Women have been breastfeeding across cultures for millions of years. And of course have managed to avoid trips to the shops! However, we live in different times now. The baby product market is booming with products for breastfeeding. Here’s the lowdown of products you may or may not find useful to your personal breastfeeding journey. A breastfeeding checklist for new mums as well as for mums new to breastfeeding, if you will!
Your breasts will most likely change size again so don’t splash too much cash antenatally. Just in case they just don’t fit after the birth (and poorly fitting bras can be a risk for mastitis). Like with any bras, there are fairly grim ones out there. But also numerous pretty and practical ones too. Whilst the majority of nursing bras are non-wired, some also now come with flexible and gentle wire support. Designed to move with your changing shape and thereby minimise the risk of causing blockages in your milk ducts. It’s best to avoid these with gentle wire support in the first few months. Women who are prone to mastitis or blocked ducts should steer clear completely.
Different brands use different clip systems (eg hoops, magnetic fastenings or ones that remind you which boob you’ve used last). Likewise each brand and style differ in how much space around the nipple they leave, to help your baby latch deeply. The bigger the space the better. Keep the night shift in mind as well. Invest in a few comfy night bras (these are more of a crop-top style), to have support in bed. As well as a means to keep any breast pads in place. All in all, look out for comfort, ease of use and a good fit, on top of your style preferences.
Whilst there are loads of brands now creating tops, dresses and jumpers for feeding, you don’t have to spend much, or even any money on them if you don’t want to. Having a couple of breastfeeding vests helps if you don’t want to expose your tummy when lifting up a jumper or top. Otherwise think about button-fronted or loose tops and dresses that have easy access from the head end.
These are thin, absorbent pads to wear inside your bra to soak up any leaking milk and protect your clothes. Some women get through boxes of them and others find they never need one. This has no reflection on your overall ability to make enough milk for your baby, so don’t panic if you find you’re not using them. Disposable breast pads are one of the many things that end up in landfill. The antidote to this issue (whilst also saving the pennies) is investing in a few washable breast pads. These tend to be made from organic bamboo or cotton flannel and are super-soft.
By no means an essential part of breastfeeding, you may find you never need one at all. Or least not beyond the first week or two. Pillows can become more of a hindrance than a help. Although in the very early days when you are tired, achy and getting used to holding your baby, you may well feel that it provides you with a little comfort. If you can, borrow one from a friend, or just use a normal one from home. Some form of pillow or cushion can be especially useful if you have twins or have had a caesarean birth and have a tender scar to look after. With time, practice on leaning back to allow your body to support your baby. Feeding will get much easier and you won’t need the extra hassle of carrying a pillow about.
In the early weeks applying a nipple cream to keep the area well moisturised can help with any potential soreness. The most common ingredient in these creams is lanolin – a natural moisturiser derived from shorn sheep wool. It works a treat for many, although it can occasionally cause an itchy reaction in a few women. Other options include creams that are vegan-friendly and contain ingredients such as calendula, coconut oil and shea butter. Breast milk itself does a great job too and is free!
Using a silicone nipple shield is often touted as helping to prevent nipple soreness in the early weeks. Whilst they can occasionally be useful in times of extreme pain (and a few other circumstances), especially if it feels like you have no choice but to decide between continuing breastfeeding, having a break and expressing or stopping completely, they do not resolve the underlying cause of the pain. They can cause more and longer-lasting problems than they’re aiming to sort out. Breastfeeding can be tender to begin with but if it is acutely painful or even causing nipple damage, never hesitate to ask for help. This is a big indicator that something isn’t quite right.
The best preventative measure for sore nipples is a well-latched baby. If it hurts and you are being told ‘the latch looks great’ and to simply keep going, then seek out another opinion! If you do feel you need to use them it is generally better to err on the side of caution. Only use them for as short a time as possible and with the support of a breastfeeding specialist.
An expressing device
Expressing is not an essential or even necessary part of breastfeeding if your baby is feeding well and you are happy with the way things are.
If you do express, you may find that simply using your own hand works best and you never need bother with a pump. Therefore, unless you know that you will definitely want or need one early on (eg you have to be away from your baby for any reason) I suggest holding off spending on one during pregnancy. Many hospitals, community teams and breastfeeding groups have pump rental schemes where you can access devices known as Hospital-Grade Pumps (the best in the biz). Either for free or at minimal cost if expressing becomes necessary to further boost your milk supply. Or if your baby isn’t directly breastfeeding from you. If you are going to get anything at all, cheap silicone manual breast pumps can be super handy in the early days. Especially as an alternative to hand expressing for colostrum or to gently ease any severe engorgement.
The strength of the motor in a standard electric or battery-operated pump does not tend to be as strong as that of a hospital-grade pump and therefore these devices tend to be of most use further down the line, once your milk supply is established. Plus you may be planning to express to go out without your baby or back to work, for example.
If you are needing to sterilise any feeding equipment you have four main options (unless you want to go all out and spend £300-£500 on an ultraviolet sterilising system!).
- Cold water sterilising solution (sterilising tablets): all you need is a tub or bowl, water and a sterilising solution. Which needs to be changed every 24 hours. It’s a bit smelly but inexpensive and straightforward to use.
- Microwave steam sterilising: This process is far quicker than cold water sterilising and does not use any chemicals. The amount of water used and exact timings will depend on the sterilising product you have and the type of microwave. Just be careful of the hot water and steam when you get it out!
- Electric steam sterilising: This is the most expensive and least portable of these four options. It will generally have a larger capacity to sterilise more equipment in one go, than options 1 or 2 and is time efficient.
- Pot boiling: A cost-free option (aside from the energy bills) is to boil the submerged equipment in a pan of boiling water for a minimum of 10 minutes. The clear downside of this method is that teats will get damaged faster. So this is not a great option for frequent sterilising.
Living in the times we do, it’s not a surprise to find that technology has made it into the world of breastfeeding. Products that are definitely not recommended by breastfeeding organisations or anyone who understands how breastfeeding works, include those that claim to measure how much milk a baby is swallowing. Believe me, these are far from accurate and can be either falsely reassuring or anxiety-provoking. Testing kits apparently measuring the ‘quality’ of breastmilk (again, this is completely off-the-wall as breastmilk changes throughout every feed, hour by hour and day by day).
There are also a wide variety of feeding apps now available. For both breast and bottle-feeding. They track how often a baby is feeding, what breast they were last on, how much was in the bottle and so on. The use of these apps essentially comes down to the users personality type. Also whether it helps induce a sense of calm and control. Or perhaps if it is just ‘one more thing’ to have to think about and analyse and therefore unduly increase stress!
Vanessa Christie (MSc, MN, IBCLC, RHV, RNC, CIMI) is author of The Baby Feeding Book (Piatkus, 2020). She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, birth and perinatal trauma practitioner, health visitor, children’s nurse, infant massage instructor, mindfulness coach and a mother of three. Vanessa has worked alongside over 10,000 new families over the past 20 years. She now runs a busy independent practice, The Parent & Baby Clinic. Consulting with families online and face-to-face on a range of pre- and post-natal issues. From infant feeding, unsettled babies and sleep, to birth and peri-natal trauma recovery. www.vanessachristie.com @vanessa_theparentandbabyclinic