Breastfeeding a baby is hard work. With all the unrealistic portrayals of breastfeeding in the media and in crappy parenting books, many new moms 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 Ergo, 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!” Your welcome for the show. Nobody told you to put your head in there.
Anyways…. those early months can be maddening, and moms 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 mom 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.
*Layers. I usually wear a camisole or nursing tank underneath whatever else I am wearing so my mid-section isn’t exposed if I pull up my shirt for nursing.
*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 moms will yield all kinds of suggestions for dresses and shirts out there that fit the bill.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
Not all carriers are going to work well for everyone. That is why there is no easy response when people ask about the best carriers for nursing. Our body types and the baby’s size and age all contribute to this equation. I know that the end goal is Hands Free Breastfeeding, but just know that realistically not everyone can achieve this. Even some of the most skilled babywearers find that they need one hand to support their breast or help their baby to latch – especially when they are newborns and still do not have adequate head control. If you are blessed in the breast department… you might find it helpful to roll up a receiving blanket or washcloth and tuck it under your breast to help position it higher up for the baby to reach. Also keep in mind that if you are feeling like you have to keep one hand on the baby’s head when they are in a carrier…. you may need some tweaking or tightening with your carrier to better support the baby. Ask someone for some help! Just like with any new skill…. breastfeeding and babywearing takes some practice to do properly. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right off the bat! Try, try again.
Here are some examples of nursing in different carriers and when they might be appropriate for you.
*Ring Slings – One of my favorite carrier suggestions for nursing a newborn. They are lightweight and can be quickly adjusted. Whether you are quite busty or a member of the itty bitty titty committee… you can get a good fit with a ring sling. I always prefer to use it in an upright position, but it is also one of the few carriers I would recommend for breastfeeding in a cradle hold. As long as you are vigilant about watching your baby and about re-adjusting your carrier to the proper position when they are no longer actively nursing, a Ring Sling can be a good fit if you are having a hard time with the tummy to tummy position while breastfeeding. The downside for many people, is that it is a one-shoulder carry. Some folks find that uncomfortable, or find it difficult to nurse on both sides in this carrier. I personally never had that issue, but I know many women who do.
Lots of people say they like nursing in Ring Sling’s because they are discreet. I have heard recommendations to use the tail as a cover for nursing. Please Do Not cover your baby’s face with the tail of the sling – or with any fabric… ever. Mouth and nose should be visible always.
To Adjust: Lower the baby to desired height, and then tighten the fabric around the baby to help support them in that position. Make sure you re-create the seat once they are positioned properly so baby doesn’t slip out the bottom of the sling. When you are all done, raise the baby back up until they are close enough to kiss and re-tighten the sling.
*Soft Structure Carriers – I Practically lived in the Ergo between 3 months and 1 year. I preferred the two shoulder carry for extra support, I loved the hood to keep people out of my business. It was so discreet and so easy to use. We ran all over NYC in the Ergo… you can’t even tell my daughter is nursing in any of the photos. I have heard from some of my bustier friends that it can be difficult to get a good fit with an SSC and that there simply isn’t enough space for baby’s head and their breasts. If that sounds like you, you are not alone. Don’t fret… there are other carriers out there.
To adjust: Loosen the waist band slightly and slide it down until it is on your hips – baby’s head should be level with your breast. Reach under your arm to adjust the shoulder strap on the side you are going to be nursing on. Give yourself enough slack to get your hand in there and help position the baby at your breast. I usually only let the slack out on the side I am nursing on, then tighten it again when I go to switch sides. I like to snap the hood on one side for some coverage, leaving the other side open to see the baby’s face still. When you are done, lift baby back up, get the carrier back on your hips and tighten it. Sounds complicated. Want to see it?
*Woven Wraps – If you can get past the learning curve… these are probably the most versatile carriers out there. Because woven wraps can be tied in so many different ways…. you can definitely find a carry that works for you and your nursling. My personal favorites for nursing are a Front Wrap Cross Carry and a Robin’s Hip Carry. I have seen many moms using a Kangaroo Carry and a Poppin’s Hip Carry… or a Front Cross Carry which is poppable for convenient on the go nursing. Pretty much any of the dozens of woven front or hip carries out there will work great for breastfeeding.
To adjust: Just like with the ring sling, you want the baby low enough to nurse… but not loose. Position them as low as you want them to be, and then tighten the fabric around the baby. The carry should still be secure even while nursing. When you are done, always readjust back to the proper height – which is close enough to kiss. YouTube has a lot of great videos for nursing in woven wraps. Some of my favorite channels are by Volunteer Babywearing Educator’s Wrapping Rachel and Babywearing Faith. Can’t go wrong with one of their tutorials.
* Mei Tai – Another great option for a two-shoulder carry for nursing. It’s quite easy to move a baby from a back carry to a front carry in a Mei Tai, and pretty quick to adjust… so if you have a very avid toddler nurser you may want to think about trying one of these carriers out. I personally prefer wrap style straps on a Mei Tai to better distribute the weight of the baby, since while nursing I am wearing the carrier a little loser than I would typically for more flexibility. I personally don’t usually recommend nursing a newborn in a Mei Tai, because it can be difficult to get a safe fit that conforms to the baby as completely as a Ring Sling or a Woven Wrap. It’s not impossible, just not my ideal situation. I prefer something with a little less structure and more flexibility for nursing a newborn.
To adjust: Untie the knot securing the shoulder straps, and lower the baby just enough to reach a comfortable nursing height, and shift the baby towards your hip on the side you are going to feed from. Then re-tie the shoulder straps. If there isn’t enough length to tie behind my back, I tie under the baby’s bum. Rarely do I have to lower the waistband in a Mei Tai, loosening the straps just slightly usually allows for more than enough give in the body panel – especially when breastfeeding a more “advanced nurser” (a.k.a. a Toddler who can find it even if you are wearing 3 layers of clothing over it). All the rules still apply with nursing in a Mei Tai. Baby should only be in a breastfeeding position if they are actively feeding. When they are done, raise them back up to a safe height and tighten your carrier to maintain that proper positioning.
This list is by no means exhaustive. These are just my personal recommendations when it comes to breastfeeding conveniently. Many people find nursing in Stretchy Wraps or Pouch Slings really work for them too! Just follow similar principles described above – including readjusting your carrier when you are done breastfeeding. Many of the manufacturers websites for your baby carriers have useful tutorials on things ranging from how to use the carrier, to how to safely breastfeed in it. I highly recommend checking them out!
If you want to know more about these carriers in better detail and to find out where you can purchase them, take a look at this post to walk you through the basics. To get some hands on help with your baby carrier, I recommend searching for a Babywearing group close to you. Many of them have lending libraries where you can try out a carrier before investing in one (or two… or three). Babywearing International has chapters all over the country… that is a good place to start. If you need help with breastfeeding, La Leche League is an International organization that can help you out on that front – many leaders are also skilled at nursing in carriers and could lend a hand at a meeting. Breastfeeding in a carrier is a game changer. It has allowed me to be the social and active mother that I always wanted to be. Though I have no qualms personally with nursing whenever and wherever… I have found that babywearing has truly helped me to meet my child’s needs with complete confidence regardless of the time or place.