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.
The 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.
The 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:
A 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 waist...like 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 handy...no, 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:
Yes, 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 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! 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.
• 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 the 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).
• 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 me...at 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!