Breast+Skin+Sling: An interview with Austin Rees

My guest on the blog today is Austin Rees. Austin is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and a Certified Babywearing Consultant through the Center for Babywearing Studies. She is the owner of Breast+Skin+Sling, and the co-founder of Sacred Milk. Austin prepares mothers prenatally with the foundations of breastfeeding, skin-to-skin, and babywearing. She facilitates personalized ceremonies to celebrate life’s transitions. Austin also provides one-on-one babywearing consultations in our community. (featured image credit: Kate’s Takes)

It is common today for parents to take a birthing class. Why should parents seek out a breastfeeding and babywearing class before the baby arrives?

An out of hospital birth class is essential to gaining the information on how to facilitate the process of birth and know your choices in birth. Skin-to-skin, and the breast crawl (infant independently moves to the breast to nurse) occurs immediately after birth. Understanding how to facilitate this instinctual experience before the birth is beneficial. I find mothers profit from the knowledge and foundations of how Milk works, the importance of skin-to-skin, along with an understanding of the normal newborn before the baby arrives. With this knowledge I have witnessed mothers step into motherhood trusting their bodies, their babies, and their Milk. I help mothers discover their innate instincts and wisdom so they enter their unique Milk relationship secure, confident, supported, and connected to their baby. Armed with the knowledge of how to initiate a good start is key to avoiding difficulties. I observed working with mothers postpartum that a majority of the issues they experienced could have been prevented if they had the proper information before the baby arrived. Babywearing can also start immediately, and knowing how to comfortably and confidently use a carrier can be a valuable tool.

Babywearing is commonly seen around the city. How would you react if you see someone wearing a baby improperly while at the store?

I am always excited to see another parent or caregiver wearing their baby while I am out. I usually try to make eye contact or say, “It’s great to see you wearing your baby.” If I notice someone wearing their baby and the straps are twisted, or it does not look to the carrier direction guidelines I may observe to see if they are interested in striking up a conversation. When I engage with someone who is wearing I ask how they feel. If they are happy and comfortable, I praise their excitement. If they say this is great, but xyz, I will share some babywearing tips that may help that situation.
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On your website it lists you offer facilitating ceremonies for families in the DC/MD/VA area. What are some reasons for someone to reach out to you to create a ceremony for themselves or someone else?

I enjoy designing personalized ceremonies to create a circle of support for someone. I have been facilitating Mother Blessings for pregnant or adopting women for 10 years. In place of a traditional baby shower, a Mother Blessing is a special ceremony designed to acknowledge, honor, and celebrate a woman’s journey into Motherhood. Family, friends, and mothers contact me to create a ceremony and provide a loving place where the honored mother can explore the challenges and joys that lie before her as she approaches childbirth or adoption, and mothering her first or multiple children.

I also facilitate Birth Story Ceremonies; a place where a mother can experience deep listening, and allow the power of sharing her story to heal, celebrate, grieve, release, process and acknowledge her experience, her journey. These are designed to make way for the mother to experience her birth story. We open our heart and commit our undivided attention to her. This allows her to fully express her experience, reflect upon it, and take the steps she needs to move forward. We step aside and create a safe space so she has complete control, and unconditional support.

A Weaning Ceremony is a time we can come together to honor a Mother’s Milk relationship. We make way for the mother to experience her Milk story by opening our heart and committing our undivided attention. This allows her to fully express her experience, reflect upon it, and take the steps she needs to move forward. We step aside and create a safe space so she has complete control, and unconditional support.

I also create customized ceremonies. Recently I designed one for a special woman who was about to undergo radiation for breast cancer. We designed activities that supported releasing fears, created personal power, and we weaved a web of support, pledging our assistance throughout her treatment and beyond.

Sacred Milk is a sister program under the Sacred Living Movement. Can you share what is the Sacred Living Movement, and more about your involvement with Sacred Milk and Sacred Pregnancy?
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Photo credit: Kalimana Birth Films

The Sacred Living Movement acknowledges all aspects of our life’s journey need to be honored, and embraced with reverence and respect. The Sacred Living Movement was designed to bring back the age-old tradition of women sitting with one another during a time of transition, witnessing each other’s process and BEING there for one another. We have a local, active Sacred Living Movement Maryland group.

Sara Goff and I created Sacred Milk after attending a Sacred Pregnancy retreat. Sacred Milk is a movement inspiring women to trust their bodies, their baby’s and their Milk. Our mission is to nourish the wholeness of each mother’s journey and shift our culture to see Milk as a holistic practice, rather than simply a feeding choice. In the last century our culture has been saturated by marketing that has conditioned us to see breasts as sexual, and human milk as just a food source. The Journey to Milk program is focused on opening space for women to remember their innate wisdom and then surround themselves with a supportive community. Milk is instinctual, natural, normal, and necessary. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or filled with bliss. Milk is not something that can be fully learned from a book or taught on the internet. Milk cannot be told. Milk must be modeled, supported and nourished in community because it is a way of living not a way of feeding.

I recently co-hosted a Sacred Pregnancy + Sacred Milk 2-day mini retreat for pregnant mothers in our community. It was a gorgeous event full of women showing up and witnessing to each other. In September I will be facilitating a retreat to certify Sacred Pregnancy instructors in Nashville, TN. I am excited for more women to have the option to attend these classes or retreats prenatally.

Austin is such wonderful resource for mothers and families in our area and has such a beautiful way of bringing our community together. If you are looking for breastfeeding or babywearing education in the Baltimore or surrounding area, you can contact Austin here.

Babywearing: Some Unexpected Lessons

Today’s guest blog post comes to your from Paige Barocca of Baltimore Birth Services.  Paige serves the families in our community as a birth doula and a babywearing advocate. 

I’ve been an avid babywearer since the birth of my son in 2012. Like choosing the breastfeed, babywearing was just something that I knew I would do from the start. There were many reasons why I knew I would be wearing my baby. After wearing one baby into toddlerhood and starting all over again with my baby girl, I have come to realize that being a babywearing mama has taught me some unexpected lessons. First, I want to share three of my initial intentions when wrapping that first baby to my chest.

Babywearing deepens the bond between parent and baby.

Wearing your baby can be as calming and blissful as a good swaddle, with the added benefit of being snug right up to your chest. Sometimes I would even wear my baby skin to skin, under a robe or open sweater. To your baby, nothing beats that familiar smell and unmatchable warmth of a mother. Recreating the close quarters of a womb and combining that with human touch (dads too!) really is the perfect recipe to keeping that baby calm. This is especially helpful for breastfeeding moms, babies love the smell of mama’s milk, and what better way to encourage breastfeeding than resting near the source? Not to mention that fathers who may be wanting to connect with their newborns (and give mom a break!) can also do so through babywearing between feeding and during naps.

Babywearing meets your baby’s needs while allowing you to meet yours.

While your baby is cozy in the nest you made them on your chest, your hands can be free. I certainly don’t recommend doing housework immediately postpartum, but eating a meal (that someone else prepared you) is a lot easier with two hands! I’ve found this to be particularly helpful the second time around, while chasing around big brother. Speaking of toddlers, I can’t think of a better way to keep a busy babe happy and out of trouble in a grocery store- my son stayed strapped on my back every trip until the next was born! From doing your nails to walking the dogs, wearing your baby can give you that freedom that many new mothers feel they have lost.

Babywearing brings baby to the action.

Newborns sleep a lot, and usually at odd times! Getting in the habit of putting them down or tucking them away removes them from social situations. More so, if you have a baby that likes to be held, and very few don’t, you may find yourself removed from social situations as your arms become an immovable bed for your sleeping beauty. When you wear your baby, your baby goes with you, typically undisturbed by movement or change in environment. If your baby is awake, being worn can give baby a chance to see people interact at eye level, providing more social perks than being on the ground with a bunch of toys. I have worn my baby to busy restaurants, parties, meetings, you name it and we’ve been there.

Now for the juicy part. What are the life lessons that await any future babywearers? Spoiler Alert! Here are my surprise extras that I gained just for being a mama with a wrap.

Babywearing gave me confidence!

Babywearing is not totally difficult, you can choose to strap a baby in a backpack and call it a day. I really never loved the fit of a backpack on my petite body, or a sling on one shoulder, so my go-to style has always been a wrap. Choosing to wrap was easy, learning to wrap was tougher, and being confident in my skills, as well as my maternal instincts, took time! It was a while before I would use my wrap in a parking lot, or wrap without a mirror. As with every skill, I began to take pride in myself and this special talent that I could share with my babies.

Babywearing builds a village!

I have met so many wonderful friends through my love of babywearing and the style of parenting it represents. When wrapping, I often have strangers encouraging me, asking if I need any assistance. More than once I’ve had someone literally ask if they could just stand and watch me do it. (Again, talk about confidence boosting!) I’m often met with questions from new mothers about how I do it and where can they learn? Just today at the park I sparked a conversation with another mom as she asked, “How do you get her down from there?” I’ve become a teacher and supporter of my community simply by going outside with my baby! Babywearing has opened to doors to so many new adventures and introduced me to a number of beautiful people who now remain a big part of my life.

Babywearing does not look the same on everyone!

When I first set out to babywear, I went out and bought some fabric and sewed it all together. I came to realize there is a whole community of babywearers who do things all sorts of ways. This can be intimidating because some serious wrappers will spend oodles of money on one hand-woven, “dear-in-search-of”. Yes, that is a term!  Although they are beautiful, and I have a few moderately priced wraps, the wrap I tend to reach for the most is an Ikea sheet that I chopped in half. The response I get when I wear my sheet is just as grand (if not more!) then when I wear my Girasol Amitola Azafaran weft. Furthermore, there are so many different carriers! There are slings, and buckles, and mei tais, oh my! There are as many ways to wear your baby as there are reasons to wear them. Just like everything else in parenting, no single one is better than the rest, you just have to pick what works best for you!