Babywearing and Breastfeeding

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World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month start today! Babywearing can be a wonderful tool in supporting moms in meeting their breastfeeding goals. In fact, one of the most common questions I get asked from breastfeeding mamas who see me out and about with my son in various baby carriers concerns how breastfeeding and babywearing go together. Can you nurse in that carrier? Could I nurse in <insert carrier name here> that I have at home? So, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month, this post will address some safety and how-to tips on the topic of babywearing and breastfeeding.

(This post is actually based upon a handout I made for a demo/discussion of breastfeeding and babywearing that I organized a few weeks ago at the Capital Area Baby Café in Lansing. Photography by Lindsay Fisher-Collie.  If you’re interested in a pdf copy of the handout, just let me know!)

Breastfeeding in a carrier is wonderful for those times you need your hands free (or at least one hand free) or need to breastfeed on the go. Need to feed your baby while buying groceries, schelpping suitcases, visiting the zoo, riding on an airplane, or hiking? No problem! In addition to the convenience of it all, a very useful aspect of breastfeeding while babywearing is that you may be able to soothe reflux issues by having your child nurse (and settle afterwards) in an upright position.

However, it’s hard to learn to use a carrier and learn to nurse a baby for the first time all at once.   Nursing in carriers is something that many babywearing mamas don’t learn for quite some time (even though they may be very proficient in both babywearing and breastfeeding). The tips I’m going to share in this post are aimed at mama/baby dyads who are already on the road to getting the hang of nursing and have already played around some with the carriers that they intend to nurse in. This post is about the stage where you’re wondering how to put it all together.

Babywearing and Breastfeeding: Safety Tips

First off, some safety tips. Generally, you will follow the same safety guidelines when feeding your baby in a carrier as you would when you are only wearing them. Many people use the mnemonic device TICKS to remember safe babywearing practices (T=Tight, I=In view, C=Close Enough to Kiss, K=Keep Airways Clear, S=Supported Back to prevent slumping). In addition, when breastfeeding

  • Baby’s face should always be in view at least to you so you can ensure that baby’s airway is clear. In particular, make sure the way baby is positioned in the carrier does not result in your breast being pressed into baby’s nose, compromising their airway.
  • Always, always, always re-position baby to a tummy-to-tummy position that follows the TICKS rules after nursing (even if baby is asleep!). It is tempting to want to leave a baby sleeping after nursing and to not reposition them. They may stir momentarily as you reposition them, but it is much safer to settle them quickly after returning them to an upright position that follows the TICKS guidelines.

General Tips for Nursing in Carriers

  • Tip 1: Dress for success A lot of the success of nursing in a carrier depends upon being set-up for success with your wardrobe so as to only need to maneuver minimally to get latched on/off. Use a shirt or dress that you can pull down from the top (e.g., scoop, V-neck, nursing tank or top) as opposed to one that needs to be lifted up from the bottom. Popular brands of nursing friendly shirts include those by Momzelle, Milk, Motherhood Maternity, and Molly Ades, though there are lots of others out there, too. Bonus: The band of fabric that conceals the openings for nursing can also serve as a light breast cover while at the same time leaving baby’s face visible to you while baby is nursing. Light cardigans or zipper sweatshirts are also great choices to wear for discreetness since they will give you side coverage, if necessary.
  • Tip 2: Nurse in an upright tummy to tummy position (Aiming your breast up to latch) While perhaps counterintuitive at first to those used to nursing in a cradle position, the easiest way to nurse in baby carriers is to keep your baby upright in the carrier and just lower them to breast level to nurse. In order to latch baby, you can then reach inside your carrier from the side and aim your breast up towards baby’s mouth.   Especially for younger babies who need more head support, you can use one hand to support their head the other to support/guide your breast. This technique works across all carrier types (soft structured carrier, ring sling, wrap, mei tai).
  • Tip 3: Leave your nursing bra latched or use a regular bra Unlatching nursing bras creates another layer of stuff to navigate and put back together after nursing. Nursing in carriers needs to be a quick and efficient ninja-style operation!
  • Tip 4: Use the carrier to your advantage for discreetness When nursing in a mei tai or soft structured carrier, you may want to move the entire carrier slightly to the side you are nursing on. It’s already pretty hard to see what’s going on inside below the top of the carrier panel from across the room, but this just gives a little bit of extra coverage. You can also use the sleeping hood as a light nursing cover that still allows YOU to easily see your baby’s face while nursing. In a ring sling, you can use the tails for coverage of your breast. (However, don’t cover baby’s head or face when doing so.)

Nursing in Various Carrier Types

Below I walk through step by step instructions on nursing in a variety of carrier types: ring slings, soft structured carrier, wrap, and mei tai.

Ring Sling

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Nursing in a Wrap

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When nursing in a woven wrap, you can use the same general technique of loosening the knot and lowering baby, nursing, and then repositioning. However, another popular option is to use a carry that ties off in a slip knot. Wrap you in love has a wonderful video on nursing in carries that finish in a slip knot:

Nursing in a Soft Structured Carrier

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Nursing in a Mei Tai

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Babywearing and Traveling

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and vacation with your little one. When at home, you have your full range of baby gear at your disposal. But how do you decide what you REALLY need when you’re traveling? A question you might have is “Is it possible to swing a couple week trip away using only baby carriers and without bringing the stroller along?” Especially for a vacation where you will be moving from place to place and possibly using crowded public transportation to do so, it’s certainly tempting to entertain the possibility of not packing a stroller. But would it be too hard on your body to do all that wearing? And would it be somehow bad for your baby to rely solely on wearing while on vacation?

I can confidently say “Yes! It’s completely possible and doable to go on vacation and take only carriers!” Of course there will be many factors involved in figuring out what’s right for you and your family for a given trip. If your daily life at home already involves babywearing and you don’t have pre-existing medical conditions that may be exacerbated by extended wearing, then traveling stroller-free with carriers is definitely worth considering. To give you a sense for how you could make it work for you if you do decide that bringing only carriers is the way you want to go, I’ll take you through how we managed it on our recent two-week trip to Italy. Our trip involved a combination of moving between cities frequently via public transportation and also stretches of staying in the same place. Our baby was just shy of one year old at the time of our trip.

Our travel carrier stash

On this trip we brought one ring sling, one base size wrap, and two soft structured carriers (a Tula for me and an Ergo for my husband). The SSC’s were the real workhorses of our trip. My husband and I used them every day for getting around. We mainly did front carries, but I also carried my LO on my back. We also both chose to wear our SSC’s through airport security because SSC’s have no metal parts to set off the alarms. I used the ring sling on the plane since it was quick and easy to put on, and super simple to nurse in. It was also convenient to have him already in the carrier after nursing so that I could easily reposition him to the tummy to tummy position and have my hands free while he was napping. Once we were settled in a town for a couple of days, I used a woven wrap instead of my SSC during the day. I chose to carry LO in Front Cross Carry because it is an extremely convenient poppable carry and also very easy to adjust to nurse in on the go.   The wrap was also useful for back carries (especially for inducing wrap naps if necessary to help LO re-set to the new time zone).

Nursing at 35,000 feet in the ring sling.
Nursing at 35,000 feet in the ring sling.
Re-positioned LO to the tummy to tummy position after nursing for a nap.
Re-positioned LO to the tummy to tummy position after nursing for a nap.

Strategies for extended babywearing:

No getting around it – relying upon babywearing as your sole means for transporting your child, possibly for weeks on end – seems like a big plunge to take. However it may be closer to your daily life at home than you expect and there are also some steps you can take to make it more manageable.

  • If traveling with your partner or another adult, plan to alternate wearing babe throughout the day and across the trip. On days that involved more walking, my husband and I typically both had our carriers on and ready to go so that we could be ready to take over depending on how we each were feeling or what LO wanted. Only weeks before this trip did my husband get more involved in wearing our son and he enjoys it immensely now. You may need to do some prep work at home before the trip to make sure you both have carriers that you feel comfortable with and are prepared to use.
  • Lighten up the diaper bag to just the essentials – Leave what you don’t need constantly throughout the day back in the hotel room. If you are going out with your SO, have one of you carry the diaper bag while the other is wearing the baby. If you are traveling around by yourself, getting the diaper bag pared down is even more crucial.
  • Switch up carrying positions – While I usually started with LO on my front, sometimes it did help keep myself feeling comfortable to switch it up and wear him on my back or simply change to a different carrier.
  • Plan breaks from wearing throughout the day – Even though I love babywearing and am writing about wearing one’s baby on vacation, I would never say that children don’t need the opportunity to be out of the carrier and move around independently throughout the day. We made an effort to regularly locate parks, playgrounds, and children’s museums in addition to some of the more typical tourist fare.
Catching a nap on daddy while we toured around Salerno.
Catching a nap on daddy while we toured around Salerno.
Easy in and easy out with Front Cross Carry.
Easy in and easy out with Front Cross Carry.

Advantages

Babywearing on vacation comes with significant advantages. With LO in a carrier, I felt very connected to him. It was very easy to monitor his mood and interest level and try to engage and interact with him throughout the day. He never seemed to feel bored or left out – he was a full participant in our vacation, enjoying everything we were experiencing.

I was also able to be in tune with his needs around heat and sun exposure and to take appropriate action when necessary to make him more safe or comfortable. In addition to dressing him in light clothing that typically covered both his arms and legs and generally trying to stay out of direct sunlight where possible, I used baby mineral-based sunscreen, a hat with back flaps that protected his neck, a bottle of water to offer him sips from throughout the day, and a pocket hand fan. Being able to nurse in my carriers (especially the SSC) was wonderful for keeping him comfortable and happy while on the go.

Bottom Line

Wearing your baby is wonderful, and especially on vacation. Enjoy your holiday snuggles!

Nursing in the Tula while touring an ancient Roman villa.
Nursing in the Tula while touring an ancient Roman villa.

Welcome!

Welcome to “The Art of Babywearing.”

I have decided to kick off this site with my personal favorite “poppable” front carry. I love Front Cross Carry because I can pre-tie everything at home and then pop baby in and out as I need to. This was the first carry I did with a woven and I think of it as kind of a “gateway” carry – once you know that you can get around town with your baby without the “fuss” of wrapping and unwrapping (and without the worry of dragging your tails on the ground) you begin to wonder what else might be possible. And a whole new world opens up before you! Front Cross Carry requires a woven wrap that is your base size (for me, this is a 6).  This carry is suitable for babies who have some head/neck control (so 2 months +).  Enjoy!