Looking for helpful tips to get you through the early days of breastfeeding? Find out what tools can make your and your baby’s breastfeeding experience easier and more enjoyable.
There are plenty of tools to make the breastfeeding experience one that is as stress-free as possible. Here’s a look at some breastfeeding essentials no nursing mother should be without.
Bras Built for Nursing
“It is helpful to have a few nursing bras or ‘sleep’ bras that mothers can wear under hospital gowns and around the house,” says Jan Ellen Brown, RDH, IBLCLC, with The Nursing Mother’s Place at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Some mothers also will purchase a few everyday nursing bras ahead of time since they may not be shopping after the birth for a few weeks. Most nursing bras allow for growth and expansion as well as the ribcage shrinking after delivery,” Brown adds.
Nursing bras can be found in various sizes and styles, including underwire and seamless. When selecting a bra, allow room in the cups for nursing pads which keep leaking milk from damaging your clothing. Purchase more than one bra and look for bras that are easy to unhook and unsnap—ideally using one hand.
Clothes for Fast Feeding
Many women appreciate the convenience of wearing clothes designed specifically for breastfeeding moms. These shirts, dresses, and pajamas have openings on both sides, allowing women to breastfeed their babies discreetly. While wearing nursing clothes is a matter of personal preference, many women couldn’t live without them. “I wear one—usually a nursing tank—everyday and have several nursing gowns/sleepwear that I also use,” says Pinson. “Wearing nursing shirts made me feel more comfortable when I was learning how to breastfeed in public; also, I find it more convenient to nurse at home in nursing wear.”
Nursing fashion is known best for being practical, but with organizations such at the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending mothers nurse for the first 12 months of babies’ lives, more women are breastfeeding longer—which means more fashions to choose from. Today nursing mothers can choose clothes that fit their lifestyles and occasion; whether it’s for a postnatal yoga class, an important meeting at the office, or a night on the town, nursing fashions have come a long way with designing clothes that are current and trendy.
Pillows That Comfort
“Although a nursing pillow is not necessary, I find moms profit from back and arm support while they are learning latch-on and positioning in the beginning,” says Brown.
“I have used a nursing pillow everyday since I returned from the hospital. I found it indispensable in the early months, when Lily was nursing around the clock, because nursing pillows support the arms so well,” adds Pinson.
There is a wide variety of pillows available for breastfeeding moms. Some of the more popular pillows include Boppy, My Brest Friend Pillow, and The Natural Boost. “I used My Breast Friend Pillow because I found that it offered more support than other brands out there, says Ford. “Since then I have purchased it as a gift for several of my friends and they loved it as well.”
Seats That Take a Load Off
Along with a comfortable pillow, nursing stools can help relieve back pain and soreness in the neck and shoulders while keeping legs properly elevated during nursing. Stools can be found at many major retail outlets such as Amazon and Target.
Slings for the Hard to Hold
Slings provide a comfortable, natural way to carry baby while also making nursing discreet. There are many ways to carry babies in slings, and you can change the way you hold children as they get older so that it continues to be comfortable for both parent and child.
Slings come in a variety of styles—some are adjustable, while others like “tube” slings are not, and still others are tie-on. Popular brands include Maya Wrap, ERGO, Nojo, and TaylorMade.
Although many women enjoy carrying their children with a sling and believe it provides a good opportunity for bonding, some women and children may find it hard to get comfortable or nurse well using a sling. For those who are struggling or unsure if a sling is right for them, borrowing from friends or trying out different types of slings from organizations like La Leche League (LLL) may be good places to start. And when in doubt, save that receipt in case after several tries, you need to make a return.
Milk Storage Made Easy
Nursing moms can purchase plastic bags designed specifically to safely store and freeze breast milk. These bags often have special seals and space to clearly mark the date the milk was expressed and when it should be used by. The bags are also often pre-sterilized and lined with nylon to prevent fat from sticking to the sides and losing antibodies in the milk. Many companies offer these products including Medela and Avent.
Hard plastic containers can also be used to store milk in the freezer and should be kept towards the back rather than in the front or on the side door. It is recommended that you store milk in two- to four-ounce portions because they’re easier to thaw and warm. Frozen breast milk should never be refrozen or warmed on the stove or in a microwave as it can burn the baby. Fresh milk can be frozen anywhere from three to six months and can last in the refrigerator for eight days.
Bottles can also be used to store milk in the refrigerator for up to eight days. The Dr. Brown’s brand bottles have become a popular because they offer a patented system that reduces colic, spit-up, burping and gas, while a vent pump in the bottle helps prevent bubbles from forming.
Avent and Playtex are also popular brands among nursing mothers.
Breast Pumps You’ll Prefer
“I caution moms about purchasing a pump before delivery. A hospital-grade rental pump may be needed if baby is premature, not nursing well, or if a mother and baby are separated. All pumps are not created equal,” says Brown.
Pumps come in a variety of sizes and price ranges. You can rent or purchase them from major retailers and brand names such as Avent, Evenflo, and The First Years, which offer several styles of manual and electronic pumps. Medela, a popular brand with nursing moms, offers numerous products including breast pumps, accessories, breast care aids, cleaning products, nursing/maternity intimate apparel, specialty feeding devices and baby scales.
With such a wide selection available, choosing the pump that’s right for you depends on how much you use it. Will be you staying at home and not using a pump as much or returning back to work right away? Will you be carrying the pump around a lot and in need of something compact and light? Are you exclusively offering your baby expressed milk because of problems with nursing? Will you be buying a pump right away when the baby is born or later on? Do you plan on having more kids that could benefit from it? Do you need to be able to pump quickly—both breasts at a time? Do you have very large breasts and require larger cups for your pump?
Think about what having a battery-operated versus electronic pump means for your schedule and lifestyle. If you’re not sure what pump is right for you, ask breastfeeding friends what they’ve been happy with, and consider meeting with a lactation consultant or someone from an organization like LLL for demonstrations and more information before going out to the store or online to make your purchase.
More Support for Nursing Moms
Lactation consultants can be found in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and in their own practices. These professionals provide nursing mothers with a support system and are there to answer questions and teach mothers and families about breastfeeding.
Common issues that lactation consultants tackle include latching on, pain with nursing, frustration, low milk production, setting feeding schedules, and switching from breast to bottle, among others.
Mom Lisa Russell-Pinson also suggests taking a breastfeeding class and bringing your partner along. “My husband and I took a breastfeeding class before Lily was born and it was very informative for us both—I learned a lot about the ‘mechanics’ and my husband got specific tips on how to support me,” she says.
Perhaps the most important tool mothers need for breastfeeding is encouragement from friends and family. Whether it is professional advice from a lactation consultant, hearing stories from fellow moms in a support group, or help around the house from your own mom—being surrounding by loving, supportive people will make things easier for everyone involved.