I became a mother at 3:35pm on a warm September afternoon in 2008. Minutes later I nursed him for the first time, and that was the beginning.
It was a sacred beginning of an intimate relationship which simply does not compare to anything else I’ve ever experienced. I was quite literally his source of sustenance and life. I continually marvelled at that fact.
Starting when he was 4 months old, we were in and out of the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic in Toronto with breastfeeding difficulties. After a horrific experience with attempted “sleep-training” (before I finally realized the beauty of some of the principles of attachment parenting), I struggled to maintain a proper supply. I took lactation-inducing herbs for months before finally succumbing to a prescription that upped my milk supply enough to keep going until just a couple weeks shy of my one year goal.
(Why one year? Just because that was what everyone seemed to be doing. I was pretty well not “crunchy” at all back then, and had no concept of swimming against the tide in parenting or health issues. Going beyond a year never occurred to me.)
Two months later I became pregnant with our daughter. When she was born, we enjoyed an easy, long, and mutually beneficial nursing relationship until I was 31 weeks pregnant with our third, her little brother. She was 21 months old.
I then breastfed him for more than two lovely years before gently weaning last fall at the age of 2 years, 4 months.
I had been breastfeeding or pregnant – or both – for the entirety of the last six years, save for the odd month or two. I was ready to be finished with that chapter (for now or forever, I’m not sure), but I look back at those years with much humor, much nostalgia, and much gratitude.
Today I want to share with you a list of the tools that I found most indispensable to a long and successful breastfeeding relationship with all three of my little ones.
My Top 10 Breastfeeding Essentials
Nursing pads. Oh. My. Gosh. I was a really heavy leaker, and I tried them all. Nothing worked, until I met bamboobies. I don’t think I can adequately express to you just how much milk my body continually produced. I think it was confused and was under the impression that I had birthed quintuplets and needed to sustain them. Yikes.
Anyway, I tried disposable nursing pads in every brand, cloth nursing pads in every type of material, and even those silicone lilypads ones that stick right on. NOTHING WORKED. Except the bamboobies. I cannot rave about these enough, y’all. If you’re a heavy leaker… try these ones first.
2. Nursing Pillow
I didn’t always use this when nursing during the day, but it was indispensable to me at night when I would sit up in bed for night feedings and lean my head back (and fall asleep despite my best efforts). The nursing pillow helped to support my exhausted arms as they cradled the baby at my breast. (I never could get the hang of nursing while lying down, sadly.)
I used one similar to this one. There are brands that cost three times as much, and some mamas love them, but the basic type worked well for me.
3. Rocking Chair
We did a lot of rocking and nursing in the early months, and a comfortable rocking chair was a total necessity. More often than not, the rocking chair would put *us* to sleep, too. Tired parents of babies deserve a comfy chair! This means soft sides so that legs can be crossed or arranged as desired without putting dents in them – that was a must for me.
We used a very old rocker recliner for the first two kids, but when we moved across the country and had to sell most of our belongings, we splurged on a new cushy lazy-boy chair that lived in our third baby’s bedroom for the first year. It’s now in the living room, and hubs and I fight over it every night after the kids are in bed. It’s the best.
4. Good Nursing Bras
I say “good” nursing bras because not all nursing bras are created equally! I found that out the hard way. Because of my oversupply/heavy leaking, I had to wash them frequently, which wore them out faster, which let me see which ones lasted better.
My favorites ended up being the Bravado nursing bras that I got to try as a “test-wearer” with my third baby. They were amazing, and so very clearly better quality than the ones I had gotten from the maternity clothing stores.
5. Nice Water Bottle
This isn’t an absolute essential, I suppose (but taking care of yourself and staying hydrated certainly is!). You could drink from a boring old cup, or an ugly water bottle. But it’s approximately 96% more fun to have a nice water bottle that will catch your eye and remind you to keep hydrated – which is so important for a nursing mama! I love this brand of stainless steel water bottles, personally. (Our kids have their sippy cups and kid-sized bottles too.)
6. Support & Resources
My go-to’s for online support when I had questions of all kinds was usually the Kelly Mom website (seriously amazing resource), and the Dr. Jack Newman website (I was lucky enough to see him as a patient with my first baby). He is often considered one of the leading world experts on breastfeeding. He wrote The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers: The Most Comprehensive Problem-Solving Guide to Breastfeeding from the Foremost Expert in North America.
It’s also important to have the support of those around you. If there are people in your life that have negative things to say about breastfeeding, be sure to find someone to be in your corner. Hopefully, that is your spouse, but if not, then find a friend who can cheer you on.
7. Nursing tanks/cover
I tried some nursing shirts with my first baby. They are essentially over-priced shirts with cut-outs in the front (and material over top that you lift). They were just ok. I didn’t end up using them beyond my first baby because they weren’t my favourite style, they were expensive, and the material sometimes got in the way.
I ended up preferring a simple nursing tank top or stretchy tank that I could just pull down. I usually layered a tank under a regular shirt so that I could keep the sexy post-partum muffin top hidden.
I never bothered with a cover for a variety of reasons (I’m passionate about normalizing breastfeeding and not necessarily hiding it away unless that’s what mama and baby want).
8. Receiving blankets
These were absolutely vital to my successful breastfeeding sessions. I never left the house without several in the diaper bag! My babies are all summer-ish babes (June, July, and September) and nursing was a hot and sweaty mess sometimes. I had to have a receiving blanket between their head and the crook of my arm before nursing or else they would refuse to latch! My faves are the organic cotton muslin kind.
They were also indispensable to me when dealing with those embarrassing spray leaks (the joys of oversupply) as well as any spit up or dribbling milk situations.
9. Phone or e-reader
I know that a lot has been said (judged) about moms with cell phones, distracted parents, etc. I can’t deny that it isn’t a concern in some situations and for some people. HOWEVER… technology can most certainly be used for good.
In my case, it wasn’t until my third child that I had an ipod touch (then an e-reader, and finally an iphone) that I could use during those long nursing sessions in a room by myself. I nursed around people at first, but when they hit a certain age I had to be alone so they wouldn’t get distracted. And when nursing them to sleep I was sitting alone in the dark.
I believe with all of my heart that if I had possessed a device like that during my first’s babyhood, I would certainly have prevented some of those most intense feelings of loneliness and isolation. I was probably on the cusp of post-partum depression, thoroughly exhausted from a high-needs baby that never slept, and dealing with the upheaval that had come to my life through this tiny little creature that I would bleed and die for. It was dizzying.
10. Breast Pump
I used an electric pump the most with my first child. He took the occasional bottle of breastmilk so that hubs and I could have a date. Then I used it a fair bit when my daughter was born as well (my sister adopted our niece just weeks after our daughter was born, so I pumped a bit for her). I don’t think I used it once when my third was a baby, but I was still glad that I owned it, just in case.
If you’re a nursing mama who plans to return to work, a good breast pump (hands-free is supposedly the best if you pump regularly) is a must-have, but it totally comes in handy for any mama, regardless.
One note about pumping that every breastfeeding mother needs to hear comes from Rebekah Hoffer, author of an ebook called “Why Does My Breast Milk Taste Bad?” I asked for her best advice to new moms who want to pump and store their breastmilk, and here’s what she said:
“My best advice for all breastfeeding mothers is to taste your breast milk before you build up a large supply I pumped milk. Why? There is a rare problem called excess lipase activity that can cause your expressed breast milk to develop a bad taste over time.Leave a small amount of pumped milk in your refrigerator and taste it every couple of hours. If the milk develops an offensive taste then you probably have excess lipase activity. If a week passes and your milk tastes fine, then you are likely in the clear.”
- One of the things that I didn’t put on the list is herbs for inducing lactation, but that should not be a regular occurrence unless you’ve spoken to your midwife, doula, lactation consultant, naturopath, etc. The herbs I took are Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle. You can find more info about these at the sites I linked above in the resources section of the list.
- Mastitis: I’ve had it 4 times. Once so badly that my doctor sent me immediately to the ER for intravenous antibiotics – she said that the infection was close to getting into my bloodstream. Mastitis comes on really fast and strong, and can have you lying on the couch with a burning fever just an hour after you felt the first twinge of un-wellness.
- Try to be aware of any warm and tender spots in your breasts that seem to be “lumpy”. There may be a clogged duct, which can lead to mastitis. The best preventative treatment I found was cold cabbage leaves on the breast. (Stick ’em right in your bra. Yes, it really does work – it reduces engorgement incredibly well… so well, in fact, that you should never do this unless necessary as it will reduce your supply.)
- My midwives also recommended taking lecithin capsules for the same purpose, but I never tried it because I got the advice after my very last round of mastitis and was already on antibiotics (darn).
- I never had babies with serious weight-gaining issues (thankfully), but I’ve heard many friends saying how helpful a good set of scales can be to keep tabs on the baby’s weight while trying to figure out the breastfeeding relationship and the source of the struggles.
- And lastly, my friend Erin has a recipe for Lactation Cookies on her site. They are full of ingredients that are known to help boost your milk supply. I’ve never tried them, but I’d never say no to an excuse to eat cookies!
What’s your fave breastfeeding essential? What was your biggest breastfeeding challenge?