August 1 to 7 is World Breastfeeding Week. Gosh there’s a week for everything isn’t there, I hear you muttering under your breath. And you’re right, when the calendar includes beauties like International Talk Like a Pirate Day, it’s hard to take any notice in our already information-saturated lives.
World Breastfeeding Week is worth taking notice of though, even if you’re not breastfeeding. World Breastfeeding Week is about enhancing the rates of breastfeeding all over the world, particularly in developing nations where breastfeeding rates can actually be a matter of life and death. Breastfeeding is an issue that relates not only to the health of babies, but women’s health, women’s rights and environmental sustainability.
Think we’ve got the whole breastfeeding thing sorted in Australia, though? Well, we’re certainly doing a lot better than 30 years ago, but you still regularly read stories about women being asked to stop feeding or feed elsewhere, despite a woman’s right to breastfeed wherever she chooses being protected by law. I’ve been lucky, I have breastfed both my children – my son for 12 months and now my daughter for 17 months and counting – and I have never had anyone say anything negative to me or ask me to move elsewhere when I’ve nursed in public. I do, however, have this little story to share with you that highlights why breastfeeding advocacy is still important in Australia in 2014.
Very recently I went to the GP to get a referral for a blood test. My son was at pre-school, but I took my daughter with me. I couldn’t see my usual GP as she was on holidays, so I saw another female GP, perhaps in her early 50s. A well-regarded GP, I knew her name from media work she does on the side.
During the consultation, we got chatting about contraception. I said that I would probably go back on the pill at some stage, but that I was still breastfeeding at the moment. The GP looked at me sideways and said “Who?”. Cue deafening silence from me. “I’m sorry?”, I said, feeling very confused. “Who are you breastfeeding?”, she said again, deadly serious. If I hadn’t been so flabbergasted I would have laughed out loud. “Um, her”, I said, pointing at my then 16-month old daughter playing with the toys in the corner. “Oh, ok”, said the GP, sounding genuinely surprised, as if she expected me to tell her about the newborn I’d obviously left in the car or something. “She is eating solids, isn’t she?” was her next question. “Um, yeah, of course”, I stammered, looking again at my daughter, who is on the 90th percentile for height and weight, holding a piece of mandarin in her hand. With that awkward conversation over, I got my referral and left.
This was the first (and hopefully last) time I’ve ever had anyone question me about breastfeeding my children, and it probably wouldn’t have been so bothersome if it hadn’t come from a GP, and a female one at that. Breastfeeding can be a hard slog for some women and babies (including me, I had to take Motilium for months with both my babies to overcome low supply), and the GP is often the first port of call when you’re having trouble. So for a GP to have such a strange reaction when being told that a woman is breastfeeding her 16-month old baby tells me that there is still a long way to go before breastfeeding is truly normalised, even here in a city as large and cosmopolitan as Sydney.
So, anyway, what’s all that got to do with babywearing? Well, certainly babywearing can be helpful when breastfeeding a 16-month old when you’re out and about, particularly if the only place to sit down is a wet and muddy patch of grass! I find a ring sling the easiest carrier for breastfeeding in. It is easy to loosen a little to drop bub to the right level then tighten up again when done. The tail of the ring sling can also be used as a cover if you want to be discreet.
I do see a lot of questions from new babywearers about how to breastfeed a newborn in a carrier, and to be honest, it can be quite hard. When you’re getting started breastfeeding, correct attachment is paramount, which can be hard to achieve with baby in an upright position in a carrier. Again, a ring sling is probably the easiest option as you can move baby to the cradle position for the feed and then put them back in the upright position afterwards.
Once you’ve got attachment down pat, breastfeeding in a woven wrap is also feasible, using a carry called front wrap cross carry, wrapping a little lower than you would normally if you need, and re-tying if necessary afterwards. While I haven’t done it myself, I know some women have success breastfeeding in soft structured carriers like Ergos, by loosening the waist and arm straps to lower baby down if needed. Obviously breast size and shape can play a part in whether you can successfully breastfeed and babywear at the same time! It is a bit of trial and error to find something that works for you and your baby. Keep in mind that, where possible, taking the time to rest and relax by sitting down somewhere comfortable while you feed your baby is really a great idea for your overall wellbeing, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get babywearing and breastfeeding to work for you.
Have you successfully breastfed while babywearing? I’d love to hear your story.