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Are breastfeeding essentials really essential? When I breastfed my first baby, over 31 years ago, the list of breastfeeding essentials I had was very short. When Nicholas was born, I had some nursing bras, and an old book I’d bought at a library sale. That was it. Sometimes, I wonder how we did it. Except, I know the answer. We did it very successfully. I had two more babies and breastfed both of them. My list didn’t grow much, even with the experience of having breastfed already. I eventually bought some bra pads, because I leaked like a hose with a hole in it. I had a battery-operated pump. This was before the days of double electric personal pumps. Now the list of things you are told are breastfeeding essentials is long. Very long.
You might ask if there are things available now that I wish I’d had when I breastfed. Yes, there are. Two things. I would have liked some nursing tanks. The other thing, I’ll tell you at the end of this article, when I give you my list of what I consider breastfeeding essentials. I’ll also tell you that item isn’t on any of the lists I found as I prepared to write this article.
Where to Find a List of Breastfeeding Essentials You Will Need
If you’re planning to breastfeed, you want to be prepared. If you already are breastfeeding, you may think, “I wish I’d known how useful it would be to have (insert an item of something you wish you’d known about ahead of time).” Chances are good that you even have gone out and purchased a thing, or two, or ten.
When you prepare for breastfeeding, and check Pinterest, or the Facebook Groups, you are going to come across lists of what is often referred to as “Breastfeeding Essentials.” You are going to see recommendations. You will be chatting with another mom, and she’ll talk about something, or you’ll see her using something that looks like it would be great to have. A Lactation Consultant, Doula, or Birthing or Breastfeeding Class instructor may give a list. There is no shortage of sources for where these recommendations come from.
List of Common Breastfeeding Essentials
Why They Are Not Essential
- Bras – there are lots of nursing bras out there, there are even special bras for sleep. They can definitely make it more convenient to breastfeed. Even women who didn’t wear a bra before may like the support of a bra when she is breastfeeding. If you leak a lot, a bra will hold your bra pads in place. Although I don’t consider nursing bras essential, they are very convenient and I do recommend having some. However, I do recommend waiting until after your milk is in and any engorgement is gone before buying any. That way, you will get the best fit.
- A breast pump – in the US, we have embraced pumping. Most women with insurance in the US will get a pump through their insurance, under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Most of the insurance pumps I have seen are quality pumps, but it’s always good to check with a Lactation Consultant to see what she thinks of the one you will get, or she can give you recommendations if you have a choice of more than one. It’s important to know though, sometimes your initial pumping needs may be better met by a hospital grade rental pump. Additionally, if your insurance does not provide you with a pump, talk to a Lactation Consultant about what your pumping needs are, because you may not need an expensive, fancy, double electric pump.
- Pillows – not just any pillow, special pillows for breastfeeding. This is what I refer to as a “nice to have item.” There are different pillows made by different companies, for breastfeeding. However, there is not one pillow that works for every mom. Remember though, you can use bed pillows and sofa pillows too instead. They worked great for moms (like me) before there were nursing pillows.
- Nursing Pads – available in disposable and cloth. Cloth pads are available in a variety of materials. These are very helpful if you leak a lot. Wait until your baby is here to see if you do leak. You can also make your own. I do think the cloth ones are more comfortable than disposable pads. I personally preferred those made out of flannel. Cloth is more environmentally friendly as well.
- Nipple cream – simple lanolin to brands with half a dozen or more ingredients. They can be called a cream, butter, balm, ointment or salve. These may be helpful if you get sore nipples. Not every mom will need one. If something is needed, I recommend lanolin that is intended for breastfeeding. I’m not a fan of anything that has multiple ingredients because them that will expose your baby to all those different ingredients. Peppermint water works great for sore nipples and is evidence-based. There is a prescription ointment, that is a combination of ingredients. I do make an exception to my “no multiple ingredients” advice for this. I do not recommend trying to mix up some on your own. I’ll talk more about this in a future article on nipple soreness.
- Nipple shields – these are used to cover the human nipple during feedings. These are used for a variety of reasons. They can be very helpful when used appropriately. They really only should be used under the guidance of a Lactation Consultant. They have the potential to decrease how much milk the baby can transfer and in turn, milk supply.
- Breast shells – there are shells for flat or inverted nipples, and shells for sore nipples. They can be very helpful for both. Most people don’t need them. A lactation consultant can help you decide. Ask your doctor or midwife to look at your nipples before your baby is born to assess whether you should contact a Lactation Consultant about any nipple variation that could cause some challenges.
- Water bottle – so you will always have water at your side. This is a great gift idea for any pregnant or new mom if she doesn’t have one, or several. It is an essential breastfeeding item. One that has excellent insulation properties are the best, to keep cold water cold. I have some stainless steel water cups that do a great job of keeping my water cold and my ice frozen all day long.
- Cover-up – so you can nurse in public. You would only consider this if not covering up makes you uncomfortable. There are lots of ways to breastfeed discreetly in public. I have always thought these covers draw more attention to what you are doing. If you really want to be covered, a blanket works as a great cover-up and you probably already have a few of those.
- Nursing clothes – to make access to the breasts easier and breastfeeding in public discreet. There are lots of clothes in your closet that will give you easy access to your breasts. If something like this makes you more comfortable about breastfeeding in public, check them out. Otherwise, put your money towards something else.
- Books – specifically about breastfeeding, to prepare you and help you with breastfeeding challenges. A good book really is helpful. Just remember, not every book is easy to read, and the author may have a different philosophy than you. You will have to do some research to find one that is the right fit.
- Bottles – so your baby can be fed your expressed milk. I think it’s good for breastfed babies to be willing to take a bottle. This is an essential piece of feeding equipment, but somehow it doesn’t feel right to call it put it in the category of essential breastfeeding equipment.
- Storage bags – to put that expressed milk in. See bottles.
- Storage cubes – to freeze that expressed milk. Again, feeding, not breastfeeding. I really do like the idea of using ice stick trays to freeze breastmilk. You don’t have to worry about thawing too much, which will be an issue if you only have bags with large amounts of milk frozen, and you only need a small amount.
- Hands-free pumping bra – to help pump that milk to put in those bottles or bags. If you are pumping frequently, or if you want to multi-task, this is essential. It will also be essential if you are doing hands-on pumping. If you only pump occasionally, your hands work great to hold the pump shields in place.
- Pacifier – so your baby won’t breastfeed. After one month, pacifiers are recommended to be given to babies at times of sleep, because this is associated with a lower incidence of SIDS. They can also be helpful if you are in the car and a pacifier helps calm your baby. They have some other uses, but they are not an essential for breastfeeding, in any way shape or form. They should never be used to put off a feeding.
- Alcohol test strips – so you can consume adult beverages, worry-free. If you have an occasional adult beverage, the alcohol will transfer out of your milk within 1-2 hours. Pumping does not speed this up. Plan your imbibing and feedings accordingly. It is not recommended to consume large amounts of alcohol. It can lower your milk supply, and if you are buzzed, you need to think about who will take responsibility for your baby. If you have that taken care of, the general rule is if you are buzzed, don’t drink. More than one drink, wait 1-2 hours per drink.
- Supply enhancer – these come in the form of teas, pills, and tinctures. These are usually herbs. They are to ensure that you will have lots of milk. The best supply enhancer is your baby breastfeeding.
- Feeding reminder jewelry – to give your breasts equal time. Feeling which breast is fuller works really well too.
- Apps – to keep track of everything about you baby, and feeding, and pumping, and bottles, and even diapers and sleep
- Lactation food – usually in the form of cookies, to help support or increase your milk supply. Again, the baby is the best enhance. But, hey, I’m never going to tell a mom they shouldn’t eat some yummy and tasty treat.
If you are pregnant you are either overwhelmed or carefully writing down everything I just listed. If you are an experienced breastfeeding mom, you may have something that is not on the list, (although that’s hard to imagine) that you find helpful, or, you are rolling your eyes, thinking, who needs all that stuff?
Questions You Should Ask Before Buying Any Breastfeeding Essentials
- What need is it trying to fill? Does it:
- Make things easier?
- Treat a problem?
- How long can you use it?
- Will it serve more than one purpose?
- What alternatives are there?
- Is this something that I can just buy if, and when I need it?
Benefits of Not Buying All That Stuff
- Save money
- Save space – now and later (where will you store it after you no longer use it?)
- Save time when you have to figure out how to get rid of it
My List of Breastfeeding Essentials
- Breasts (you have those!)
- List of 2-3 Lactation Consultants
- List of 2-3 support groups
- A Nursing Stool – this was not on any list I found. I don’t even know if they were made when I had my babies. I used to turn over a trash can and prop my feet up. I have one in my office and I encourage all moms I see to try it. I tell them that if I had to choose between a pillow and a stool, I would choose a stool. They put most moms in a very comfortable position when feeding.
One Last Thought
To help decide if you need something, before buying it, or putting it on your baby registry, classify it as:
- Is it essential? What will happen if you don’t get it?
- Is it “nice to have”? What problem will it make better?
- Don’t waste your time or money. Cross it off the list.
- Need professional help if you need this. Call a Lactation Consultant.
Andrea Tran RN, MA, IBCLC
Andrea has been working with new families as an RN for over 35 years and a Lactation Consultant for over 25 years.
She has her MA in Health and Wellness with a focus in Lactation.