Sometimes baby’s gotta eat and you need a free hand for something (like eating your own lunch, holding a book to read, or pushing a grocery cart). Ring sling to the rescue! Ring slings are a wonderful tool to help you hold your baby while you breastfeed. This post will discuss the benefits of using a sling to breastfeed and help you learn how to breastfeed in your sling, both in an upright position and a semi-reclined cross cradle hold.
Using a Baby Carrier can Improve Breastfeeding Outcomes
- In your ring sling, you can easily notice baby’s early feeding cues and feed your baby before your baby becomes distressed. Your baby will begin turning their head from side to side, opening their mouth and rooting when hungry. When baby begins showing these cues right against your chest, it’s hard to miss!
- Little, Legare, and Carver (2018) found that mothers who wore or had physical contact with their babies before feeding fed more frequently and were more likely to respond to hunger cues before the infant became distressed. The closeness of babywearing makes it easy to learn babies cues and respond to them quickly.
- Mishra, Rai, Mishra, & Das (2017) found that kangaroo mother care (holding the baby skin to skin – which can be done in a sling or carrier) improved breastfeeding outcomes and infant weight gain.
Master Using Your Sling and Breastfeeding Separately Before Combining Skills
I recommend mastering your sling and learning to breastfeed separately before breastfeeding in the sling. I spoke with a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and babywearing educator that I admire, Austin Rees from Breast Skin Sling and she agrees with me. She said “I always share with my clients that breastfeeding and babywearing are separate skills. Once a client is comfortable with both, a ring sling is an excellent tool to marry babywearing and breastfeeding together because of its versatility.”
Taking Baby Out of the Sling to Breastfeed
If you aren’t ready to combine breastfeeding and babywearing yet, the easiest thing to do is take baby out of the sling to breastfeed. This can also be nice even when you are quite comfortable with both breastfeeding and babywearing. You can leave the sling on while you feed the baby, and use it as a nursing cover if you’d like. Of course, cover is not needed, but if you want some cover, your sling is a great tool.
Steps to Breastfeeding Baby out of the Sling:
- Take baby out of the sling.
- Lift the sling fabric up a bit so that you can access your breast.
- Lower your shirt. Most people find that shirts that are easy to pull down are easier to nurse in when wearing a baby carrier than shirts that must be pulled up.
- Latch on the baby.
- If you like, you can use the sling fabric to cover the top of your breast, but it should not cover your baby’s face.
- Nurse as long as needed.
- Pop baby back into the sling.
This image shows nursing (a rather wiggly toddler :P) in a traditional sling carry (which is a woven wrap carry that is very similar to a ring sling). In the image, I lifted the wrap fabric up to cover the top of my breast and am holding the wrap tail around my baby’s shoulders for a bit more cover. However, I am not covering his face or nose with fabric and can easily glance down and see his entire face while he is nursing.
Breastfeeding with Baby Upright in the Sling
It can work very well to leave baby in the upright, chest to chest position while breastfeeding.
People often ask me: Why feed baby upright?
It works wonderfully to breastfeed baby upright in a ring sling. Austin Rees, IBCLC and Babywearing Educator Breast Skin Sling said “Nursing upright in a sling can mimic the koala hold or the laid back nursing position. This is beneficial because baby is held close up to the nursing caregiver’s body by the sling, pressing the hips, ribs, and feet against the body with no gaps. These are the “pressure buttons” on the baby’s body and when in contact with the adult’s body, they initiate the breast seeking behavior. This position also gives the parent more control if they need to hold the breast when latching.”
Breastfeeding in a Ring Sling Tutorial
This video shows how to put baby in a sling and how to nurse baby upright in the sling. Please note, in the video I put my hands on the back of my baby’s head while I latch her on, but this isn’t recommended. For many babies, putting a hand on the back of baby’s head can cause them to arch away from the breast. (See “Important Breastfeeding Tip” below).
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/e2BCdRfQAvQ” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>
Be sure to watch the video all the way through and learn how to raise baby back up to the original position.
Always keep your baby’s head uncovered and monitor baby while feeding. When done feeding, bring back back up to their original higher position on your chest and tighten the wrap.
Important Breastfeeding Tip
Use your hands to support baby’s upper back and neck, but don’t put your hand on the back of baby’s head. I asked Austin Rees, the IBCLC and babywearing educator from Breast Skin Sling about this and she said “When going to latch it is important to keep hands off the back of the baby’s head. Support from the hands can be placed on the upper back, and if more is needed, fingers can be placed behind baby’s ears for more stability. Babies are born with the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex (TLR) and they respond to a hand placed on the back of their head by turning or pressing towards the hand. Pressure against the back of the head can make it difficult for baby to latch because they lean back away from the breast. Be mindful of this when latching baby to the breast or pulling up the carrier behind baby’s head.”
Breastfeeding in a Reverse Cradle Hold
You can also breastfeed in a reverse cradle hold. I asked Austin about the benefits of this position as well and she said “For parents who nurse in a cradle position, the sling can form to the baby and assist the parent by keeping baby close to their body when tightening the rings after latching. The ring sling molds to the baby’s body, and makes a favorable carrier for breastfeeding and babywearing. The parent simply lifts the rings to loosen the material and once baby is latched, can be tightened to mold around baby and the parent’s back by taking off the majority of the weight from their arms.”
Important Positioning Tips:
- Always keep baby’s face and head visible.
- Do not cover baby’s head with fabric (either from the sling tail or the fabric from the top edge of the sling.
- Remember to keep baby’s chin off of baby’s chest. You should be able to get one finger under baby’s chin.
- Make sure there’s fabric between you and baby, creating a pocket for baby to rest in.
Take a look at this image. Notice that the baby’s entire head is uncovered. The sling fabric is not touching the back of baby’s head and supports no higher than the bottom of the baby’s ear. This is very important, both for getting a good latch and for protecting your baby’s airway while babywearing.
This video by Babywearing Faith shows how to nurse in a a ring sling. She demonstrates both upright and reverse cradle hold nursing in the sling.
<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/rA1Dq5fwOCM” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>
Both Positions are Wonderful for Breastfeeding
Both upright and reverse cradle hold nursing work wonderfully in a ring sling! There are benefits to both positions and you’ll probably find that you or your baby prefer one or the other. If you try one position and it doesn’t work well for you, try the other. You can also seek help from your local babywearing educator or local lactation consultant or breastfeeding educator.
If you choose to cover while nursing, remember never to cover your baby’s face. You can use the tail to cover the top of your chest or hold it out from you a bit like a tent, so that you can see your baby’s face but other people can’t see baby feeding. You might also find it helpful to practice nursing in front of a mirror so that you can see what it looks like from an onlookers point of view.
While Feeding Baby:
- Keep baby’s head uncovered (at all times, but especially while breastfeeding).
- You should be able to see your baby’s face and head the entire time.
- Actively monitor baby’s feeding and breathing.
The Most Important Step when Nursing in a Sling
The MOST important step when nursing in a sling (whether you nurse in an upright or reverse cradle position) is adjusting your baby after you are done nursing. Do not ever leave your baby in a lowered nursing position after nursing. Always take the extra minute to bring baby back up so that their head rests on the flat part of your chest. Then tighten the carry so the baby is snug and well supported again.
To bring baby back to the original snug and supported position:
- Lean forward slightly (supporting baby’s head and back).
- Shift baby back up to their original position, high on your chest, head resting on the flat part of your chest just below your collarbone.
- Retighten the carry around them.
Check your Carry after Feeding and Repositioning
You can use this checklist to check your carry after you are finished feeding the baby and repositioning baby.
T – Two fingers should fit under baby’s chin – this protects baby’s airway.
A – Always visible – baby should always be visible, even while breastfeeding.
S – Snug and supported – baby should be well supported and snug both while breastfeeding and once raised back up to the original position.
K – Kissable – Baby should be close enough to kiss (with their head on the flat part of your chest just below the collarbones) when you have raised baby back up after feeding.
I hope that this helps you with feeding your baby in your sling! Leave a comment if you have further questions or need help! 🙂
Special Thank You to Austin Rees from Breast Skin Sling:
I’d like to extend a special thank you to Austin Rees from Breast Skin Sling for taking the time to answer my breastfeeding questions! Please take a moment to find and follow Austin on Social Media. She regularly posts helpful articles and tips about breastfeeding, babywearing, and kangaroo care!
Little, E.E.; Legare, C.H.; Carver, L.J. Mother–Infant Physical Contact Predicts Responsive Feeding among U.S. Breastfeeding Mothers. Nutrients 2018, 10, 1251.
Mishra, P., Rai, N., Mishra, N., & Das, R. (2017). Effect of Kangaroo Mother Care on the breastfeeding, morbidity, and mortality of very low birth weight neonates: A prospective observational study. Indian Journal of Child Health, 4(3), 379-382. Retrieved from https://atharvapub.net/IJCH/article/view/36