meant for the esophagus can get into the trachea and breathing system and cause choking and lung problems.

You will understand the problem if you try to swallow with your chin on your chest or with your head turned or tipped to one side. Babies especially can have trouble breathing and swallowing since they:

  • May have to drink quickly during a strong let-down.
  • Have weaker neck muscles and cannot easily move themselves into a better position.
  • Cannot easily communicate problems to their mothers during breastfeeding.
  • May be premature and just learning to breathe and swallow.
  • May have specific challenges such as underdeveloped throat structures (laryngomalacia).

C) Getting a baby into the sniffing position

If a baby is properly positioned at the breast, the head will be in the sniffing position. Babies within the first few weeks of delivery and premature babies can benefit from the extra neck support provided by the cross-cradle and under-arm holds. In these holds, the mother’s hand stabilizes the neck. In the laid-back hold, the mother’s arm provides extra support.

As they grow, they are able to align their heads to be more comfortable without help. Once babies reach four months of age, their neck and back muscles have developed to where they can hold their heads up while sitting. This is called head control.