Most modern mums are aware about the benefits of responsive breastfeeding or breastfeeding on demand. Baby feels calm, lactation is maintained at sufficient level for a baby to thrive, are just among the few…
Ideally, a mum should have the opportunity to spend the first few weeks after giving birth breastfeeding skin-to-skin, bonding with her baby and recovering. Even if this is the case, sooner or later, most mums face the need to return to their daily lives, which may include caring for an older child, completing every-day chores and sometimes even returning to work. Furthermore, now they need to include the baby in their lives.

In practice, feeding on demand creates the need to stop any activity, at any time, in order to breastfeed. When a baby is hungry it first opens its mouth wide, twists its head, then starts making sounds – which, if the mother doesn’t react soon enough, turn into an angry, distressed cry.

There is a high chance that a baby, who’s needs are systematically not met on time will tend to skip all the initial stages and turn into harrowing cry almost right away.
As a result – a nervous baby, who cries every time it needs attention and anxious, exhausted mum. What’s more, leaving a distressed baby to cry on a regular basis could be damaging to the developing brain. According to a "University of Pittsburgh study by Dr. M DeBellis and seven colleagues", published in the Biological Psychiatry in 2004, children who suffer early trauma generally develop smaller brains.

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How babywearing can help?

Feeding itself does not necessarily bring a challenge a mother — provided everything is done correctly, the process is painless and very satisfying to both. It is the “immobility” that can lead to psychological and physical exhaustion. Mum is going through series of routine tasks, such as breastfeeding, burping, changing, rocking her baby to sleep, over and over again, but nothing else gets done!

Not all mums are able to breastfeed on the go, supporting baby with one hand, especially if no one has shown them how this is done properly. Even when a mum nurses her baby while holding it in her arms, her back may start hurting and her arms may get numb due to being in a fixed position for prolonged periods of time.
Similar situation may develop when due to post-partum stitches mum is feeling pain while sitting. It is hard to breastfeed in a standing position for long stretches of time, and if a mum does not know how to breastfeed in a laying position, she may find it really hard to adapt to this situation.
This is where babywearing becomes especially useful! Mum and baby, who is carried in a sling, are continuously close to each other. Mum can respond to various needs of her baby well before the first cry – be it the need to feed, change, burp, rock to sleep or just cuddle her baby.
Baby carrier practically “unties” mum’s hands, allowing her to breastfeed on the go, and follow her daily routine. With practice, a mum can find a few comfortable positions in which the baby “interferes” no more than her previously pregnant belly used to interfere with her daily duties.

During long feedings (especially in the first months, when a newborn is sleeping and breastfeeding at the same time, day and night), the sling becomes a sort of a “detachable” belly. Baby feels safe and comfortable in there just as it used to be in the mother’s womb, and babywearing will help staggeringly by creating a safe space for the baby to develop and thrive.
One of the first principles that I teach mums who are new to babywearing is that the position of a baby in a sling should mimic the position used by a mother while carrying her baby.
Baby falls asleep or wakes up and there is no need to worry about it. Even the most active and energetic babies will enjoy being carried in the sling - they can change positions as often as they need. A mum who was trained in babywearing wouldn’t be bothered by that, as with practice, adjusting the sling will require minimal effort – in most cases it is enough to pull up the edge of the sling making sure that particularly active baby does not completely jump out of it!

Breastfeeding while out and about

Breastfeeding in the baby carrier while out and about is especially easy and convenient. There is no need to interrupt walks or search for a place to sit down. The fabric of the sling will hide breastfeeding mum from unwanted observers. This may not be so important for the parents of the first baby - they may be able to take short walks close to their home and change turns or get help in order to run errands. But even in such “ideal” situation they will inevitably need their sling – while taking longer walks or traveling with the baby. For the parents of two or more children it is needless to explain how challenging it can be to interrupt their walk for the sake of breastfeeding.
With the baby in the carrier it is more convenient to stroll around in the crowded places. Mum can breastfeed discretely while walking along the supermarket aisles, exhibition halls, crowded airports etc. Walking with the baby in the sling is a lot easier from the practical viewpoint. How often do we see a mum struggling with her baby in one hand and the stroller in the other?
"Even most comfortable and modern strollers, instead of facilitating movement, may interfere with it and be a burden".
Not to mention the difficulties of using a stroller on an unpaved road, sand, snow, or a nature trail, up or down the stairs or around the market on the weekend. Even if a mum does not have to deal with any of these issues, and her baby is used to spend time in a cot bed, a stroller, a playpen, and a bouncer, a sling can still prove very useful when the baby demands personal attention and physical contact - and this is and should be the case.

Resolving breastfeeding problems

Unfortunately, there are cases when rare short feedings, stress, baby’s stay in the crib or stroller for prolonged periods of time lead to impaired physical and emotional contact with the mother, and, as a result, the baby refuses to breastfeed. This may sometimes happen due to the circumstances which are out of mum’s control. Association between responsive feeding and mother–infant physical contact is a "scientifically proven fact" and babywearing helps tremendously in restoring this broken contact!
Being in the immediate vicinity of the mother “returns” her baby into the womb like environment. The warmth of the mother’s body, the rhythm of her breathing and heartbeat, limited space, swaying while walking - all this is familiar to the baby. In a sling, babies become relaxed and calm and it is easier for the baby to start breastfeeding again.

Many early difficulties with latching or poor weight gain can be resolved by spending more time "holding the baby skin-to-skin " or lightly dressed… . It is a lot easier to arrange skin-to-skin contact with the baby in the sling. Skin-to-skin contact is generally good for the baby, but for a baby who is refusing the breastfeed, this is simply a necessity.

While carried in a sling, the baby will feel mother’s touch, her warmth and her smell. This is going to bring the association with a safe environment, will relax the baby and will trigger the release of lactation hormone. From then on it will be a lot easier to take the next steps and breastfeeding is likely to normalize. From the practical viewpoint, laying a naked baby on mum’s bare chest requires a special time and place. With babywearing, it is enough for a mum to place her baby in the carrier and continue her daily activities.

A word about nursing strike

A baby who refuses to breastfeed (and is not in the process of being weaned) is said to be on a "nursing strike". A nursing strike is a baby's way of telling you that something's wrong. And it will probably take a little detective work to figure out the problem.

One of the very effective ways to deal with it is to "breastfeed in motion" and this is when babywearing becomes handy again. In motion and half asleep, baby will usually start nursing. Not only that, if the reason for the refusal was a lack of physical proximity of the mum and her baby, which has in turn led to the rare short feedings, then it is necessary to radically change the routine care for the baby. Carrying the baby for long stretches of time, preferably skin-to-skin is far easier in a sling and hence, it will be easier to introduce such changes.

Babywearing as a lifestyle

It is exceptionally important for a small baby to be physically close to the mum and to breastfeed on demand. Sling can help in managing both. Nevertheless, it is not a solution for all situations, and there are mums and babies for whom baby carriers are not suitable. Besides, baby carrier is more of a lifestyle than simply another baby item.
It is the lifestyle for the parents who choose to spend time with their babies, who are not trying to distinguish between their “private” and family lives, who are happy to share everything with their loved ones. If this is your choice, then we are in the same boat!

My own experience

In my own experience of breastfeeding my four children from birth till two-three years of age, babywearing has not only proven to be useful in many daily life situations, but it provided a strong “bridge” between me and my baby, which helped me to develop steady and healthy relationships within my family. With the birth of each new baby our life hasn't stopped. We all enjoyed spending time together, be it a family dinner, a walk or a sightseeing trip. We rarely excluded the baby from these important events and babywearing has always helped us to keep together and bond as a family.

During the past ten years or so I used different kinds of baby carriers, produced by different brands and I tested them in many different situations. Hence, my views on breastfeeding and babywearing originate not only from my knowledge and practice as a babywearing educator, but from my own personal experience as a mum of four and a babywearing mum. I truly hope this insight will serve as a strong motivation for you to enjoy your personal journey as a parent!

Final word of advice

While babywearing and breastfeeding are both natural and mutually supporting skills, mastering both at the same time may be quite overwhelming. It is perfectly fine and even advisable for new mums to master breastfeeding to a certain degree and then gradually introduce babywearing before merging both skills. It is normal to experience ups and downs and even for the most experienced mum to feel in a swamp from time to time. It is essential to know that other mums go through similar issues and many of them will be happy to provide emotional encouragement.

Furthermore, a mum may revert to a "breastfeeding consultant" or a babywearing educator for professional help and ongoing support. It is our job to look holistically at your and your baby’s situation and needs, and to offer all you need to help you make your motherhood a healthy, positive and satisfying experience.
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