October is breast cancer awareness month, so it is a good time to remind moms of something that I think is pretty well known but so, so important. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding are positively associated with reduced lifetime risk for breast cancer, as well as cancers such as ovarian and endometrial cancer. It is thought that one way in which pregnancy and breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk is by reducing the number of menstrual cycles a woman experiences in her life which reduce the cumulative exposure to endogenous hormones, which are associated with stimulating cell growth and the occurrence of breast cancer. Breastfeeding for at least a year is associated with a decreased risk of both hormone receptor-positive and hormone receptor-negative breast cancer. A study done by Cancer Research UK (United Kingdom) demonstrated that the risk is reduced by 7% for each baby a woman has, and that for every 12 months she breast feeds (not necessarily consecutively) she decreases the risk by a further 4.3%.
This is one reason why I wanted to highlight how helpful babywearing can be in supporting moms to meet their breastfeeding goals. I know that when you first have a baby breastfeeding while wearing baby in a carrier at the same time may seem *impossible*. I do think that the first and most important thing to do is establish your breastfeeding relationship firmly and successfully without a carrier before moving on to use carriers as a tool for breastfeeding success. Once a mom has done this, though, babywearing supports moms in remaining active and continuing to breastfeed by providing privacy for discreet nursing and the ability to nurse while standing up if needed– or even while continuing to walk.
I personally found the most success breastfeeding while babywearing when using upright front carries, though many people prefer to breastfeed with baby in a semi-reclined position. Ring sling or pouch-style carriers are excellent for this, and the fabric tail of a ring sling can be used as a drape for privacy if desired. With an upright carrier such as our mei tai or the pikkolo, I prefer to loosen the straps to lower baby just a little bit. This is especially easy with the pikkolo because you just pull up on the tension buckles on the sides a little bit to loosen them and lower baby a few inches. Lift up your shirt and use one hand to help support the breast for baby, the same way that you would if using your hand to offer the breast while sitting in a chair at home. You will likely want to continue to hold the breast gently while nursing so that baby is able to easily remain latched on. I highly recommended wearing hoodies with nursing tanks or shirts! This was my uniform for a long time and helped me feel comfortable nursing in a carrier so that I knew that my sides were covered when I lifted my shirt to breastfeed in a carrier. The hood of the pikkolo or on our mei tai can also be used to drape over baby’s head lightly to visually block distracting sights (the last thing you want when you are trying to get baby to focus on the task at hand is to pop off to look at some new and interesting thing over there!) and provide a little more privacy if desired. After you are finished nursing and pull down your shirt or re-clasp your nursing tank, you can just put one hand on baby’s bum to relieve the tension on the straps and tighten them again to get baby back in that high, seated position.
Nursing on the go in an upright carrier will typically work best after baby is old enough to maintain some level of head support on his or her own. When nursing in a carrier you should always remain eye contact with baby and be able to see what he or she is doing and ensure that your breast is not pressed into baby’s nose or face, so she has a clear airway. If baby falls asleep during nursing, you should not leave baby in the nursing position (lower and face leaning against the breast) but always remove baby from the breast and tighten straps to higher position and make sure baby’s head is then resting sideways (cheek to your chest) against you with a clear airway while she snoozes.
If you have any tips on what has worked well for you to breastfeed while babywearing, feel free to share them in the comments
References and Useful Resources:
National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov)
British Medical Journal
Centers for Disease Control
Best for Babes (bestforbabes.org)