by Melissa Clark Vickers
April 19, 2011
You are pregnant and plan to breastfeed. You want to be prepared, and you have friends and relatives wanting to know what to get you for the baby shower. A walk through a baby store or a Google search offers a bewildering array of “must-have” items that have found their way onto modern layette lists—like the “man-boob” so dads can “breastfeed” baby. As with most baby products, many breastfeeding products and gear are unnecessary. Some may be useful in certain circumstances, a few might qualify as helpful, but most are simply clutter. Remember, all a new mother really needs to breastfeed is a baby, a brain, and a breast! To help you weed out the fluff, here are the most commonly purchased breastfeeding products—for your consideration.
Breast pads are cotton or wool pads worn inside a bra that soak up leaking milk. They can be disposable or washable. Some have plastic liners to help prevent milk from getting through to clothes. Many women stock up on breast pads for use in the early weeks when leaking is more common.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? Breast pads can protect clothing from leaks that happen at inopportune times. But pads with plastic liners can trap moisture against your skin and should be avoided. Instead of breast pads, try this time-tested trick to stop a leak in progress: cross your arms over your breasts and put gentle pressure on the nipples. Once your milk supply adjusts to your baby’s needs, leaking occurs less often.
Breast pumps are everywhere: manual pumps (mom-propelled), battery-powered pumps, and electric pumps. Many come with attachments that allow for “double pumping”—pumping both breasts at once.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? Contrary to popular belief, every breastfeeding mother does not need a breast pump—not now, not ever. Mothers who need to express milk for an occasional outing without their baby can easily hand express. That said, pumps can be lifesavers—or at least timesavers—for working mothers. Mothers opting to take advantage of the federal law guaranteeing nursing mothers time and space to express their milk while at work will likely find a quality breast pump useful. A hospital grade electric pump can also be used by mothers whose babies are unable to breastfeed to build and maintain a milk supply.
Breast shells are dome-shaped plastic gadgets designed to be worn inside your bra during pregnancy to correct flat or inverted nipples. There is no research to show that they are effective, and they may actually do more harm than good.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? A flat or inverted nipple during pregnancy may not be an issue once a baby is born since nipples can change. The nipple is often drawn out by the baby during breastfeeding, and as long as the baby can latch onto the areola (the darker part of the breast around the nipple) and maintain a good seal, the shape of the nipple itself isn’t important. Women with persistent flat or inverted nipples often find that pumping for a few seconds before latching their baby onto the breast is the most effective method for drawing out the nipple.
Nipple creams moisturize the nipple and areola and are generally advertised to help heal sore nipples. Some are scented, some are made from “all natural ingredients,” many contain some form of lanolin, and most are unnecessary.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? Because many of the ingredients in nipple creams are not intended to be ingested by your baby, they must be washed off before nursing—irritating the nipple rather than soothing any discomfort. Sore nipples are often an indication that your baby is poorly positioned and/or latched. Treating the cause of the soreness is far more effective than applying creams, lotions, or ointments. For cracked and bleeding nipples, a dab of your breast milk may soothe and heal. If you choose to use a cream, ultra-pure lanolin (which contains none of the allergy-inducing chemicals) can be applied sparingly and left on during feedings.
Nipple shields are soft, nipple-shaped devices made from ultra-thin, flexible silicone or thicker latex and worn during feedings to aid attachment and support milk transfer. They can help provide a shape the baby can recognize if the mother has flat or inverted nipples, or if baby is “nipple-confused” from sucking on bottle nipples. They’re also helpful when a baby’s mouth is smaller than a mother’s nipples (sometimes the case with preterm infants).
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? Most moms do not need nipple shields. Nipple shields can interfere with milk transfer—especially the thicker latex variety—and should only be used temporarily under the care of a lactation consultant. Frequent weight checks help ensure that your baby is getting enough milk.
Nursing bras have flaps in the front that fold down to give the baby access to the areola and nipple for feedings. Wearing a bra while pregnant or breastfeeding is optional. If you feel more comfortable wearing a bra, a nursing bra can provide support. Wait until the last month of pregnancy to purchase nursing bras, and use a bra-fitting professional to ensure a good fit.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? A bra can provide helpful support in the early weeks when you have extra fluid and milk or need to hold nursing pads in place. If you are small-breasted, you may not need a bra at all. Choose a comfortable bra with cotton cups, adjustable straps, and simple flap fasteners—those that can be easily opened and closed with one hand! Avoid bras with underwire that eventually wear through the material and poke into the breast or put pressure on the breast (this could lead to plugged ducts).
Nursing cover-ups (you’ve probably heard them by the names Hooter Hiders and Booby Trappers) come in a variety of shapes, materials, and designs, and help cover the breast while nursing. Some moms are more uncomfortable breastfeeding in public than others, and find the cover-up a good solution.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? Cover-ups don’t necessarily hide the fact that you are nursing, nor should you feel that you have to hide what you are doing. Breastfeeding under cover may perpetuate the idea that public breastfeeding is something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. Plus, if you and your baby are still learning to latch onto the breast, a cover-up may get in the way—and some babies don’t want fabric of any kind over their heads during mealtimes.
Nursing tops come in a variety of styles. Slits concealed by the designs allow for easy access to the breast. Look for accessible openings large enough for your breasts that allow nursing to be as seamless and as discreet as you wish to be.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? It’s all about comfort and easy access to the breast for both mom and baby. While it is important to have clothes you can breastfeed in conveniently, they don’t have to be specifically designed for breastfeeding. Simple blouses that you can open and/or lift from the bottom will work just as well. (Special occasions might warrant clothing designed for nursing.)
Placing your nursing newborn on a pillow to support her at the level of your breast can make mom and baby more comfortable. Pillows can relieve the strain on mom’s wrist and forearm and make positioning easier. Specially designed nursing pillows, such as a Boppy, that wrap around mom are useful during the first weeks when mom and baby are learning how to breastfeed.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? Nursing pillows are optional—pillows you have around the house work well enough. Nursing pillows are bulky to transport, and your baby may get used to having one—and be upset if it isn’t available. However, nursing pillows are especially helpful for mothers of multiples—some are even made with twins in mind—to free up mom’s hands so she can get each baby latched onto a breast.
Slings and other baby carriers have been around for eons. From papooses to backpacks to simple cloth wraps, moms around the world have invented ways to carry their babies while on-the-go. Slings are, in fact, an integral part of attachment parenting. They provide a safe, soft ride close to mom (or dad!), and often allow for easy nursing as well.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? Slings are a convenient and beneficial way to carry a baby—and babies are generally happier in slings than in strollers. Slings can provide a natural transition during the “fourth trimester” when newborns are adjusting to life outside the uterus (womb) and take comfort in the closeness slings provide. (Slings may not be the best carrier for a preterm infant, and it’s important to learn various ways to carry a baby in a sling as he gets larger.)
Breastfeeding information is everywhere—bookstores, on the Internet, in doctors’ offices, and WIC clinics. You’ve found your way to a good source here on baby gooroo where you can find information about what to expect as well as tips for making breastfeeding even easier and more enjoyable. Another great source for information is other nursing moms who you can meet through mother-to-mother support groups such as La Leche League (LLL) groups.
Take ‘em or leave ‘em? It’s good to have a reliable breastfeeding book on hand—like Amy Spangler’s Breastfeeding: A Parent’s Guide. It won’t replace person-to-person help from a lactation consultant (IBCLC), LLL Leader, or WIC Peer Counselor, but it can provide reassurance that you are on the right track, guide you through problems and complications, and answer some of your more pressing breastfeeding questions. While you’re at it, check out baby gooroo’s breastfeeding videos on our YouTube channel!
Melissa Clark Vickers is a west Tennessee IBCLC, and child and family health editor. She is mom to Dan and Merrilee, and mom-in-law to Sunny and Alex.
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