Babywearing and Breastfeeding

One of the most common questions we get asked as babywearing consultants is, ‘which carrier is the easiest to breastfeed in?’  With the large range of carriers, wraps and slings on the market today, there are so many different options that the choice can be overwhelming.

Breastfeeding and babywearing go hand in hand.  The closeness of babywearing mirrors the closeness of breastfeeding and each supports the other.  The increase in oxytocin levels caused by the skin-to-skin contact of babywearing also assists in the development of the all-important ‘let-down’.  The Australian Breastfeeding Association’s book ‘Breastfeeding…naturally’ tells us that ‘Just as your mouth may begin to water when you are hungry and smell something delicious cooking, the sight or sound of your baby…may trigger your let-down reflex’.  Having your baby ‘Close enough to Kiss’, as the TICKS guidelines suggest, can be a great way to enjoy that lovely newborn smell and gaze adoringly into each others eyes.

The first and most important point to remember is that both babywearing and breastfeeding are skills that don’t necessarily come naturally.  In order to successfully breastfeed in a carrier, you must first be able to both breastfeed and wear your baby separately.

Another important point to note is that your milk supply will constantly change and adapt to your growing baby’s needs.  In the first few weeks, it is not uncommon for mothers to suffer from engorgement and/or blocked ducts as their breastmilk supply adjusts to the demands of the baby.   Checking your breasts for blockages and hard, red areas is important in the prevention of further problems such as mastitis.  During this time, it can sometimes be advised to ensure that you do not wear any restrictive clothing or bras as they can cause a blockage from the pressure placed on the breast. If you are wearing a correctly fitted wrap, sling or carrier that follows the TICKS guidelines and is nice and ‘Tight’, then there is a possibility that the pressure placed on the milk ducts can cause a blockage to form.  This is not to suggest that the carrier should be worn loosely as this can lead to other problems.  However, it is important that if you are prone to blocked ducts or other breast conditions that you always check your breasts before, during and after wearing your baby.  There are so many options available to you that another option that does not place pressure on the milk ducts may be more suitable for you until your supply settles down.

When feeding in a wrap, carrier or sling, you will not be meeting the TICKS guidelines.   In order to safely breastfeed, your baby will need to have room to pull their head back from the breast.  This is in case you have a fast flowing or forceful let-down that may cause them to cough or splutter.  If you have your carrier ‘Tight’, there will not be room for your child to pull their head back (particularly if they are a newborn and require head and neck support).  To allow for this to happen, the head and neck support will need to be loosened or replaced by your hand, making the babywearing experience no longer hands free.

Some mothers may require their baby to be moved lower in the carrier in order to be at the height of the breast to allow for adequate positioning and attachment.  You can choose to either support your breast with a cloth, towel or hand underneath it to raise it to your child’s mouth or you can lower them down level with your breast.  If you choose to lower your child, you are now also not meeting the ‘Close enough to Kiss’ guideline and you must pay close attention to ensure that your baby remains in view at all times.

There are many options available that allow you to both carry your child and breastfeed at the same time.  Here are three of the most common options:

WOVEN WRAPS AND STRETCH WRAPS

These are very popular with new parents.  They can be quite difficult to learn how to use at first and, with this steep learning curve, it can take some time to master the techniques before you can learn to breastfeed AND baby wear successfully.

Some carries will place more pressure on the milk ducts than others.  A Kangaroo Carry is a nice option to try, as it does not place any pressure directly on the breasts.  It is also fairly easy to reposition your baby towards your breast and is a poppable carry so you can transfer your sleeping child to the bed after a feed.

RING SLINGS

These also have a steep learning curve but they, like the Kangaroo Carry, are easy to reposition and adjust to your child during feeding and sleep.  However, you are only able to feed from the ‘non-ring’ side so you will need to ensure that you are always swapping sides when not in the carrier and check your breasts thoroughly before, during and after babywearing.  They can also be very discreet with the tail fabric.  However, always check that you keep your child ‘In view at all times’ to check that nothing is covering their nose or mouth.

SOFT-STRUCTURED CARRIERS

These are the most popular method for babywearing and breastfeeding.  However, like a good pair of jeans, every carrier fits every mother-baby dyad differently and it can be useful to ensure you have tried on a few different carriers before purchasing to find what works for you.  Adjustability to both mother and baby are very important in order to allow for movement to breastfeed and a nice, soft, woven wrap fabric can allow for airflow and breathability more than a canvas or polyester mesh fabric.  Checking for any seams or pressure points caused by added panels can also ensure that your child is comfortable whilst feeding.

If you’re struggling with one of these options, or are after someone to show you how to adjust your carrier so that it works for you, visit a trained and insured Babywearing Consultant for some hands-on, professional advice.  Once you feed your baby in a carrier, you are unstoppable!