It might be hard to imagine when you are a new mother, all propped up with your pillows, your newborn, your water, and your snacks, but more than likely, breastfeeding will at some point become easier. Your newborn will gain head and neck control. You will figure out how to get a good latch for breastfeeding. Your nipples will not be sore any more. You will stop worrying about your milk supply. You will just be able to breastfeeding your baby, kind of like how you learn to put clothes on your baby or give them a bath. It’s new and different, but then it becomes routine.
It is at this time that you will be able to start exploring the option of nursing your baby in a baby carrier hands-free! Learning how to do this may take some time and patience. It is important to find the right kind of carrier for you and your baby, one that fits you both well. But once you have, it can be really wonderful.
Photo Credit: Kelsi Thurman
Before Breastfeeding in a Carrier
You need to be able to get a good latch with minimal effort before trying to nurse in a carrier. Evaluating the latch of a baby often means needing to be able to see all around the babies mouth, and how you are holding the baby, how you are sitting, how the baby is positioned in your arms, and the relationship of the babies body to yours. None of these things are going to be the same if you are attempting to breastfeed in a carrier of any kind. Getting a good latch established is a basic foundation of breastfeeding that you can then build on.
You can nurse your baby in a carrier before they have complete control of their head and neck; however, you will still need to provide support for their heads if they cannot support themselves. You can hold the back of their head or use a part of the carrier to provide support until your baby can support themselves. Once your baby has grown enough to hold themselves up, you will be able to nurse hands-free!
Body and Breast Shape of Mother
Every mother has a different body and breast shape and these will both affect which carrier works best for breastfeeding. Think about this rule of thumb of breastfeeding: Bring your baby to your breast, not your breast to your baby. This still applies for nursing baby in a carrier. If you want to nurse hands-free, you need to find a carrier that will position your baby in such a way that her head is in alignment with your nipple when she is ready to feed. This positioning depends a lot on your breast size, and what kind of carrier you are using. For some ladies, a structured carrier works great, because they have smaller breasts, so the baby can be upright and at the level of their nipples. However, most larger breasted women cannot nurse in a structured carrier without having to hold their breast up or lowering the waist and shoulder straps so that the baby sits much lower on their chest.
An adjustable sling of some kind is often a good solution because you can adjust them to fit many different sized bodies and breast sizes, but they can be tricky to get right initially. And remember that if you are using a sling to hold a baby who hasn’t gained control of her head and neck yet, that you will want to keep the baby upright, which means having her tucked up underneath your chin, snug against your chest, not laying in a cradle position. Always practice safe babywearing techniques . However, nursing in an adjustable sling becomes a lot easier when you are nursing an older baby, say 6 months or older, who has learned how to latch without your help.
Photo Credit: Abby Urfer
Different Kinds of Carriers
No matter what kind of carrier you decide to use, remember to always use safe baby wearing techniques. Infants who cannot support their necks and heads can be injured if held incorrectly, so before you try to nurse in a carrier of any kind, make sure that you are first comfortable using the carrier and have the basics of breastfeeding down. Also consider that it won't just be you carrying the baby everywhere you go, papa will be wanting his own carrier too!
A length of cloth tied into a loop is the most basic of all baby carriers. Some version of a sling has been used by mommas around the world for thousands of years - for good reason. It is lightweight, easy to put on, versatile, and can be used in many ways. Nursing a newborn and small infant in a sling hands-free and moving around is challenging, but you may be able to use the sling to support your babies body and one of your hands to support their head. You can also use the sling (with the ring on the opposite shoulder than the babies head) to help support the babies body and head when you sit and nurse. Once your baby has learned to latch basically on her own, nursing in a sling becomes much easier.
Rochelle Grotjohn and Evie in their favorite ring sling
Photo credit: Bree Phillips
Soft Structured Carriers
A soft structured carrier provides baby with good body support and distributes her weight evenly across your back and hips. You can carry your baby in them in many different kinds of ways - on your front, side, and even on your back when your baby gets bigger. Toddlers and older children often love being carried around on an adults back. So even though these kinds of carriers can be an investment, they can be used for many years and for multiple children.
Photo Credit: Katie May
Nursing in a structured carrier will depend on your body and breast shape and size and the age of your baby. If your baby is an older infant, who latches well and has good head and neck control, a structured carrier can be a great option for hands-free nursing. If you have smaller breasts, you may be able to nurse easily in the front carry position with no adjustments needed, as long as your nipples are at the level of your babies mouth. If they are not, then you can loosen the waist strap so that it is more around your hips, and lengthen the shoulder straps, so that the baby is sitting lower on your body and at the level of your breasts.
John Grotjohn Wearing Baby Evie
Wraps are long lengths of stretchy or non-stretchy fabric that you wrap around you in different ties, depending on how you are going to carry your baby. There can be a bit of a learning curve with wraps, but they are very flexible and can be used in similar ways as slings and structured carriers, once you learn the different ways to use them. Wraps may seem intimidating, and there is a lot of information out there about them, but the many, many different ways you can use them make learning about them so worth it if you are interested.
Photo Credit: Justice Cotton
There may not be one or even two best baby carriers for breastfeeding, but taking into account your unique circumstances, you will be able to find something that works for you and your partner. Remember when looking for a baby carrier to breastfeed in, you want something that brings your baby to your breast, and also uses safe carrier techniques at all times. Let your love and milk flow. Hold that baby close!
Photo Credit: Savanna Onnen
Photo Credit: Bree Phillips