Top 20 Breastfeeding Mom Necessities
So you've chosen to breastfeed. It's an extraordinary and life-altering choice. You will need as much support as you can get, and not just from your nursing bra! Luckily, there are a vast array of products designed to do just that. However, the wide range of available products can become overwhelming for new moms wondering what they'll really need. And truthfully, you can spend quite a bit of money learning by trial and error. After two children whom I nursed to a year old, I have compiled a list of things I wish I had known about from the beginning.
The Top 20 Necessities
- Nursing Pads
- Nipple Shield
- Nursing Pillow
- Fenugreek supplement
- Milk Screens
- Nursing Cover/Wrap
- Nursing Bra Tank Top
- Sleep Bra
- Nursing Bra
- Casual/Sport Bra
- Pumping Bustier
- Portable Hands-Free Pump
- Milk Collection Bottles
- Milk Storage Freezer Bags
- Small Hand Pump
- Wipes for pump
- High neck nursing tank
- Nursing Pajamas
The Basics: Nipple Care and Nursing Pads
These items are the most crucial. Lanolin is a healing ointment with a texture like a solid oil. The purest Lanolin product on the market is Lansinoh Brand Lanolin, my personal favorite, which is also endorsed by La Leche League.
A well-fitted nipple shield can truly save a waning breastfeeding relationship. By reducing friction and pain, the nipple shield can encourage a frustrated mother to keep going through those first difficult weeks. The Medela Nipple Shield comes in two shapes and 4 sizes. Your hospital's lactation consultant can help you select the appropriate size. The Contact Nipple Shield allows nose-to-skin contact between you and your baby; however the suction is better on the standard full-coverage shield.
Nursing pads come in a variety of sizes and types. Washable pads are an eco-friendly choice; however their lack of absorbent materials often makes them impractical for use outside the home. The most absorbent washable pads, in my experience, are the Bravado brand ones with a wicking layer. For the early days of soreness, I recommend Lansinoh Ultra Soft Disposable Nursing Pads. The have an adhesive backing to prevent shifting, and an extemely soft texture that does not chafe. After returning to work, you may choose a thinner pad that is less likely to show through, such as the standard Lansinoh Disposable Nursing Pads.
LilyPadz are another type of nursing pad altogether, and are not recommended for the first month or so of nursing, or until after the milk supply establishes itself. They work by flattening the nipple and preventing let-down, and not by absorbing leakage. They are not absorbent, but are particularly effective for activities like swimming, when absorbent nursing pads are useless. I have found that after the first 6 weeks, they are very effective; however they can be uncomfortable for larger-breasted women and can change the shape of your breast while you wear them.
There is a huge market for nursing apparel these days, and some of it is even fashionable! The most basic thing you will need is a shelf-bra nursing tank. These are great because they offer some support, and open at the top for your baby to feed, while still covering up that post-partum tummy. They can be worn everywhere, including under button-up shirts and sweaters, alone, and even to bed. I have tried almost every nursing tank on the market, including many that need to be purchased online only. Being a larger-breasted woman, I can tell you that a major downside to nursing tanks in general is that the shelf bra will sometimes uncomfortably roll under your larger nursing breasts. The tank that I have found that is least likely to do this is the Bravado Essential Nursing Tank, which I highly recommend. It has a built-in nursing bra, instead of the simple elastic shelf, and comes in larger sizes, up to 40 F/G. I should mention that the 40 F/G would fit a woman who wears a 14/16 in misses clothing, so it is not a good plus-sized option. A decent low-cost nursing tank is the Gilligan O'Malley tank from Target, and it is available in stores. I DO NOT recommend the Glamourmom or Medela nursing tanks, as mine had to literally be thrown away after very little wear. Glamourmom also has very poor customer service, so don't bother.
Nursing bras technically should not have an underwire, as it can impede milk flow and cause breast infections (not fun!). If you do insist on an underwire, Bravado Allure Nursing Bra has more flexible wires designed for nursing. I usually wear the Bravado Lifestyle Bra. It is very comfortable and has three hooks in back for support. It comes in cute styles, too! For more information about Bravado nursing bras, click here.
Every new mommy MUST have nursing pajamas! You will want a sleep bra for when your nursing pajamas are in the wash, but no one really likes wearing a bra to bed. Nursing pajamas cut out the middleman by holding your nursing pads in place without a bra. SO HEAVENLY! I've tried Gap, Motherhood, Majamas, Bella Materna, and Esme brand nursing PJ's, but my hands-down favorite is Japanese Weekend! I wish I had 5 pairs of these!
For the sleep bra that you really should have, I recommend Majamas The Easy Bra in organic cotton. This one actually has some support, so it won't, say, tear apart in the wash after a couple of weeks like the ones you'd buy from Motherhood.
While there aren't a whole host of good athletic bra options for nursing moms, I find that the Bravado Original Nursing Bra Double Plus fits the bill pretty well. It's an over-the-head style with a wide elastic bottom. The Double Plus means that I can buy it in, say, a Medium, but the support will be there for plus-sized breasts.
Finally, you will want to have a few nursing tops. I recommend buying very few actual nursing tops, and supplementing the wardrobe with elastic-neck tops, button-ups, and zip-ups. Nursing tops are expensive, and there are really only a few good nursing tops on the market worth their price, in my opinion. The three brands worth their salt are Boob, Majamas, and Japanese Weekend. I practically live in my Majamas Reverse Tanks. They do not have a bra in them, but they have a higher neck with no cleavage display. They're perfect under a sweater or blouse for work.
Pumps and Pumping Supplies
Pumping Supplies and Extras
Let me begin by saying that no matter if you plan to pump often or not, you should rent the hospital pump for the first month in order to establish your milk supply. The hospital grade pumps are superior in almost every way to the ones you can buy for yourself, and starting out renting one for less than $100 that first month is a great way to ensure that you have enough milk for your baby. In order to use the hospital pump, you'll have to buy a pumping kit with parts that will fit it. Most of those parts are not compatible with other Medela pumps, by the way. However, I find that the hand pump that comes in the kit is a particularly helpful back-up in case you have no battery power or electricity access to use your "real" pump. (Yes, this has happened to me.) I keep my kit pump and the parts at work in a small bag for just-in-case moments, and it has been a lifesaver.
On to the pumps: I have owned three. The first pump I owned was the Original Pump-in-Style by Medela, which was good, but heavy, slow, and loud. I truly had back pain issues just from carrying it everywhere when I had my first child. Enter the Medela Freestyle! It's a hands-free pump. It is quiet, portable, and hands-free. It isn't bound to its bag. I could slip it in my purse if I wanted to, although I really wouldn't want to have to put bottles full of breastmilk in my purse when finished pumping, so I usually carry the bag. It has a battery pack, so there's no more plugging in to the nearest outlet. It comes with a hands-free kit that I don't find to be particularly functional, so I use it with a pumping bustier. But the particular advantage to this pump is its light weight and programmable settings. Also, I pump twice as fast with the Freestyle as I did with my old Pump-in-Style. I have had parts fail with this pump in the 10 months that I have been using it, which happens with most pumps after the wear-and-tear of nearly a year. I was impressed both times with Medela's customer service: They got my replacement parts to me within 48 hours both times without requesting a receipt and without cost. Medela definitely stands behind their products. Still, make sure you have a hand pump for back-up.
As previously stated, a hand-pump is good to have in addition to your everyday electric pump. If you don't choose to rent the hospital pump and use the hand-pump that corresponds to that kit, you should buy a hand pump for back-up. I have used the Avent Isis and find it to be extraordinarily comfortable and easy to clean and assemble. A drawback is that Avent bottles have a different neck diameter than the standard, so you would need to also purchase their brand of collection bottles.
You will also want extra collection bottles for your everyday pump. If you use a Medela brand pump, you can buy cheaper collection bottles by Lansinoh or Evenflo to supplement your supply of bottles. Not that the collars and nipples of the newer Medela bottle kits are not the same size as those of other brands, however. The nipples are wider, and the collars have a correspondingly wider hole. My baby, by the way, will not drink from any other nipples. These new Medela ones are the only ones for him!
If you are planning to freeze your breastmilk, I recommend purchasing freezer bags instead of freezing in the collection bottles, in order to save space in your freezer. My favorite are the Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bags because they freeze very flat and can be stacked on top of one another in the freezer. They are also less expensive than the Medela brand, which do not freeze very flat, but have the added bonus of being able to stand independently or be pumped into using an adhesive plastic strip.
I spoke earlier of a pumping bustier. The one I use is the Easy Expression Bustier Hands-Free Pumping Bra. It has revolutionized the way I pump. I do not even use the hands-free kit that comes with the Freestyle, as this bustier is superior and keeps me from leaking. This bustier also facilitates use of the hospital pump and corresponding hand pump. It can make any pump hands-free; it just can't make any pump portable!
Finally, if you work outside the home and have a limited break time for pumping, you'll want some Quick-Clean Wipes by Medela for cleaning your pump without soap and water. The pump needs to be sterilized and cleaned after every use, and if you can't wash it in the sink each time, this is the quickest substitute.
You're not done yet! You still need a nursing pillow! The two big choices are the Boppy and My Brest Friend. They both have their uses, but if you were just going to get one, I would tell you to get My Brest Friend. It clips around your waist, encouraging better posture and preventing baby slippage (this is when the baby slips in between you and the pillow-- not good). It is also made with a high density foam, so it is more supportive for your baby. I also like the little pocket that it has, which you can use to keep your nipple shield within reach.
If you are planning to drink alcohol for a special occasion, first you should feed your baby directly before consuming the alcohol. This should give you at least two hours to "digest" it. And of course, you should only have one serving or less. But to play it extra safe, you can use MilkScreen home tests to detect alcohol in breastmilk. They are cardboard strips you can put into a small amount of pumped milk in order to detect the presence of alcohol. If the strip turns brown, it's time to defrost some breastmilk from the freezer. But if it stays white, you're good to go!
If you're having low milk supply issues, try Fenugreek supplements. And you're thinking, "Really? A supplement?" Seriously! I did not use Fenugreek with my first child, but I did use it with my second, and my milk supply nearly doubled. My lactation consultant recommended it to me. One caveat: Your breastmilk and sweat may smell like maple syrup while you are taking it.
And FINALLY, the thing that all covert nursing mamas need: a nursing wrap. The best one I've tried is the Bebe Au Lait Nursing Cover. It has an adjustable neck and a wire insert that makes the neck stand out so you can, well, see down your own shirt. See, that way you can check on your baby, and make sure she's latched correctly. It's expensive, but worth every penny. One thing I like about this one in particular is the breathable fabric. Some nursing wraps, like the one from The First Years, are opaque and made of polyester. This makes your baby sweat and have trouble breathing. But the Bebe Au Lait one is large and comfortable for both you and your baby.