Breastfeeding is a natural process, so that means it should come naturally, right? Not quite. Although your body produces milk without any conscious input from you, getting that milk to its final destination can present a few challenges.
Fortunately, the right tools can make a considerable difference. Whether you plan to nurse your child at the breast or pump exclusively, our checklist of breastfeeding essentials can help you achieve your goals.
Why the Right Tools Matter
Some women and babies seem to take to breastfeeding effortlessly. While that is certainly the hope of every mother, the reality is that most nursing and pumping moms experience at least a few moments of discouragement from time to time.
Here are just a few ways that having the essentials in place can help make breastfeeding go a little more smoothly:
- A supportive person or group can remind you that other people believe in you and your ability to breastfeed your child successfully.
- A realistic mindset can help you see the big picture and remember that figuring out how to breastfeed can be a process.
- Plenty of well-designed and useful baby items can help you organize and plan your feeding times. This advance preparation can help you avoid the stress of having to search for an item or deal with a problem at the last minute.
A supportive partner or family member can be a great place for you to express your feelings and concerns, and they can also help you remember that you and your baby aren’t in this breastfeeding journey alone. Never be afraid to reach out to a loved one if you want to talk or need some help.
Certified lactation consultants are medical professionals that have experience and training in various breastfeeding techniques and challenges, and they are genuinely passionate to see breastfeeding moms succeed. Check with the hospital you delivered at or your child’s primary care provider to see if they can help you arrange an appointment with a lactation consultant.
Breastfeeding support groups are a great way to connect with other moms, share parenting tips and make new friends. Search online for groups that meet in your area, or reach out to your contacts on social media to see if they can suggest a group you can attend.
Visions of yourself relaxing in a comfortable chair while your baby peacefully nurses may not turn out exactly the way you had pictured. Just think about this: if you are nursing a child for the first time, both you and your baby have to start at square one and learn as you go. Even if you have breastfed previously, you may find that you encounter a completely different set of circumstances with a new child.
Try to approach breastfeeding as a daily learning experience, and remember that you gain knowledge and expertise with each and every feeding. Especially if the reality turns out to be a bit more challenging than you had imagined, remember that breastfeeding is a skill that can take some time to learn, and every feeding is something you should feel proud of.
A nursing station can either be a location that you plan to use as your primary nursing area or a small basket that can function as a mobile supply unit.
If your station is an area of your home, try to pick one with gentle light, a comfortable chair and a table or other flat surface to set things on. Here are a few things you may find helpful to have at your nursing station:
- Healthy snacks
- Burp cloths
- A light blanket
- A few breast pads
- A small wastebasket
If you think you might nurse in various places around the house, a small basket that is easy to carry might be a better choice for your nursing station. In addition to the previously mentioned items, you may want to include a small changing mat, wet wipes and a couple of diapers since young babies often tend to have a bowel movement while nursing.
Nipple soreness or dryness is a very common experience for new moms, although that discomfort can come as a bit of a shock. Left untreated, your sore nipples could eventually develop cracks or start to bleed, and you may be at risk for developing an infection called mastitis. Since you definitely don’t want that, taking care of pain or dryness in the early stages is your best bet.
Nipple creams can provide soothing moisture while forming a protective barrier that allows your nipples to heal on their own. Caution: Make sure you understand how to use your nipple cream appropriately. Always check the package directions for details on how often to apply the cream and if you need to wash it off before nursing.
Positioning your baby correctly can encourage a good latch, help your baby get more milk and decrease the chances of nipple pain for you. However, holding your baby in a correct position for up to 30 minutes per meal multiple times a day can take a toll on your arms.
Trying to ease the strain on your arms by hunching over and resting some of your baby’s weight on your lower body is an easy habit to fall into. Unfortunately, this posture can lead to back soreness for you and an undesirable nursing position for your baby.
A nursing pillow can help your baby get into and stay in an ideal position with less effort from you. These pillows have a rounded U-shape that fits around the front of your body to support your baby while still allowing you to use good posture.
During those first few weeks of nursing, your body is still figuring out how much milk to produce, and many women experience unexpected milk leakage that can lead to an uncomfortable or embarrassing wet shirt. Nursing pads can help keep you more comfortable, both physically and emotionally.
Disposable breast pads are highly absorbent, and they are usually very thin and comfortable to wear. Most brands also have an adhesive backing that helps them stay put in your bra. Washable pads also do a great job of absorbing small amounts of leakage and reducing waste, but they may not provide enough protection during those first weeks.
Your regular bra simply won’t do for breastfeeding, and it’s pretty unlikely to fit your lactating breasts anyway. Nursing bras have clip latches that allow each cup to fold down, so you can quickly and easily put your baby to the breast. Once you get the hang of it, unlatching and re-latching your bra with just one hand becomes second nature.
Your breast size can change quite a bit during pregnancy, and you can expect more changes after your milk supply comes in about two to three days after you give birth. A professional fitting can help you find a bra that is the right size for your current needs.
In all likelihood, you will have to nurse your child in a public area at some point. While breastfeeding in public is becoming more accepted all the time, you may feel more comfortable using a cover.
Specially-designed nursing covers do a great job in providing you with some extra privacy, but a thin blanket can work just as well. In addition to functioning as a nursing cover, you can also use a blanket as a burp cloth, a changing surface or a light layer for your baby on chilly days.
Cotton muslin blankets often turn out to be the most versatile choice. These blankets are soft and have an airy, open weave that can help keep you and your baby at a comfortable temperature. Muslin blankets have grown in popularity in recent years, and they are readily available in countless adorable patterns and colors.
Breast pumps are available in manual and electric models, and the one that is the best choice for your family depends on the number of bottles you plan to feed your baby.
If you plan to pump exclusively, you will probably find that an electric model works the fastest and is the most comfortable. Many electric pumps come in a single or double option, which lets you pump milk from just one breast or both at the same time. Spare moments can be hard to come by for new moms, so a double pump can be a big time-saver if you need to fill bottles quickly or frequently.
Where you plan to pump can be a significant factor when deciding which pump to purchase. Most models are fairly easy to transport, but some pumps are specifically designed with working or traveling moms in mind. These models tend to be more compact and have good battery life.
Milk Storage Containers
Breast milk storage bags make it easy to measure, label, store and organize your pumped milk. Most bags have an expanding base that allows them to stand independently, and ounce markers along the bag’s side let you easily keep track of how much milk you’ve added to each bag. Once you learn roughly how much milk your baby tends to drink at a time, you can prepare bags in meal-sized portions.
Most bags are easy to write on with a ball-point pen or permanent marker, so you can write the date you pumped your milk and how much the bag contains. Freeze the bags flat, then store upright or in boxes by date.
The number of bottles you should purchase depends on how many meals a day your child consumes. Somewhere between six and 12 bottles should be enough to get you started.
You have your choice between glass and plastic bottles, and both work equally well for delivering milk and easy cleaning.
Due to the fact they are far less breakable, you may feel a little more comfortable packing and transporting plastic bottles. On the other hand, glass can be an excellent choice if you want to avoid plastic in your baby-care items.
Plan to purchase the same number of nipples and bottles so you can wash both pieces at the same time. Nipples are most often available in silicone and latex, and the main difference is the flexibility: silicone is firmer and latex is softer. The type of nipple you use really comes down to your baby’s preference, but you may want to choose silicone since latex can be a potential allergen.
Pay close attention to the numbered flow indicator on the nipple package: Lower numbers indicate a smaller opening and slower flow, and higher numbers indicate a larger opening with a faster flow. Stage-one nipples are appropriate for newborns and paced bottle feeding, while older babies can usually tolerate a higher number/faster flow.
A pile of dirty pump parts can feel a little intimidating the first couple of times you have to deal with them, but keeping your pump components clean and sanitary can soon become a quick daily chore thanks to some smart cleaning supplies.
- A soap that quickly and effectively breaks down breast milk proteins can help you avoid leftover residue.
- A cleaning brush with a long handle and sturdy bristles can help you scrub any hard-to-reach areas.
- Sanitizing your bottles, nipples and pump parts can help reduce any contaminants that regular cleaning might leave behind. A boiling water bath is an effective sanitizing method, but using a microwavable steam sanitizing bag can be much easier and faster.
Every woman’s breastfeeding journey will look different. However, one thing that remains the same is that having the proper emotional and physical tools can help a mother breastfeed her child in the way that she feels is best. Investing some time during pregnancy to think about your breastfeeding goals and gather the essential people and supplies can prove to be time very well spent.
What has your experience with breastfeeding been like? Is there anything you’d add to the list of essentials? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!