Monday, August 3, 2009

The breastfeeding pillow: Boppy or My Brest Friend?

This post is a continuation of Hobo Mama's celebration of World Breastfeeding Week: August 1-7, 2009. There are affiliate links in this post.

ETA: There is an updated and expanded review of many more nursing pillows at Hobo Mama Reviews from August 2010.

Boppy vs. My Brest Friend?

It's a trick question, because here's the answer: You decide!

If you're pregnant or newly nursing, chances are you've encountered breastfeeding pillows. And if you're wondering what they are, which to get, and whether they're worth it, read on.

Luna Lullaby Bosom Baby Nursing PillowThe point of any breastfeeding pillow is to make breastfeeding an infant easier. It raises your baby's mouth up to nipple height without your having to bend over or contort yourself, particularly important as you recover physically from the pregnancy and birth. It also gives your baby a firm, comfortable surface to rest on as she or he feeds. It gives your arms a place to rest without strain while you hold your infant's head in the right position, and might even give you a chance to nurse hands-free!

I was fortunate enough to find a Boppy in pristine condition at a yard sale for $5, and receive a My Brest Friend from my nanny sister-in-law as a hand-me-down from one of her families. So I got to try them both out, along with some other methods, and here's my take if you're trying to decide whether to get one or both or go another route.


Boppy nursing pillowThe Boppy is the easiest to find, gracing the aisles of baby superstores and discount department stores, along with its various and ever-spawning incarnations and accompaniments: slipcovers, satin, organic, gusseted, lounger, play gym, changing pad, shopping cart cover, head support, swing (!), etc. I can't even tell you which type of Boppy to get, just that mine, being from a yard sale, was an original standard version, and the slipcover I registered for and received at a baby shower was a baby-soft velour. I'm going to go ahead and recommend the slipcover, just from cuddliness, though one would also come in handy if your baby spits up a lot, because it's easier to clean a pillowcase than a pillow.

Boppies are a little on the expensive side for what they are: a crescent-shaped pillow. But I'd say odds are good that you'll get one for free, and that can't be beat. Whether it's a gift from a baby shower or whether a friend who's done with baby-rearing is cleaning out the closet, you can usually pick one up pretty easily.

The shape of the original Boppy is kind of narrow, which is why they added the gussets — oh, excuse me, "expandable miracle middle." It still might be too pinchy for plus-sized figures (in which case see some of my alternatives below). I was able to pull mine out to fit me well enough, because it was stretchy enough to pull as wide as I needed. However, it wasn't comfortable to have squeezing my sides for long periods of time, and it usually had to rest on the armrests of chairs rather than fit inside the seat portion. If you've already given birth, you might test drive one before you buy. If you're currently nine months' pregnant, don't bother! It won't fit. Ha ha! (Yes, I'm speaking from experience. I was nesting and dreaming and wanted to pretend to be nursing, but there was a huuuge baby bump in my way!)

What I like about the Boppy compared to the My Brest Friend (below) is that it's a little more streamlined. Plus, since it is so ubiquitous, you don't feel goofy about hauling it out or dragging it around as needed. Everyone's seen a Boppy, so no one will bat an eye.

The Boppy is curved on top, and the My Brest Friend is straight across. Try to see which you like better. I personally enjoyed that my baby tilted into me on the Boppy because of the slight incline; it set him up in a good latch position.

If you're tall (or high-breasted, I guess is more to the point), the Boppy might not be high enough for you. I found that sitting in a chair with close enough arms (like my favorite nursing glider) and balancing the Boppy across them worked pretty well, though.

One of the touted benefits of the Boppy is that you can later use it for propping your baby up in a sitting position or for a push-up position for tummy time. I never actually got into using it that way, so I won't comment more except to say that you could probably use the My Brest Friend the same way if that floated your boat. So, on to...


My Brest Friend breastfeeding pillowA con for the My Brest Friend has got to be the embarrassing name, because my friends and I giggle every time we say it. It's almost regulation that you snicker sheepishly after saying it aloud. If you can't figure it out, it's a mishmash of "best friend" and "breast friend." Because it's both! Get it?!

It's also more expensive than the Boppy and a little harder to find. Don't let that stop you if you're determined and you have a good source of baby-shower gifters.

The differences of the My Brest Friend versus the Boppy, and why some mamas prefer it:

It's entirely flat on top, not curved toward the sides. If you have trouble lining up your baby with the Boppy, it might help to have a more shelf-like surface. Some mothers adore the My Brest Friend for this reason, so give it a try if other pillows aren't working for you. The My Brest Friend is very firm, so the baby won't sink in or slide around on the surface.

The surface is also a little wider than the Boppy, so there's more room for a big baby (or, perhaps, multiples, though I never tested this idea). That said, I had a huge baby and managed with everything I'm mentioning here.

The My Brest Friend latches all the way around and buckles. I swear the site used to have a video that showed a mom getting up to answer the door with it still buckled around her this was a good thing. I can think of little more humiliating than greeting the UPS deliverer with a nursing pillow flopping down over my crotch. "Oh, this old thing? It's My Brest Friend..." [Cue snickers.]

But...somebody must like that feature, so I mention it here. I guess if you're walking around a lot between short breastfeedings intervals, it might come in, forget it. I'm not even going to try justifying that benefit. If it appeals to you, please explain.

The fact that it reaches all the way around means it gives a little lumbar support. Only you can decide whether that's helpful or uncomfortable. I found I didn't mind it but didn't really need it. If I sat in a good chair (like a glider), I didn't need anything in back. And when I sit in bed, I always pop a couple pillows behind me anyway. But it might be helpful if you need it.

The other nice aspect of the reach-around is that it supports your arms as they work to support your baby's head. And, since this pillow is so firm, you could also do some hands-free nursing as you read a book or take a phone call (or write a blog post, if you're feeling particularly ambitious).

The strap is adjustable, so it should fit a wide range of body types. That said, it most likely doesn't fit everyone, so try before you buy if possible. (And see my additional remarks under the VIVA! pillow below.)

There's also a little pocket in front. I never could figure out what to put there. Chapstick? The remote? Leak pads? I don't remember exactly how big the pocket was, but I don't think, say, a book would fit. But maybe you'll be inspired. I just looked, and the pictures online suggest a water bottle or a teething ring. Well, there you are.

Truly, the main reason anybody prefers the My Brest Friend over the Boppy is the flat vs. rounded thing. So give them each a try, and see what works for you.

But don't feel bad if you can't afford more than one, or if you can't afford even one, because there are a couple more options:


Gel-Filled Bed PillowsYes, regular old pillows that you have around the house and use every night. Raid your guest stash. I already had for sleeping during pregnancy, with one between my knees, one at my back, one under my belly, and one under my head, so I was set.

I found that two of my bed pillows stacked on my criss-crossed legs when I was sitting in bed substituted nicely for any other specialty pillow. One didn't bring my baby up high enough, but two was just right. It's going to depend on your own pillows' firmness and loft, of course, so experiment. You could also try decorative cushions to see if you prefer something stiffer.

Sometimes mamas will also use additional pillows to prop up their arms like armrests (I did, when sitting in bed — did I mention I had a lot of pillows?), or a very small pillow or folded cloth to prop up a large breast for ease of lining up with a newborn's mouth. (And there are commercial versions there, as well, such as Utterly Yours and Cushie Pushie.)

If all these pillow options don't suit you, there's always my current favorite:


When you have a small baby but no access to a pillow, try sitting upright in a chair and crossing one leg over the other. This automatically raises the baby higher and might be just enough. If there's a small stool (or a nursing stool) nearby, you can lever the crossed leg even higher and tilt your baby into you. This tip worked really well for me when I was out in public nursing a newborn and didn't feel like lugging a pillow along.

As your baby gets older, you'll find that the pillow(s) become unnecessary, anyway, because they soon grow big enough to be settled at the right height, or get themselves to the right height, without boosting.

If you've only ever breastfed with pillows propping you and the baby up and you're terrified of going it solo, just take the first small step into it. Try without a pillow at home in a relaxed setting, and see how it goes. Remember, the only way to figure out how to breastfeed without a pillow (as with anything) is to practice it that way.

Another good option for breastfeeding without a pillow is to invest in a good sling or wrap carrier. For a newborn, try a ring sling or stretchy wrap and face them in so they have easy access.

So those are the options I know about. But I did discover some other nursing pillows online, and here are a few with decent reviews if you want to explore further:

Cuddle-U Nursing Pillow     • Cuddle-U Nursing Pillow And More from the unfortunately named company Leachco. (I was going to say something even more snide about how it sounds like bad chemicals wafting forth, but I've since found out that it's named after a couple who committed to offering quality and innovative baby products made in the USA. All right, then, Leachco, you win. Besides, I really like your bath pillow.) Anyway, the unique part of this pillow that reviewers mention (the "and more" in the name) is that it has a cuddly lap belt that one reviewer says tricks the baby into thinking he's being held. Um...ok. Still, if you have multiple kids or require that no baby be strapped to you at some point (in the shower, operating a chainsaw, etc.), that might come in handy. (Just see how happy the baby in the picture is! He's under the misapprehension that he's being held!)

VIVA! Inflatable Breastfeeding Pillow     • VIVA! Breastfeeding Pillow. Ok, this one's actually pretty cool looking. First of all, it's inflatable. So it would be easy to travel with it. I'm imagining you wouldn't want to deflate it on a regular basis, thinking you're going to tuck it in your diaper bag and whip it out wherever you need it. I'm imagining someone in, say, a museum, screaming baby on one shoulder, huffing and puffing on the valve. But, anyway, inflatable's great for longer term storage, such as in a suitcase, or for when you're in a nursing-pillow-using hiatus but want to keep them around for the next nursling. (That's where I'm at.) And inflating means you get to choose how firm or soft it is. Secondly, it has full back support (taller than the My Brest Friend). And the pictures show that it expands to fit anywhere from a 22-inch to 44-inch waist, plus an extender if you need it, so it looks like a good option for plus-size mamas. If you compare the straps to the My Brest Friend, you'll see that the My Brest Friend expands on only one side, meaning the back support goes awry if you're over a certain size. This pillow expands evenly from both sides, keeping the back support centered.

Double Blessings Twin Nursing Pillow     • Here are a few options for nursing twins or larger babies: Luna Lullaby Bosom Baby Nursing Pillow (I don't make up these names, folks) looks bigger than the standard pillows and is more of an L-shaped so maybe fits in chairs better. (The picture is Basic Comfort Ultra Plush Nurse EZ Twin Pillow - Bluethe very first one at the top of the post, with the little girl looking on.) Then, two pillows specifically made for multiples are the aptly named Double Blessings Twin Nursing Pillow (lots of pillow to love) and the Basic Comfort Ultra Plush Nurse EZ Twin Pillow (this is the picture with the color-coordinated babies and mother and pillow).

Nurse N Glow Lighted Nursing Pillow     • For cosleeping novelty, there's the Nurse N Glow Lighted Nursing Pillow, which looks like you're trying to recapture your Gloworm days. But I can understand why having light — but not too much light — can be essential in those early breastfeeding-and-cosleeping days, when you need to make sure everything's lined up right and the baby's not being smothered, but you don't want to (heaven forbid) wake the baby to satisfy your anxieties. A nice LED glow on a timer could be just the ticket, and we'll assume that it's safe. This isn't the type of pillow that you use sitting up — it's specifically for cosleeping, getting you lined up properly to nurse in a side-lying position (a sanity saver for the breastfeeding mama, because you can get some sleep finally!), and acting as a safety barrier between your baby and your partner or other bed-sharing children.

A note about safety: All breastfeeding pillows warn not to let baby sleep on them. In fact, the Boppy slipcover I have has a tag sporting a big SLEEP with a line through it, which I found poignantly amusing in those sleep-deprived newborn days. Now, chances are, your nursling's going to fall asleep on a breastfeeding pillow at some point. Ideally, you could then transfer your baby off the pillow and onto your lap or into a sling or into a bassinet or whatever, but, well, if you're anything like some point, your baby will be sleeping on a breastfeeding pillow. My safety warning, then, is not to fall asleep yourself while your baby is sleeping on the pillow. Make sure you're aware of mouth and nose position and any breathing obstruction, and then enjoy the peacefulness. If this happens a lot, I think a My Brest Friend would be the safest pillow for infant napping, because of its flat and firm top, with the Boppy second and bed pillows a distant third, because of their squishiness. If you are going to fall asleep, transfer both of your sweet selves to an appropriate position in an appropriate bed.

If you have other favorite nursing pillows or experiences with the above, please leave a comment!

Happy pillowing!


Anonymous said...

check out this option

Jamie said...

I LOVE my breast friend. I got mine at a baby consignment store pretty cheap. I think that the biggest downside to this is it spoils me and makes breast feeding without it more of a chore and me less likely to want to do it, like when we are out in public. I have a boppy too, but thought that it moved around too much- the baby tended to slip in between me and the boppy. My son is 10 months old and we are still using the breast friend.

Taryn said...

I don't know if I am just crazy, but I think I saw Michelle Dugger (the lady with 18 kids with a show on TLC) nursing her baby while walking around school with her older kids using something that looked like My Brest Friend. When I saw her with a big flat pillow strapped around her waist and baby toes sticking out from the side not draped with a blanket, I had to rewind my DVR recording--"Wait! Was she just NURSING?!" Has anyone else seen this? I doubt this pillow is suggested to be used this way, but I guess when you have 17 other children, you learn to creatively nurse your little ones while on the go.

I am enjoying your breastfeeding posts this week! Thanks for all your thoughtful, thorough, and often humorous work!

Taryn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lauren Wayne said...

Anon: I like that it's organic. I was thinking I might find more options like that, so thanks for mentioning one. After reading so much Michael Pollan, I somehow think it's hilarious that the fillings are soy- and corn-based, but we're not eating them, so I'll allow it as a good use of leftovers.

Jamie: Yea for consignment stores! I get what you're saying about the baby slipping down. The buckle on the My Brest Friend, and the closer fit to the tummy, help prevent that. Thanks for adding to the review! It's been awhile since I've used a pillow, so I was trying to remember it all!

Taryn: The Duggars have this uncanny ability to repel and impress me at the same time. Nursing on a My Brest Friend in motion. Will wonders never cease!

platespinner said...

Weirdly I never got round to buying a breastfeeding cushion despite using a boppy at breastfeeding groups and finding it helpful. I found normal pillows were ok although I think I would get a Boppy if I have another child. I've seen babies being propped up with them and it seems to work really well when they are learning to sit.

I found the thing that helped me the most was buying a decent nursing footstool as our sofas are quite deep. I got one for less than a pound on ebay which was great!

I like the look of the cosleeping pillow. I'd think about trying that.

Stella said...

your commentary is awesome.

thanks for the feedback!

Olivia said...

I'm comming late to this post, but would like to add my two cents.

I bought a boppy maternity pillow to use while I was pregnant. It is kidney shaped and designed to fit between the knees and curve under the belly. I use that pillow for nursing and loved it. It curved across my middle, but didn't squish me (I'm a plus-sized mama).

I packed the boppy away at around two months and now at 7 months I use just a small decorative pillow under my elbow at home because I have short arms.

I like the looks of the lighted pillow. I would turn on a night light feature of my alarm clock in those early days to help latch my baby on at night. I remember how delighted I was when she became able to latch on with much assistance from me anymore. More sleep for everyone!

ashley said...

I have a 3 yr old and am pregnant with twins. With my 3 yr old, I attempted to use the boppy, but disliked it very much. The reason being I am bigger breasted with not a lot in the middle. I found that the boppy tended to slide under my breasts thus producing less room for the baby, and just uncomfortable all together! At that time, I don't remember there being the "breast friend" option.
This time, I have purchased the breast friend because several moms have recommended it, but am debating returning it for the twins pillow as a lot of moms I know with twins swear by it! With a 3 yr old I need a more hands free alternative also!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I really enjoyed your commentary and suggestions. I'm a mother of 3 and I have had experience with both pillows. I must say that I used the boppy for my older 2 children and I really liked and never thought I could find something better. For a pro, it was a nice pillow to use for the baby after breast feeding; At the time it was a nifty pillow to use. The cons for the boppy was as follows: I didn't have a lot of back support with it and the babies were falling off at times, but they were leveled high enough for breastfeeding.

About 2 years ago, I was with a friend while she was completing her baby registry and I recommended that she try the brest friend because of the back support. Fortunately, she loved it. I have now delivered my 3rd child and I love my brest friend. The flat surface and back strap is great!!! My baby is supported and the bumps in the pillow provide her head support. I also think the pocket on the side is a great invention. I use it for nursing pads, pacifiers, and bibs. This way I can have everything handy for a comfortable feeding.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late to comment on this post, but I just want to say that your review was not only really helpful, but very funny as well. I started off chuckling, and ended up getting the giggles and laughing so hard that I was crying while my husband wondered why a nursing pillow review was so funny (love your snarky comments about the names and wearing a pillow while greeting the Ups guy). I'll be back for more of your fun posts! :-)

thatgirl said...

Super late, I have a 3 year old and just found this review looking for info for a friend.

BUT... I am the mythical person who would answer the door with the stupid looking My Brest Friend attached to my waist. My son would not tolerate being shifted off the pillow when he would nap between cluster feeding. So it was either answer the door with a pillow strapped to my waist, or answer the door with a SCREAMING newborn. Or not answer the door because my Boppy had fallen down to my ankles and I tripped and now both of us were screaming. Yeah... it was embarassing, but you do what you gotta do.

Lauren Wayne said...

@thatgirl: Hee hee! I'm glad that person exists. :) With a new baby who will also not let me put him down for naps — ever — I can see the advantages if your son would stay asleep through that!

MrsOgg said...

I used the Boppy with my now two year old and found it too low to really support her. I got that simply because that is what they had available at the store where I registered and I didn't know there was anything different. I was seeing a lactation consultant regularly the first 6 weeks and she used the MY Breast Friend in her office. I'm not sure that I noticed a difference with the shelf aspect but the fact that you can adjust it higher on your waist was great! Since I am tall (5' 10" AND "high breasted" (read very small chested in my case) this made a huge difference in my comfort level. So, if your'e tall like me and your boobs don't happen to sag to your navel then, I would consider this option. I know the consultant thought it was WAY better than a Boppy for everyone. I am due to have my second daughter in a few weeks and just bought the My Breast Friend (he, he) on Craigslist.
I did like the Boppy for a support to prop my daughter up before she was sitting on her own but, still probably not worth paying full price as the blogger mentioned you can find them used all over.

Unknown said...

I liked my breast friend in the early days when my nurseling was too small not to get wedged between me and the pillow. I found it difficult, however, to get the darn thing around my waste and snapped with one hand and a screaming baby in the other, thus making the boppy my go-to pillow

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