Breastfeeding while Babywearing
Whether you are a first time parent learning how to nurse your baby for the first time, an adoptive parent building a breastfeeding relationship, or a caregiver offering your little one a pumped or prepared bottle… no matter your circumstances, you know how special that relationship with your little one is! One of the most beneficial things about babywearing is that it offers you the opportunity to provide care and comfort for your little one while on the go. Isn’t it amazing that you can provide sustenance as well? And there is value to feeding your little one on the go as well! Read on to learn more about why breastfeeding and babywearing is the perfect match for supporting your nursing relationship and your (and baby’s) health and wellbeing, and how to successfully breastfeed in your carrier!
Breastfeeding has been shown to come with a number of benefits. For the child, it can mean lowered chances of developing allergic diseases, childhood infections and illnesses, type 1 diabetes, and obesity for the baby, and other things. Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased likelihood of postpartum depression, a smaller chance of developing health conditions including breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Breastfeeding even results in economic savings for the family.
Additionally, there are a host of benefits to babywearing, including (but not limited to) cognitive and social skill development, emotional connection and bonding between caregiver and child, benefits to immunity for the child, and even stress relief for the caregiver! These benefits are available to all who choose to babywear; mother, father, foster parent, adoptive parent, grandparents, or even siblings can help baby get their best start in life through the use of a carrier and cuddles!
For those who struggle with breastfeeding, babywearing has been shown to help. According to Dr. Sears, babywearing organizes problem suckers. He explains that some babies just nurse better on the go, because their bodies are able to relax when they are in the comforted motion of being in a carrier, which in turn allows the muscles they use to relax as well. He specifically mentions that those who are tense or who arch their backs might benefit from breastfeeding on the go.
Babywearing also helps baby by placing him or her close to the source of milk. Studies show that placing baby skin-to-skin right away can help support a more effective and synchronous nursing relationship with positive milk production and infant weight gain. This means that the proximity created by babywearing can help baby to gain weight more quickly, encourage the baby to feed more frequently, and help mother to response to cues more frequently.
An upright position is also helpful for digestion. The physiological process of digesting food involves a wave of contractions intended to help to move food through the digestive system. When remaining in an upright position, gravity can help to assist this series of contractions, called peristalsis. Research also suggests that maintaining baby’s head higher than feet allows the infant to have more control of their meal or liquid, which can decrease the risk of choking.
Knowing all of this, are you ready to combine the benefits of babywearing and breastfeeding?
Before you Begin
First and foremost, there are some important safety considerations to keep in mind while nursing or bottlefeeding your child in a carrier, especially in the first 4 months or anytime baby’s airway could be vulnerable, such as while eating. Since the intent of a baby carrier is to help facilitate the same positioning that your baby would have while in your arms, it is important to always keep your baby close enough to kiss with his or her chin off of his chest. Make sure that there is enough space between your little one’s chin and chest to put 1-2 adult fingers, in order to protect his or her delicate airway, and remain attuned to your little one – check on him or her often! – making sure to reposition as needed to ensure optimal positioning of your baby.
Now that these safety tips have been highlighted, we can get on to the name of the game – how can I feed my baby successfully in a carrier?
To begin with, we’d recommend learning the two separate (and occasionally challenging!) skills of breastfeeding and babywearing independently of one another, then combining to practice them together at home once you feel you have them down. This allows you to ensure that your little one is calm and not hungry when you first are trying this new skill, and also for you to get support from a partner or a fresh set of eyes to troubleshoot, if need be. This also helps build confidence so that, the first time you do it on the go, you feel like a rock star!
What to Wear
Once you feel like you’re ready to go, consider your wardrobe carefully before heading off on your adventure. Since you won’t be able to remove any clothing while your child is attached in a carrier, having something flexible can be very useful! A stretchy neckline or v-neck shirt is a great choice, if you are comfortable with nursing above your top. Some mothers choose not to unclip their undergarments, but instead to pull the breast out on top of them, using the top edge of the bra to create a supportive shelf to keep the breast properly placed. Other mamas who are more amply endowed may choose to bring a small receiving blanket to roll up tightly and rest underneath the breast for support assistance. Still other mothers prefer to layer shirts, pulling the top shirt up and keeping a bottom shirt or camisole around their body to remain covered. This strategy works well, but keep in mind that it’s a good idea to “pre-lift” the top shirt in advance of putting the baby in the carrier, as this makes it much easier to initiate getting ready to latch your little one.
In a Carrier
If you are wearing an ergonomic buckle carrier, there are a couple of things you can do to prepare your carrier for feeding your child. Since the Tula carrier is adjustable both under the arms and in the front, support your child’s weight with one arm to remove tension from the webbing, while adjusting the webbing to the appropriate length. Ideal placement for breastfeeding means that baby’s mouth should be at the nipple to ensure a clear airway. You may need to loosen your waist belt slightly to move the carrier lower onto your hips, in addition to slight adjustments to the shoulder straps. Keep in mind that your child will still need to be securely attached and close to your body – the intent of these adjustments is simply to move his or her center of gravity slightly downward so that his or her tummy is nearer to yours, and nipple and mouth are aligned.
Our friend Rachel Parker shares how she breastfeeds in her Tula Baby Carrier:
In a Sling or Wrap
If you are nursing in a ring sling, we recommend gently lifting and supporting your baby’s weight with one arm while loosening the rings slightly with the other hand, as is shown at the end of our instructional video. It is important to maintain the tummy-to-tummy position and keep knees higher than bottom in a deep M-position throughout the time that you are nursing in the ring sling, and that you re-position baby at the appropriate height when he or she is done.
In order to ensure that this carry is properly executed, make sure that baby’s weight is safely resting in the hammock of the sling and that there is adequate tension to hold in the appropriate position, with mother’s nipple at mouth level. It is important to also ensure that your arm is fully capped by the sling shoulder and that top and bottom rails are tightened correctly so that baby’s hammock seat continues to be maintained with knees above bottom as you nurse your little one.
Some caregivers may choose to move their baby into a cradle position that emulates in-arms cradle hold breastfeeding. If you choose to use a carrier in this position, it is always a good idea to consult with an experienced babywearing educator who can help you to perfect this expert position, which can be challenging to master safely and successfully.
Latching and Nursing
As you latch your little one, make sure that he or she is keeping his or her chin off of her chest (you should be able to fit between 1-2 adult fingers underneath his or her chin) and that baby’s nose is free to ensure a clear airway. While it is important to ensure that your baby’s head is fully clear of the top of the fabric so that there is no pressure pushing baby’s chin forward toward his or her chest, you will gently support the back of your little one’s neck or head with one hand and hold your breast for the latch, just as you would when nursing your child at home. While breastfeeding in a carrier can be helpful, your child’s safety is ALWAYS first priority, and oftentimes this skill is not truly hands free (as your hands may be needed to support your baby, breast, or a bottle), but just helps to make it a bit easier and mobile.
It’s also critical to ensure that you have eyes on your little one at all times. Your little one’s face should not be covered from view at any time to ensure that he or she gets adequate air, and must be clear of any possible obstructions, including blankets, carrier accessories, nursing covers, or hats. While you may choose to use a cover or other method to maintain privacy, you should always be able to see your baby’s face while breastfeeding, so that you can attend to your baby’s safety. Also, listen to your child while he or she is nursing: snoring, grunting, or other noises can be an indicator of distressed breathing, and you should unlatch and reposition if these things occur, or if you visually notice an obstructed airway for any reason, or that baby’s chin has fallen to his or her chest.
The bottom line is that combining babywearing and feeding your little one can be incredibly empowering, beneficial to both you and baby, and enable you to successfully attend to your children while on the go.