Breastfeeding and babywearing both have many benefits, including helping you to bond with your baby. But one common concern for moms is the fear that babywearing could lead to blocked ducts which in turn could cause mastitis.
Wearing your baby does not cause mastitis, but excessive pressure on your breasts while carrying your baby could lead to blocked ducts. If left unmanaged, this could lead to mastitis. To prevent blocked ducts make sure that you are carrying your baby correctly and that there is no unnecessary pressure on your breasts.
There are a number of things to consider if you are concerned about the impact that baby wearing will have on your breasts:
- How to avoid common breastfeeding mistakes
- Which carriers are good for breast feeding
- The different carrying positions and how to babywear to avoid breastfeeding problems
Common Breastfeeding problems to avoid when breastfeeding and baby wearing
If you are experiencing pain in your breast while breast feeding, the problem is not necessarily Mastitis.
Milk blisters appear as white dots on the nipple or areola and can be painful. Thickened milk may block milk flow near the opening of the nipple. Blisters are caused when skin grows over a milk duct opening and milk builds up behind it causing a blister.
Milk blisters are often the result of rubbing or friction against the nipple or areola so make sure that the fabric or straps of your carrier are not rubbing excessively against your breasts or nipples when babywearing.
Engorgement is more than just milk storage; it is your body directing extra blood and fluids to your breasts that stimulates and boosts your milk production. When you are engorged, your breasts will feel heavy, hard, warm, and sensitive to the touch. It can be painful if you don’t drain your breasts efficiently and it may lead to other breastfeeding problems.
Babywearing has been known to increase the hormone called 'oxytocin' which leads to increased milk production. If you are already producing a large amount of milk, then this increase in oxytocin and milk could result in engorgement. On the reverse side, if you are struggling to produce breast milk, babywearing might help to increase milk production.
Your breasts are made up of a duct system and sometimes these ducts become blocked with thickened milk. If you are experiencing this, the skin around the area of the blockage will be red and will also be tender or even painful to the touch. If the blockage is not drained it could become infected.
The cause of plugged milk ducts is usually something that is preventing the breast from draining fully so make sure that your baby carrier does not put excessive pressure on your breasts if you are concerned or prone to getting blocked ducts.
Mastitis occurs when blocked ducts are not cleared. The breast tissue becomes inflamed and swelling arises from the build-up of milk in your breasts. You could also experience a fever or flu-like symptoms. Your skin will appear red in a wedge-shaped pattern. Bacteria could grow and cause an infection if the breasts remain undrained. An antibiotic is sometimes required.
If you are experiencing blocked ducts after babywearing it is advisable to take a break and resolve the blockage before babywearing again. Babywearing, especially in the front carry position, should be avoided completely if there are any signs of mastitis.
If any symptoms appear as mentioned in the above explanations, we advise looking on La Leche League International’s web pages for treatment and prevention.
What are the best types of baby carriers for Breastfeeding?
Babies are worn in different positions in different types of carriers, and the type of baby carrier can have an impact on your chances of developing breastfeeding complications.
Stretchy wraps are gentler on your body than many more structured carriers, as the fabric is soft and widespread on the body.
Ensure you pull out the fabric over your breasts to ensure there is no fabric bunching up over them and causing undue pressure.
Mei Tai Carriers
Mei Tai carriers are very versatile and can be worn with baby in the front carry position, on your hip or you can carry baby on your back.
Carrying your baby on your hip is a good option, especially if only one of your breasts is affected by blocked ducts or mastitis.
Having your baby feeding on the side experiencing difficulty can often help to fully drain the area.
The back-carry position is ideal for avoiding pressure on the breasts completely. The straps are pulled over your shoulders and around your waist and tied into a knot.
The Onbuhimo is a Japanese word “Onbuhimo” which means “back carrying strap”. “Onbu” means carry on the back and “himo” means rope or strap. Onbuhimo’s are shoulder-only carriers that tie across your chest above your breasts. They are designed for older babies who are able to sit independently and weigh between 6-15kg. Your baby’s legs go through the straps and the bottom of the panel is tucked up under your baby’s bottom.
The Ring Sling
A ring sling is a great option especially if only one of your breasts is experiencing an issue. The ring sling can be fastened through the hoops over to one side only. Your hip and opposite shoulder support the baby’s position.
Please take note that ring sling's are not recommended due to the way it supports the baby's hips as they pose risk for developing hip dysplasia. Furthermore, they may position the baby's head in such a way that it could lead to positional asphyxiation. Additionally, there have been numerous reports of baby's falling out of ring slings, so it is advised that you use them with caution.
The Soft Structured Carrier (SSC)
A Soft Structured Carrier (SSC) is a great option to avoid pressure on the breasts, as well as your back. The buckle carriers have padded waist belts that distribute the baby’s weight to your hips for comfort and the straps fasten over your shoulders.
Pressure on your breasts can be avoided completely as the shoulder straps fasten and clip across your chest. All the straps are adjustable on this carrier making it easy to tighten in the areas you need extra support to carry your baby.
What are the best types of baby carriers for Breastfeeding?
If you are experiencing breastfeeding challenges, the best position to wear your baby is in either back or side carry positions. However, it is only safe to back or side carry an older baby. It is important that you read your carrier manual to establish the appropriate age and weight to do so.
In the side carry position, you can easily adjust baby to nurse on demand to clear any milk build-up. The back-carry position is not optimal for on-demand feeding but there is no fabric or straps on your breasts causing pressure or irritation.
The front carry position is the least advisable if you are experiencing any symptoms associated with blocked ducts, milk blisters, or mastitis. There is a possibility that front carrying could cause pressure on the breasts and could cause blocked ducts or irritate the nipples.
WARNING SIGNS AND MANAGEMENT
When carrying your baby in any position, it is important to take note of warning signs like pain, redness, or any swelling of the breasts. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms we recommend that you try to adjust your carrying position or take a break from baby carrying until the symptoms have resolved.