When contacting me about a sling to use, a lot of mums add “one I can feed in” to their requirements. Often followed by “I need to be able to feed the baby and have both hands for the toddler”. Phew, now there’s a few boxes to tick!
Theory and Practice
In theory, you can feed in all ergonomic slings, from stretchy wrap to buckle carrier. The thing is: body parts required for both – feeding and wearing – differ in shape and size between women and babies. What works for one mum, doesn’t necessarily work for the other. Even in the same sling. Often the same sling on the same mum works differently for subsequent babies.
And, feeding and slinging are two separate skills. You should only combine them once you are confident in both separately. No matter how many babies you’ve fed and slung before, you need to get to know the newest family member (and your new post-partum self!), get familiar with their feeding likes and dislikes, see how you both feel about using your sling. Most people find that the more children they have, the quicker they get the hang of, and have the need for, feeding in a sling.
Showing and teaching – different skill sets
Just like feeding and wearing are different skills to learn, they are also two seperate skills to pass on. An experienced mum who has breastfed her own child(ren) in a sling can show you how she does it herself, to give you an idea of options. This can happen at a Sling Meet, for instance. The crucial difference between showing and teaching is that showing is passing on of personal experience, whereas teaching should always be focused, based on best practice, up-to-date, evidence based information and include continuous assassement.
If you’d like somebody to teach and assess your technique of feeding in the sling (latch, body position, placement of sling etc), and guide you through steps, I’d strongly advise you contact somebody qualified, skilled and experienced in assessing, teaching and supporting mums in both skills. For instance, I am a qualified Breastfeeding Counsellor and Certified Babywearing Consultant and need to commit to continuing professional development to renew these qualifications. And I use my skills week in week out, both in private practice and as a volunteer.
Hands free – or maybe not
For most people, feeding in a sling isn’t actually hands free. Most certainly not at the beginning. Some supporting of either breast or baby is necessary in most cases.
To be able to feed effectively, baby’s head needs to be supported but not restricted. Just as much as there should be no hands pushing baby’s head into the breast, there should be no fabric doing it either. Baby’s head needs enough space to tilt back for a deep latch and easily unlatch when required.
Another thing to consider: there’s only so far you can lower baby and sling safely and comfortably. Baby and breast need to meet in the middle somewhere and your hand may be required to keep them there.
As baby gets older and sturdier, most people find they can achieve handsfree feeding – often, baby’s hands take care of the “meet-in-the-middle” part then 🙂
It is safest to feed baby upright in a sling to protect their airways. Generally, mums need to lower the sling a bit to be able to feed. This moves baby off your centre of gravity and is not comforable for longer stints. Once baby is finished feeding, it is essential to return them to a safe position in the sling, following the SLING guidelines. Even if baby has just fallen asleep while feeding for the first time in 24 hours and you are worried they’ll wake… If they do, it is rare for them not to drift right back to sleep once snuggled up safely on your chest again.
Just because you can …
…doesn’t mean you have to! Especially in the immediate post-partum period, it’s easy to overdo it, if you are not “sitting under baby”. Feeding in a sling is a handy tool to have in your parenting tool kit if you are stuck (like when you are doing the shopping!). But don’t forget to use feeds to sit down for a few minutes, look at a book with your toddler, draw a funny picture with them, let them cook you a pretend cuppa … or lie on the floor and be a bridge for their cars.
Here’s an article with some more tips and tricks and photos from Babywearing International Austin.