I’m sharing my favorite breastfeeding struggles and product essentials. Pin it here.
Spoiler alert, breastfeeding is not as simple as it seems it should be. It’s the most unnatural, natural thing. And to be totally honest, I was bleeding by the night I got home from the hospital. I’ll never forget my new little newborn spitting up my blood after a feeding. I felt like an awful mom – did I just make my baby part-cannibal?!
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Breastfeeding Isn’t That Easy
I met with the lactation consultant twice in the hospital, and my sister gave me a hands-on tutorial the day I came home. All I could think was, “I GET IT. WIDE OPEN MOUTH. GOOD LATCH. I UNDERSTAND A TEXTBOOK LATCH BUT CLEARLY MY NEWBORN DID NOT READ THE SAME TEXTBOOK.”
Cracks, Bleeding and Scabs are Not Normal
I kept trying and trying. It kept hurting and hurting. With every latch I winced, curled my toes and dug them into the carpet. A week and a half after delivery, a girlfriend surprised me and came over with a meal. She asked me seriously how breastfeeding was going. I said, “It’s ok… it hurts… a lot… and I have some cracks… but I think it’s all normal and I know it will get better.” I showed her the scabs (at this point nothing was sacred anymore hah) and as a mom of three kids she said, “You need to treat these or she’s going to keep ripping off your scabs with every feeding and they aren’t going to heal.”
Wait what? I thought this was normal. I assumed the pain, blood, cracks and scabs were just a part of the “toughening up”. Nope, evidently not. And I needed them to heal because they were baby girl’s lifeline. I am so grateful my friend came over and had an intervention. I always tell her she saved me! Fortunately with proper treatment I have finally been able to nurse pain-free, produce enough milk and heal my cracks and scabs. I found my milk supply also improved significantly on my most damaged side after healing.
What Do You Need for Breastfeeding?: Breastfeeding Essentials
Well, first and foremost you need a functional breast and secondly you need a baby. But, I’m sharing some products that may make your breastfeeding life easier.
I started using Triple Nipple Cream, which is a prescription ointment for serious cracks and scabs. You have to wipe it off before feedings, but my cracks would have never healed without it. One of my sides was worse than the other, and the first time I ever fed her without it hurting the entire feeding was after she was six weeks old. Before that ointment I had tried Medela Lanolin, which a lot of people like, to no avail because it’s ineffective for the seriousness of my cracks. Assuming you have a more normal latch to begin with, the lanolin will probably work well for you. The lanolin is nice because you don’t have to wipe it off before feedings, although if your infant doesn’t like the taste of it you may want to. This might not be necessary for you if you don’t have sore nipples.
Daytime Nursing Bras
The Medela nursing bras are a great start! I actually started wearing this bra while I was still pregnant because my rib cage expanded so much during pregnancy and underwire was super painful. Then after you have the baby your rib cage takes a while to readjust, you go through the engorged stage when your milk comes in, and it takes some time for your breasts to normalize in terms of size and fullness so a really comfortable nursing bra is a must. This is a supportive enough bra you can wear it out and about, but it is not particularly structured. Once you are ready for a more structured bra, I highly recommend Bravado bras. They have ones with underwire (Belle Underwire Nursing Bra) and ones without (Buttercup Nursing Bra).
Also, Nordstrom can turn any bra into a nursing bra! Once the “ladies” settle down, pop in there for a more supportive bra and have them alter it to be nursing friendly or bring them one of your own.
Sleep Nursing Bras
A sleep, nursing bra is similar but has even less structure. You won’t really be able to sleep braless while nursing (you may later on – I’m still not there yet) because of milk leakage if your breasts are left uncovered. Just another one of those super sexy things no one fills you in on pre-delivery! I like the Medela sleep bra. Keep in mind there is not enough structure in this bra to wear out and about – you’ll need to change into a more supportive bra.
If you have a baby that has bigger spit-ups, the Copper Pearl burp cloths are game changer. They are super thick and absorbent, and they are quite a bit stiffer which prevents the spit-up from rolling all the way off the burp cloth onto your chair because they aren’t floppy.
I have used the My Brest Friend nursing pillow and Boppy extensively (read my updated comparison of the two here!). Now that baby girl is older it’s easier to prop her up using my legs if I’m sitting someplace other than my rocker, but especially at the beginning the nursing pillow helps keep baby’s neck, shoulders and hips aligned, and prevents you from slouching over for more ergonomic feeding. The My Brest Friend pillow has a clip to keep it secure at a higher height if you prefer and has a pocket which you can keep your notepad or phone to log feedings.
Surprise! You are going to leak. When you nurse, often times your milk lets down on both sides, so you need to keep nursing pads on and cover the breast you’re not using to feed. Sleep with nursing pads on as well to prevent leakage. My favorite after trying a couple different brands are the Lansinoh Stay Dry nursing pads if you’re using disposable (disposable is a little easier to start with while you have so many other learning curves going on). I have friends that really like the Bamboobies washable reusable nursing pads, although I haven’t tried these ones yet myself!
I’ve updated this post to add nipple shields because I got so many comments from friends and readers that they were a life saver (I did try to buy these a couple times at the store but couldn’t find my size so I gave up – sounds like I should have just ordered some!). Nipple shields provide a protective barrier between baby’s mouth and your nipple. Many use them short-term while they are healing cracks and scabs, but I also know others who used them for over a year of nursing!
Fortunately most insurances cover a pump. I use the Medela Pump in Style Advanced breast pump. Even if you plan to nurse exclusively, there are a lot of instances you may need a pump:
- Going back to work
- Leaving baby with a spouse or sitter
- If baby eats poorly, to avoid engorgement and mastitis
- To keep up or increase milk supply
- If baby needs medication (like a probiotic) that must be mixed with breastmilk
- Healing a cracked nipple – while I was still healing on one side, I would pump on that side a couple feedings a day to avoid more latching and damage
Personally, every time I leave baby girl I leave a bottle of milk. She can be held, changed or cared for by anyone else. As long as she has food on hand, I worry less about needing to get back to her ASAP. To help with milk supply, any time she has a pumped bottle I always pump again that same day since I “missed” a feeding.
My favorite bottles are the Dr. Brown’s bottles because they allow very little gas in. Your baby will inherently swallow air sucking from a bottle which can lead to uncomfortable gas bubbles. If you were gifted other bottles, no worries! I use my backup bottles to hold milk I’ve pumped. Plus, every baby is different and they may prefer one bottle over another.
Even if you are nursing exclusively, having a bottle is essential if you want to leave pumped milk with a sitter or loved one, or in case of insufficient milk supply or an emergency. Breastmilk is good refrigerated for up to 7-8 days and ok at room temperature for up to 4 hours.
Drying Rack for Bottle Pieces
I’ve really liked using the Boon lawn drying rack and twig grass for drying bottle pieces. Usually I place all my pump pieces and bottles in a big Pyrex bowl and hand wash them, unless I have way too many pieces and I’ll pop them in the dishwasher. The rack is helpful to set your bottle pieces upright for drying and the twig is great to hang bottle nipples on.
A bottle brush is necessary to clean all the little crevices in your bottles and nipple pieces well if you’re washing by hand. I like the Dr. Brown’s bottle brush. The bottom unscrews for a nipple cleaning tool. To keep things sanitary, don’t use this brush for anything other than baby bottles.
I really like both my Copper Pearl and Milk Snob nursing covers. I think Copper Pearl may have slightly better coverage, but I prefer how the Milk Snob cover fits over the car seat if you’re using it as a car seat cover. That said, I use both as nursing covers regularly. If you are a heavy producer, you may want to stick with a patterned nursing cover. Otherwise, you can end up with wet streaks on your nursing cover while you’re out in public which can be slightly embarrassing!
Milk Storage Bags
You’ll need milk storage bags if you plan on freezing your breastmilk for a later day! I use the Lansinoh breastmilk storage bags which I’ve liked. Keep a Sharpie on hand so you can write your date of storage and how many ounces before popping it in the freezer. Breastmilk is good frozen for up to 6 months.
This may not be necessary for everyone, but if you have sore nipples the Medela hydrogel pads are very nice and cooling. I like these ones because they are reusable. You can intensify the cooling sensation by putting them in the refrigerator first. You’ll need to wipe off your breast with a wet cloth before feeds if you’re using these.
It Does Get Better
It can be intimidating to know what gear you really need for breastfeeding (I didn’t really think you needed anything other than a boob before I started having conversations with friends hah). I hope this list of my favorite breastfeeding essentials is helpful for you. I created my baby registry through Amazon which was simple because so many people have Prime and it’s easy to have things shipped directly to your house. They also have a nice “Welcome Gift” for registrants and you get 15% off (I used this for my BOB jogging stroller) on a few orders yourself.
I also hope it’s helpful for you to hear breastfeeding isn’t naturally easy for everyone if you are having trouble with it! I can confidently say that now at almost three months it is completely pain-free and feels as “simple” as I thought it would be. It takes time for you and baby to both learn how to work together; if you’re a first time mom you’ve never done this before and neither has she!
Did I miss any of your breastfeeding gear essentials?
Have you tried any of these breastfeeding products?
What has your breastfeeding experience been like?
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