Breastfeeding my first daughter Nancy in a sling was an exciting, convenient and fun new accomplishment that I eventually mastered with much practise. It was a new trick that made so many situations much happier and calmer. Breastfeeding was my number one parenting tool. Be it bumps and falls, unfamiliar places and people, nothing was a problem, simply up into the sling she would go for some milk and reassurance, then off out into the world once more. With my second, Eula, it was simply survival. Feeding on the go enabled me to keep up with my lively toddler, to feel like we could still do all those things we once did as a then double act but now as a trio. It was a chance to bond with this small new person who had slotted into our lives whilst adapting and bending to the rhythm of her older sister, just like my husband and I had two years before. I found out very quickly that time could not stand still the second time around.
The most important thing to remember is it takes practice and patience. That's parenting summed up in two simple words. Practise. Patience. Even the most seemingly skilled and confident of people had to start somewhere. As a trained breastfeeding Peer Supporter I would say learn to feed your baby in the most simple way first. Take time to sit down, relax and get to know the basics so they are inbuilt. Don't rush to get on and out and multitask.
When it feels like the time is right and that you and your baby are ready, then it is possible to feed with most types of sling, Stretchy, Ringsling or Buckle carrier, however, as with all aspects of carrying, you will need to find what suits you best. Visit your local Slingmeet! It’s a great chance to try before you buy and to speak to a trained Babywearing Consultant. They will be able to advise on all the options available as well as you having the opportunity to chat with other friendly and helpful parents too.
Feeding in any type of sling requires the same key safety principles –
- Maintain a clear and open airway for baby. Their chin should never be pressed down into their chest, no matter what position they are being carried/ fed in.
- Babies face should be in sight at all times, never covered completely by the sling or your clothing.
- Once baby has finished feeding, even if they have fallen asleep, reposition them back to the upright position, close enough to kiss. This will allow babies reduced muscle tone to be supported by the parent’s body and ensure that both sling and chin are off their chest.
- Familiarise yourself with the TICKS guidelines.
I would urge against cradle carry in most cases, but especially when on the move. This is where baby is lying down horizontally in the sling, across your body, both feet to one side, head to the other. You may see this in some sling instructions, but for both general carrying and feeding there are many risk factors. It is much harder to maintain a clear airway and your control over baby’s position. Their fragile little body will not be supported sufficiently.
This said, a take on this carry can be a useful tool for supporting baby and perfecting your feeding technique. Sat down or stood up it can allow you a free arm to work on latch, reposition baby if needed or just enjoy a drink/ snack whilst feeding. A stretchy wrap can work especially well for this. If you attempt this, remember to ensure that baby has a clear airway throughout, checking that their chin is not pressed into their chest. It’s important to reposition baby to the upright seated position if you decide to do more than just feed them.
When I found myself faced with a new and somewhat unexpected breastfeeding challenge, tandem feeding a newborn and a 2 year old, this kind of third hand was such a help.
There are many brilliant YouTube videos that can help illustrate exactly how to feed in your sling. You can watch in real time, pause, practise, try again. Also check out the many Facebook groups for sling support. Take a look at this wonderful Youtube tutorial, courtesy of Carry My Baby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drRt3HW0qAA. The Sheffield Sling Surgery also has a video tutorial about the same, and it’s well worth taking a look at the wealth of knowledge they have to offer via their website and facebook page also.
Always aim for the fundamental breastfeeding rules for a successful latch, even when carrying. Nose to nipple, not too high up on the breast, big gape as they go on. This would be the same whatever position you are feeding, sling or no sling. If at first they don't go on right try, try again. Practise in front of a mirror, sat down or stood up. Practise makes perfect and will grow your confidence. Familiarise yourself with your sling and how it works before attempting to feed in it. I practiced with a doll initially.
Just remember if you're struggling to get it right, you're not the only one. We all started somewhere. Return baby to their original upright position so they are fully supported or take them out to feed and try again next time. Oh and a word to the wise, learn from my mistakes and put your breast away as soon as you are finished feeding rather than waiting until you lift your child out of the sling in the middle of a cafe and proceed to order a coffee, with your breast right there for all to see in its full glory!
I personally wouldn't recommend breastfeeding in a sling, on the move, to someone with a newborn who has limited breastfeeding and/ or babywearing experience. See it as something to work towards. Get the ground work done initially, learn your baby’s cues and get comfortable with feeding first. But from then on it’s definitely possible to breastfeed on the go. Quite often people may not even realise what it is you are doing in there. I once did my entire supermarket shop with a tired and grumpy Eula latched on. The man at the checkout said the usual ‘Looks as though you have your hands full’, but I totally had everything under control, weekly food shop, done. Grizzly baby placated, done. Bags packed, done. I felt like Superwoman, even if it was just for a few minutes of the day!
Carrying your child close, as you go about your new life as a mother, is such a gift. Our children change your perspective on the world and open your eyes to the simple things that we take for granted, as they witness them for the very first time. Enjoy this time.