I love impressing people with my babywearing skills. Even when I’m not feeling the wrap love (and therefore I feel like a wanna-be instead of a super cool hippie mama), at least I can still look cool with the things I can do with a baby carrier. When you casually toss your baby on your back, people are impressed. When you pick up your older child while wearing your baby, people stare in amazement (and worry that you’ll injure yourself). But nothing impresses people more than breastfeeding while babywearing.
I am happy to say that I am an expert at this. It’s not because I’m such a great breastfeeder, or because I’m such a great babywearer. It’s purely out of necessity. I’ve written before about what it was like to breastfeed my daughter as a newborn, but what you have to realize is that she breastfed like a newborn forever. When she turned three, she was breastfeeding every three hours. Day and night. That’s how much newborns are supposed to breastfeed. But when she was a newborn, she never stopped breastfeeding. Ever. I calculated once how much she was latched on in a 24-hour period. Actually, I calculated how much she wasn’t latched on: it was a total of four hours. In twenty-four. And never in longer than fifteen-minute increments. She was two months old at the time.
So when I say she breastfed all the time, I really do mean she breastfed all the time.
Enter the baby carrier.
Like any other mom, I took a while to get the hang of it. But I had lots of time to practice. Lots. So by the time Teddy was born, I was an expert of the highest order. I’m like a Jedi Master of breastfeeding in a baby carrier. You should see me. I make it look easy. I look like an awesome hippie mama. Even in a structured carrier, I still look like an awesome hippie. Because nobody but a crazy hippie mama walks around in the park holding hands with her daughter and carrying flowers in the other hand while breastfeeding a baby in the carrier.
And the bonus? I get to go on walks while I’m breastfeeding. No being stuck in the house for me. And even though I really don’t bother trying to be discreet, people rarely notice that I’m doing it unless they look closely. The carrier covers pretty much everything up. And if people do stare at me, they’re never studying the side of my chest to see if they can glimpse some boob (seriously, why would they?). Nope, they’re so busy staring at the cute baby that they don’t even see me.
Want to breastfeed in your carrier? It’s easy.
1. Choose what carrier you’ll use. The best carrier for breastfeeding is one that holds your baby in the position he prefers while breastfeeding or being comforted. If your baby strongly prefers a cradle hold, try a pouch, a wrap, or a ring sling. If he likes to be held upright, use a wrap, a structured carrier, or a mei tai.
2. Lower the baby slightly. You need to practice to find the the right spot here. When you’re not breastfeeding, your baby should be a little bit higher–close enough that you can kiss his forehead. It’s more comfortable for walking around if his weight is a little higher up and closer in. But to breastfeed, you’ll need his head to be close to the height of your breasts (and that’s a little too low for you to kiss, unless your breasts are a lot perkier than they have any right to be after childbirth. In which case I want to know your secret).
With a structured carrier, just loosen the straps a little. With a wrap or a mei tai, you’ll need to loosen the shoulder straps slightly and scoot the baby down. With a ring sling, loosen a little to lower the pouch a bit. With a pouch, scoot the baby down as much as possible, and focus your efforts on step two.
3. Lift your breast up. Here’s my secret technique for doing this and still nursing hands-free: don’t unlatch your nursing bra. (Better yet, don’t even bother wearing a nursing bra. You can do this just as well with a regular bra. Which is probably cheaper.) Pull your shirt up to cover the top of your breast if you prefer, and then pull your breast up over the top of your bra. The bra will support your breast and hold it a little higher up, making it easier to get it to the level of your baby’s mouth.
If you don’t mind pulling your breast up through the neck of your shirt (your breast will be more exposed that way, but seriously, people rarely notice!), wear a v-neck, stretchy shirt. I prefer this method, because pulling your shirt up when you’re wearing a carrier is a pain, and getting it tucked back down is almost impossible (especially if the baby is asleep by that time). And if I’m going to expose some skin, I’d much rather expose the tops of my milk-enlarged breasts than my flabby, stretch-marked sides and stomach.
4. Latch baby on. This is a lot easier once your baby has some head control and can do this himself, but I was able to nurse Teddy in the carrier within his first week of life. (Although I swear he was born with great head control. But he is, obviously, a genius.) However, you can help a baby without head control to latch. Support his head, move him close to the nipple, and let him latch on just as you would without the carrier.
5. Use the carrier to support baby’s head in position. I recommend this even if your baby has good head control, because chances are once he’s nursing in the carrier, he’s going to fall asleep. In a wrap or a sling, just tuck a bit of material around his head. In a structured carrier, raise the hood, or at least half of it (I prefer to only attach one side of the hood so I can keep my baby’s face uncovered). In a mei tai, use the back of the carrier to support your baby’s head.
6. Go for a walk and enjoy breastfeeding hands-free! It will take some practice to get comfortable, but as you and your baby both get better at maintaining the latch, you’ll be amazed at all the things you can do while breastfeeding. If your baby loses his latch, you’ll need to lift your breast up again to get it to his mouth, so be prepared to use your hands when necessary.
Other Jedi Masters of babywearing and breastfeeding–I know you’re out there. What are your tips?
Thanks to Nursing Freedom for the gorgeous breastfeeding picture. Check out their articles for more great tips!