Written by Jennie Bever Babendure, PhD, IBCLC
By now, most of us in the lactation field have heard of Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC). Maybe you’ve even been lucky enough to hear Nils Bergman speak passionately about the work he’s done using KMC, and its benefits for premature infant thermal regulation and brain development. Most importantly for those of us in the lactation world, the skin-to skin contact (SSC) used in KMC is associated with increased breastfeeding duration. Despite all the attention SSC and KMC have received, no one has yet looked at the impact on breastfeeding of mother/infant body contact beyond the first hours after birth in term infants.
A recent article in Acta Paediatrica by Continisio, Continisio, Filosa and Tagliamonte, set out to remedy this by designing an intervention to increase mother/infant body contact in the first month of life. 100 Italian mothers were given information on breastfeeding as well as a cloth baby carrier. They were shown how to put their (clothed) infants into the carrier and asked to wear the baby in the carrier as often as possible, and for at least 1 hour per day during the baby’s first month. Control mothers were given information on breastfeeding only.
What they found surprised even me, a sling-wearing, card-carrying member of the babywearing fan club.
Mothers in the intervention group were 1.8 times more likely to still be breastfeeding at 2 months and 2.9 times more likely to still be breastfeeding at 5 months and breastfed their babies significantly more often (times per day/ night) at 1 and 2 months. Mothers in the intervention were also more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding at 2 and 5 months. In addition, the majority of the mothers who used the baby carrier felt it was useful for breastfeeding as well as bonding, understanding of baby needs, and getting things done.
For me, these results are staggering. The intervention is simple, requires minimal skill to administer, and mothers and babies are not only getting the health advantages of longer and more exclusive breastfeeding, they’re also getting more bonding time and getting things done! It is for this last reason, I would imagine, that women the world over have chosen to carry their babies in cloth carriers for thousands of years. They, like many mothers who use cloth carriers these days, likely could have told us that babywearing makes breastfeeding easier. Thanks to this study, we now know that it also helps mothers breastfeed longer and more exclusively.
This study provides solid evidence that increased mother/baby contact through the use of a baby carrier can increase breastfeeding duration and exclusivity. Although this study was done with only one type of carrier, I would guess that most carriers that allow mothers to wear their new babies close to their chests (as in KMC) would be of similar benefit.
One of my favorite resources for all things babywearing is www.thebabywearer.com. They have reviews, forums, and information on buying, making, and using baby carriers of all kinds. Be sure to check out the resources on their homepage on safe positioning. Like any type of baby gear, baby carriers must be used properly, and it’s important to check to make sure that any baby carrier you use has not been recalled.
I’m not sure I would have made it through the first few months without a baby carrier. In fact as I finish this post, my son is snuggled against my chest in a carrier while we sway back and forth to Neil Diamond.
Have you or the mothers you work with used a baby carrier? Have you found it to make breastfeeding easier?
Pisacane A, Continisio P, Continisio GI, Filosa C, Tagliamonte V. Use of baby carriers to increase breastfeeding duration among term-infants: the effects of an educational intervention in Italy. Acta Paediatrica 2012:epub ahead of print.
Jennie Bever Babendure, PhD, IBCLC: I am mom to 2 active boys and an Assistant Research Professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. As breastfeeding researcher, I am constantly scanning the literature for articles that guide my research and inform my clinical practice. One of my goals is to increase the evidence base of our profession as lactation consultants. I feel it is important for lactation professionals to be aware of and contribute to breastfeeding research, especially when so much of it is fascinating! As an ongoing contributor to Lactation Matters, it is my hope that you will find the articles I highlight as interesting and informative as I do, and that you will use them to guide you in the important work of lactation professionals and breastfeeding advocates. For more research news and commentary, check out my blog at www.breastfeedingscience.com.