Tuesday, July 22, 2014

10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed

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breastfeedingcafecarnivalWelcome to The Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival!

This post was written as part of the Breastfeeding Cafe's Carnival. For more info on the Breastfeeding Cafe, go to breastfeedingcafe.wordpress.com. For more info on the Carnival or if you want to participate, contact Claire at clindstrom2 {at} gmail {dot} com. Today's post is about products that have helped you to breastfeed. Please read the other blogs in today's carnival listed below and check back for more posts July 18-31!

I'm a big believer that to breastfeed a baby you need … a breast. Preferably two for your own comfort, but I'm not choosy.

I'm not here to tell you you need to buy a ton of essentials to survive or thrive, and you don't need to spend a bunch of money to manage what's actually a very frugal activity at heart. That said, there are some specific products that made a difference for me in making breastfeeding — particularly in the early weeks — more comfortable for both the baby and me, so I'll share those with you here.

Keep in mind that everyone will have different experiences and must-haves. If you have any medical concerns related to breastfeeding, please contact a certified lactation consultant for expert advice on what additional supplies and techniques might help your situation. I don't want to recommend specific troubleshooters for a general audience, since many are helpful only in certain circumstances. No recommendations in this post are intended as medical advice.

  • 1. Nursing bra

    10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed == Hobo Mama
    I speak from the perspective of the large-breasted here when I say that a supportive nursing bra is a wise investment. It's entirely possible that other shapes and sizes might be able to make do with a regular, particularly stretchy, bra or camisole (with shelf bra) that can be pulled down at will. For myself, underwire is a must, so I favor the comfort of something like an Anita nursing bra or an Elomi, which I got through a review with A Mother's Boutique — Judy there will do virtual bra fittings and recommendations for you, which is priceless. Let me assure you, nursing bras in my size are not sexy. They just … are not. But they keep my boobs contained and my back supported, they come in my bizarre combination of band and cup size, and it's easy to undo the cups fully to latch on a squirmy baby with no fabric springing back into the way — and then redo them while still holding said squirmy baby. (If you haven't breastfed before, the baby needs to take much more than just the nipple in the mouth — the recommendation I always hear is to aim for the entire areola, which might or might not be accurate for a given person, depending on areola size and shape. Anyway, a good nursing bra will let plenty of breast skin around the nipple be fabric-free, which is essential for a comfortable latch!)

  • 2. Nursing pads

    10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed == Hobo Mama
    In the first several months of breastfeeding, I would leak like a sieve when (a) it had been awhile since last breastfeeding, (b) there was any incentive for my breasts to have a milk letdown (e.g., crying baby, even if not mine), or (c) when one breast was being used to feed or pump and the other was free to just … drip. Or even squirt. I learned my lesson pretty quickly that big splotchy wet marks over my boobs were not the postpartum look I was going for. Nursing pads to the rescue! I find the reusable ones much more comfortable than the paper disposable kind, and they're obviously the more affordable and eco-friendly choice as well. I've had good experiences buying handmade ones from WAHMs off eBay or Etsy, and you can also make them yourself. Good materials are flannel on one side, microfleece on the other, or all wool. The contoured ones are nice for a smoother fit under clothing. I also really love the brand Bamboobies (no relationship, though that's an affiliate link to their product on Amazon), because they're super thin (no noticeable bulk under clothing), dry quickly, are machine washable, and are deceptively super absorbent (given how thin they are).

  • 3. Nursing-friendly clothing

    10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed == Hobo Mama
    Tank + shirt = discreet breastfeeding
    Some women like to splurge on a whole nursing wardrobe or specific pieces, and if you have the means and the need (such as working in a professional environment or attending a fancy formal event), this is totally up to you. However, I tend to make do with my normal clothing plus my nursing bra and a regular old camisole. It's just layering. Now I can pull my top shirt up and my camisole down, and everything besides the breast in use stays covered — no midriff or back feeling breezy, no extra chest skin showing. Now, I've really loosened up over my years of breastfeeding to just not really care if I do flash a little skin (or more), and I don't at all mind if other people choose to. A lot of the time I just pull both layers down from the top because it's easier. I'm just suggesting the double-layer option for those of you who, like me at the beginning, prefer to remain mostly concealed but without the added bulk and inconvenience of draping a blanket or nursing cover over a baby who would just use it to play peekaboo. The nice thing about the cami trick is that you can keep on doing it with an older nursling as well — one who just wants to pop on for a snack or who is way too interested in the world to tolerate a nursing cover. For the camisole underlayer, think stretchy and long; it doesn't need to be a specific nursing tank unless that works well for you. (I need a bra, regardless, so I don't bother.) For the overlayers, any top will work, but stretchy tops (jersey knits) tend to work better for pulling up or down all day long without getting wrinkled or irritating you (who wants to redo buttons all day, for instance?). If you favor dresses, a stretchy bodice will work better for you, and there are still some ingenious concealment options out there, such as the Skinies tank I reviewed (given to me free of charge for review) that I really like and that works with any nursing bra.

  • 4. Nursing pillow

    10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed == Hobo Mama
    A littler Mikko modeling a My Brest Friend
    I found a nursing pillow a big help in the newborn days of breastfeeding because those leetle babies need to be lifted up to the breasts, and that can get tiring and kind of fiddly without one. I soon did learn to do without, and you can, too — crossing your legs can already help boost a little one, and using a regular pillow or stack of 'em can fulfill the same need if you're cash-strapped. That said, bona fide nursing pillows are often easy to come by secondhand (think baby consignment stores, thrift shops, garage sales, and hitting up friends with older tots), and they can be a boon. I have both a Boppy and a My Brest Friend and like them each for different reasons, and there are a ton of other options out there for specific needs or styles (such as nursing multiples) — I did a huge, unsponsored review post at one point, so I'll refer you to my nursing-pillow rundown.

  • 5. Baby wrap or sling

    Carrying your baby with you through the day is so helpful for establishing on-cue feeding and therefore a good milk supply. Even better is when you can have lots of skin-to-skin time in those newborn days, and a stretchy wrap (great for newborns) can help keep your baby close with both of you cozy and covered. With some practice, you can also learn to breastfeed while wearing your baby, though it's fine if you just use the experience to let you know when baby's showing those first signs of hunger and sit down and unwrap for a feed. Many carriers will make breastfeeding more discreet for you in public, if that's a desire you have. I have an ebook all about babywearing that can help you choose the right baby carrier for you and your little one and put it to good use.

    Breastfeeding in a mei tai and a woven wrap
    10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed == Hobo Mama 10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed == Hobo Mama

  • 6. Supportive lifeline

    This isn't a product, so maybe I should say "computer" or "cell phone" — to connect you with the people who will support your breastfeeding journey. Whether up close and in person, or as internet buddies, find the people and resources that will encourage you to keep going, to troubleshoot any problems, and give you all the been-there-done-that advice you might need. Again, a certified lactation consultant is invaluable if you have specific concerns, particularly in the early days; you can work in tandem with your child's pediatrician or the hospital nursing staff, but I've found (and so have others) that all too often the advice non-consultants give out is outdated and unhelpful, so asking someone with specific training in breastfeeding makes a huge difference. But if you don't have overwhelming concerns, you can often find the support you need through friends and relatives who've breastfed before, a supportive partner, online communities like my own dear Natural Parents Network, breastfeeding-friendly blogs, trusted resources like KellyMom and Jack Newman's site, and local groups like La Leche League and Attachment Parenting International.

And, honestly, that's about it! I'm going to add in some bonuses here of other products that helped me but that I wouldn't deem must-haves for every nursing mama:

  • 7. Breast pump & supplies

    This is highly dependent on whether a pump would be helpful to you. Not every breastfeeding parent needs to (or wants to) pump, despite what the "breastfeeding section" at most baby stores implies, where pumping supplies take up about 90% of the available room. If you're going back to work out of the house and want to continue expressing milk for your caregivers to use, you'll want to get started with (ideally) a double electric pump several weeks before returning. In that case, you'll have pumping essentials to purchase as well, such as storage containers and a hands-free pumping bra — here's a great must-haves list at Natural Parents Network for pumping mamas, and here's another article with tips for pumping success in the workplace. You might also have other incentives to pump, such as being an adoptive parent, medical reasons, wishing to donate breastmilk, or dealing with oversupply. Depending on how often you need to pump, you might be able to make do with a cheaper manual pump (or manual expression), though keep in mind even many expensive electric pumps are now covered in the United States under health insurance reform and therefore much more affordable than in days past (along with lactation consulting fees, hurray).

  • 8. Milkies Milk-Saver

    10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed == Hobo MamaI pestered this company to let me do a review (to be fair, it didn't take much pestering) because I thought this product was so dang cool. If you have oversupply or want an easy way to collect some of the excess letdown milk from the non-nursing/pumping breast for later donation or use, this is a super-neato collection device. Not necessary by a long shot, but so fun to have that milk not go to waste! See my picture under nursing-friendly clothing for what the Milkies looks like in use.

  • 9. Oatmeal cookies

    To help boost supply, try supply and demand (nursing often!) along with some natural remedies as galactagogues. Natural Parents Network has a great roundup of foods to emphasize as well as herbal (fenugreek) and pharmaceutical choices. I favor the tasty options, like our fabulous advertising sponsor's cookies: Making Mamas Milk. Whatever you use, be sure to say "galactagogues" a lot, because it's fun. And also because it makes your cookies seem validly medicinal.

  • 10. Nursing furniture

    10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed == Hobo Mama
    My fave glider —
    it works for older nurslings, too!
    This is probably the most wildly impractical item to recommend as a "must-have," but I have to say I've loved my glider and nursing stool! Especially in those early days, it's just so much easier to have a supportive, upright yet comfortable chair to sit in — one that fits a baby, nursing pillow, and me; has comfy armrests; and is easy to get up and down from as you're recovering from childbirth and carrying a baby. The nursing stool brings my knees up so that my thighs are level, keeping the baby and pillow stable on my lap. I got our very ritzy and otherwise expensive glider off Craigslist, and the nursing stool was a hand-me-down (though I later received another in a review opportunity).
    10 favorite products for starting to breastfeed == Hobo Mama
    Put your feet up!
    If you don't or can't have a special nursing chair, make what you do have work for you — think propping pillows behind or around you as needed (to support your back and arms), trying out sitting entirely cross-legged or with one leg crossed over the other, and finding out where you're most comfortable as you both recover postpartum and get down your breastfeeding flow. Regardless of where you're sitting or lounging, be sure to have a surface nearby that can hold a nice, cold drink plus any amusements you might need to pass the time, such as the TV remote, a smartphone, or a good book.

And that's my list! What are your top essentials for breastfeeding products?

Read about different baby carriers and babywearing, complete with pictorial how-tos, in my Natural Parent's Guide to Babywearing!

Here are more posts by the Breastfeeding Cafe Carnival participants! Check back, because more will be added throughout the day.


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