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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