Breastfeeding a baby is hard work. With all the unrealistic portrayals of breastfeeding in the media and in parenting books, many new mums find themselves completely unprepared for the sheer quantity of time it takes to feed these little babies. For breastfeeding to work, those first few weeks (er… months) it really starts to feel like all you are doing is feeding the baby. Many mothers begin to feel overwhelmed. I remember firsthand, that my little Dragon Baby was a particularly enthusiastic nurser. I didn’t leave the house for weeks on end…. I couldn’t find time between feedings. When I finally figured out how to nurse in the Ergobaby baby carrier, I felt like a breastfeeding master. It was so discreet, nobody even knew what I was doing. I’d be walking the aisles at Costco sipping on some soda, baby strapped to my boobs… no one batted an eye. People would come poke their head into my carrier and then yell out startled “Oh! I didn’t know you were doing that!” You’re welcome for the show. Nobody told you to put your head in there.
Anyways…. those early months can be maddening, and mums too need to get out of the house. Studies have been done that conclude that breastfeeding rates are greatly improved for mothers who utilize a baby carrier. The physical closeness helps stimulate the hormones that produce milk, and the proximity to the breasts that the carrier provides makes it easier to live with the kind of “nurse around the clock” scenario that is the best case for breastfeeding success. Many mothers stumble upon this knowledge instinctively, so it is no surprise to me that one of the most commonly asked questions I get from a new mum is “Which carrier is best to breastfeed in?”
Short answer is always “You can nurse in any carrier”, because I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to run out and buy a carrier just to nurse in if they already have one that we can make work. But in reality, the answer is really long and complicated and best summed up with “Depends on your body, your needs, and your preferences.” So lets talk about safely breastfeeding in a carrier, and how some different carriers may better work for your nursing needs.
Making it Safe
If you have a brand new squishy baby and you are still in the “I need 3 hands to breastfeed” mode… it is best that you wait until you get the hang of things to try your hand at nursing in a carrier. It is recommended that you have both mastered the art of breastfeeding, and also have safely figured out how to use your carrier before you try to combine the two things.
- Baby’s face must be free of obstructions. Don’t cover their face and nose with the carrier or your breast. You should be able to see their nose and mouth, hear them sucking, and remain aware of their positioning as long as they are nursing.
- Maintain an open airway at all times. Your baby should never be in a position where their chin is against their chest, whether nursing, wearing or otherwise. This can cause the airway of an infant or small child to become blocked and lead to suffocation. Check out this post on T.I.C.K.S. for more babywearing safety basics.
- Baby should be in a nursing position only when actively nursing. If you hear or feel the baby stop sucking, you should move them back to the high and tight position they began in, and re-adjust your carrier appropriately.
The majority of carriers work best while baby is breastfeeding in a vertical position, parallel to your body. I’d say that most of us are more accustomed to nursing our babies in a cradle hold – horizontal to our bodies… so you can see how this new position might gum up the works with a newborn. For this reason, I often show mothers how to position the baby in an upright nursing hold to practice this latch on the couch at home first. You will notice I said to practice at home first? That is always the best place to try out a new carry – At home, with a well fed and well rested baby…. rather than at a mall with a tired and screaming hungry newborn. You will have a much better shot at getting it right with less drama.
Dress for Success
For me, whether or not it’s easy to nurse in any carrier is largely determined by what I am wearing. I have worked out a “nursing uniform” over the years to keep myself comfortable yet leave the girls easily accessible. Here’s some tried and true tips.
- Easy access from the top. It is much easier to pull a shirt down rather than up when you have a baby strapped to you in a carrier. For this reason, I often wear V-neck t-shirts, or button down shirts, scoop neck T’s or sometimes shirts that have a wrap-around front if I can find one. These are really easy and fast to have the breasts available, no fuss. Added bonus, you can use the collar to prop up your breast so it’s a little higher for the baby to reach it without you having to hold it in place. This works particularly great if you are well endowed.
- Think through your outfit before leaving. Are you headed to a wedding? Dinner party? Don’t wear that turtleneck dress… you’re going to have to get naked in the bathroom or car to nurse in it. (Not that I know from personal experience or anything. Doh!) Surprisingly, you don’t have to get special nursing gear or shop at specialty stores… plenty of mainstream clothing works just fine! You just have to spend a little time thinking about the logistics before the event. Asking some other nursing mums will yield all kinds of suggestions for dresses and shirts out there that fit the bill.