Breastfeeding Essentials (Plus a Few Helpful Extras)
Experts weigh in on the must-haves, the nice-to-haves, and more.
By Ashley Ziegler
Experts: Amanda DeWeese, MPH, CPH, IBCLC; Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC
There is no shortage of gear you’re told you need to stock up on before baby arrives. From strollers to bathtubs to the perfect bassinet, the shopping list for a new baby is overwhelming. In order to make it a little less intimidating, it’s helpful to break all of the recommended products into two categories: must-have and nice-to-have. And if you’re planning on breastfeeding, there are plenty of products for each category.
To determine exactly what essentials are needed for breastfeeding, we turned to pros Amanda DeWeese, MPH, CPH, IBCLC, founder of Sidekicks Lactation, and Ashley Georgakopoulos, IBCLC, lactation director for Motif Medical. Here are some of the products they recommend for lactating parents.
“One tool I cannot stress enough to have is a hand pump,” says Georgakopoulos, “A silicone hand pump can fit in most bags and can help with so many things, from collecting milk for a stash to drawing out clogs.” Hand pumps are great for keeping in the car or in the diaper bag for those times you need to express some milk, but baby isn’t hungry and your electric pump isn’t nearby.
Equally important, simply knowing how to express milk with your hand, according to DeWeese. “Learning the art of hand expression can be a priceless (and convenient!) tool,” she says.
Try it: Haaka Manual Breast Pump
As helpful as hand pumps are, an electric pump is much more efficient (plus, you can usually get one for free through insurance). Even if you plan to exclusively breastfeed, having an electric pump offers you flexibility—like for overnight getaways when you’re ready, makes it easy to express, bottle, and store excess milk, and gives you a legitimate excuse to hide away in your room for 30 minutes to watch a TV show, read a book, or take a power nap (which is particularly nice when your well-meaning, but overwhelming mother-in-law comes to visit).
Try it: Motif Luna Double Electric Breast Pump
There’s no way to sugar-coat this, breastfeeding is hard on the nipples and can be painful, which is why Georgakopoulos stresses the importance of a quality nipple cream or balm. She says a good balm is “great for sore nipples” and can also be a good pumping lubricant.
Try it: Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter
“Even if you don’t typically leak in between feeds, you may notice that you leak on the opposite side you’re feeding on,” says DeWeese, “being prepared with breast pads can help to prevent wardrobe snafus.” She notes that there are both disposable and reusable options, depending on your preference.
While breastfeeding fills your baby’s belly, you’ll quickly discover that it leaves yours growling. “Having lots of snacks that you can easily grab and eat one-handed can be a lifesaver” for breastfeeding parents, says DeWeese. So stash a few easy-to-grab snacks around the house, in the diaper bag, and basically, anywhere else you go because you never know when hunger will strike. Bonus points for snacks that are said to increase milk supply.
This is an absolute must-have for any breastfeeding parent. “You don’t have to choose the most expensive or fancy ones,” says DeWeese, “but choose something that is supportive and easy to use.” Remember, your chest size will change dramatically throughout the day as your body prepares to feed baby, and after baby has depleted your milk supply, so look for a nursing bra that is both supportive and stretchy. Also, opt for something machine-washable and safe for the dryer.
Milk Storage Bags
If you’re lucky, your breast milk supply will be so good that you have leftover after baby has filled up. Since you definitely don’t want to waste that liquid gold (every drop counts!), you’ll want a stock of breast milk storage bags that are sanitary, easy to use, and safe for hot and freezing temperatures.
Try it: Motif Medical Milk Storage Bags
Extra Pump Flanges
Pumping isn’t the most comfortable task, but it should never be painful. While your electric pump should come packaged with flanges included, we know that no two sets of nipples are totally alike, so the standard set may not be the best fit for you—as they are not one-size-fits-all. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for purchasing extra flanges, and they come in a variety of sizes (just make sure whatever you choose is compatible with your pump). Honestly, even if the standard set does work for you, you will still want to have a few extras on-hand in case one set is in the dishwasher, or to have a backup in your breast pump bag.
Try it: Pumpin’ Pal Large Set with Adapters for Spectra, Ameda Mya, and Motif Luna (small size also available)
High-Quality Water Bottle
You’re going to need a water bottle no matter what because, according to DeWeese, you’ll likely find yourself feeling “thirstier than normal as a breastfeeding parent.” In this case, any water bottle will do (and if you’re anything like me, you have a stockpile of them in your cabinet, and you have no idea where most of them came from), but if you want to treat yourself, splurge on something that will keep your water cold throughout the day, and is easy to work with just one hand.
Pump Travel Bag (With Storage)
Another nice-to-have: a bag that’s designed to transport your pump and is equipped with ample storage for the pump, accessories, and storage bags/bottles after your pumping session. Remember, your breast milk will need to be kept cold after pumping, so make sure your bag is large enough to fit a small cooler or has an insulated pocket that will accommodate your supply, and an ice pack, or choose one that already has a built-in cooler.
Try it: Sarah Wells Lizzy
While some might call nursing clothing essential, you might be surprised by the number of items in your closet that will work just fine. If you’re in the mood to do some shopping, though, DeWeese recommends looking for clothing with easy access to the chest such as “button-up tops, tank tops, nursing tops, wrap dresses, and robes.”
Try it: Smallshow Nursing Tops
As previously mentioned, breast pads will soak up leaks easily, but that does mean that any leaked milk will essentially go to waste. If the thought of losing even a drop of breast milk makes you want to cry (and who can blame you?), it might be worth investing in wearable milk catchers. They protect your clothing from leaks and collect every last drop so that you can store it away for later. And because they’re wearable, you can efficiently master the juggling act of feeding and collecting while at home or away.
Try it: Mommyz Love Boob Shells
This is another nice-to-have item because, as great as it is for taking the strain off your arms, shoulders, and back, you can easily stack a few pillows around you to help position baby during feedings. But for something quick and easy, a nursing pillow is a great option—and it’s especially convenient for travel. An ergonomic pillow like the Boppy can also double as a baby positioner for playtime, tummy time, and propping/sitting baby up (with your supervision and never when your little one is sleeping).
Try it: Boppy Nursing Pillow
We are firm believers in wearing (or not wearing) whatever you want to nurse in public, and that goes for every modesty level. If you prefer to keep your breastfeeding a little more discreet, then a nursing coverup may be a great buy for you.
Try it: UHINOOS Nursing Cover
Parenthood is busy, so if you want to be able to multitask or need to pump while driving to work or while sitting at your desk, then a hands-free, wearable breast pump is certainly a nice-to-have option. There are a variety of options out there, so it’s simply a matter of finding the right one for you and your circumstances.
Try it: Willow 3.0 Wearable Pump
Hands-Free Pumping Bra
Technically, you don’t need a hands-free pumping bra, since you can hold a traditional electric pump right up to your breasts, but we argue that a bra that allows you to freely use your hands while you’re attached to a machine that is manually sucking milk out of your nipples is a very, very nice-to-have product. There are a lot of good options that are designed to fit a variety of breast pumps, such as this Kindred Bravely style, but just make sure to double-check that your pump doesn’t require something specific due to a unique design.
It’s not what it looks like. A lactation massager can help speed up letdown, increase milk flow, and can relieve or prevent a clogged duct (which can lead to painful mastitis). Of course, you can always massage yourself manually, but as anyone who has ever had a clogged milk duct will tell you, the faster you can get relief, the better.
Try it: LaVie Lactation Massager
You know how a heating pad can help soothe the aches and pains that come with cramps or strained muscles? It can do the same for your breasts. Breastfeeding often comes with engorgement, clogged milk ducts, and painfully slow letdown, but breast warmers can help with all of these issues. They give almost instant relief from discomfort and help release milk that just won’t flow. There are a lot of different brands to choose from, but we particularly love Frida Mom’s because they heat up with a click of a button, and they can be reused up to 30 times.
What to Keep in a Breastfeeding Station
At home, a breastfeeding station will be a game-changer. Georgakopoulos says a small handheld station in a basket is a great option for some (especially if you don’t have a designated pumping spot and want something portable), while others prefer to set up shop in the nursery or another comfy spot in the house. No matter how you do it, here’s what Georgakopoulos and DeWeese suggest including in your station:
- Handheld snacks
- Water bottle
- Nipple balm
- Phone charger (brilliant!)
- Breast pads
- Book, magazine, or the TV remote for entertainment (you may be there a while)
- Diapers/wipes in case baby needs to be changed right after feeding
- Extra clothes for you and baby—just in case
- Burp cloths
- Comfort items for yourself such as a fan, blanket, pillows, diffuser, and hair ties or hair clips (especially for when baby reaches the grabby stage)
Finding the best breastfeeding gear for you and your baby may take a little trial and error—especially when it comes to pumping accessories. Be prepared to be flexible, and don’t hesitate to seek help from a trained lactation consultant. And remember, there’s going to be a learning curve for you and your baby—so maybe go ahead and add “patience” to your list of breastfeeding essentials while you’re at it.