Set yourself up for breastfeeding success with my list of breastfeeding essentials. You’ve got this, mama!
Before having my first baby, I had no idea that breastfeeding would become such a huge part of my life. I knew it was natural and innate, but I didn’t know just how much I would come to love nursing. I thought for sure that I’d stop nursing at 12 months, but ended up nursing my oldest son until he turned two!
To any new moms, I will say this: breastfeeding is natural and beautiful, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally at first. You aren’t born knowing how to breastfeed your baby, or how and when to pump milk. There’s a learning curve, and it can be really difficult and even painful at first. It takes time to get into a groove with it. So don’t let it get you down if breastfeeding is hard at first. In 99% of cases, I can confidently say that you will get past it.
In my experience, the first couple of weeks breastfeeding a new baby are a tough adjustment period for baby, mom, and her breasts. But I am happy to report that it gets much much easier after that point. I encourage all new moms to commit to sticking with it. Set a goal of breastfeeding for the first month, and when you meet that goal, set a new goal of getting to 3, 6, 9, and 12 months. It’s worth the effort, I promise!
To that end, I’ve put together a breastfeeding essentials checklist to help set you up for success on your breastfeeding journey!
A Few Useful Facts About Breastfeeding
If you plan to breastfeed, or are on the fence about it, here are a few useful facts.
- Breast milk is the best food for your baby during the first year of life. It contains hormones and the right amount of protein, sugar, fat and most vitamins to help your baby grow and develop. Your breast milk changes as your baby grows so he gets exactly what he needs at the right time.
- Breast milk has antibodies that help protect your baby from many illnesses. Breastfed babies don’t have as many ear, lung, or urinary tract infections, and are less likely to have asthma, certain cancers, and diabetes later in life.
- It’s best to feed your baby only breast milk for at least 6 months, at which point you can begin introducing solid foods with your pediatrician’s okay. 
If all of the health benefits aren’t convincing enough, consider the fact that formula is very expensive and the costs add up quickly. It is estimated that parents can save as much as $3,000 in one year by breastfeeding. 
Ok, now on to the breastfeeding essentials checklist…
Breastfeeding Essentials Checklist
Nursing Bras & Nursing Tanks
Because newborns nurse a lot in the beginning (aka around the clock), you’ll definitely want to have some nursing tanks on hand for easy access. That’s why they top my breastfeeding essentials checklist! I found these especially useful around the house, while I usually switch to a nursing bra upon leaving the house. You’ll figure out what works for you, but I do suggest having some of both on hand because newborns nurse often.
Nursing tanks are convenient because they have a flap opening in the front that you can open with a clip, and contain no underwire, which can reduce your milk supply or cause clogged ducts.
For nursing tanks, I usually use Gillian O’Malley Nursing Tanks. I also like the Undercover Mama Nursing Tank Top (it has no straps, so it attaches to your nursing bra) as well as the iLoveSIA nursing tank.
As for nursing bras, I recommend purchasing both seamless (sports bra-like) and structured nursing bras. While you may get more mileage out of the seamless bras, there will be times when you’re going out and will want to have more shape and a structured bra (even without underwire) does a better job at that. In seamless bras, I absolutely love the Cake Luxury Cotton Candy Bra, as well as the Bravado Silk Seamless Nursing Bra and iLoveSIA Bras. These are wonderful for sleep, so I recommend having a few of these on hand, although you may prefer something like the Organic Nursing & Maternity Sleep Bra because it does provide a little more access to your breasts. I also bought some cheap seamless bras on sale from Motherhood Maternity that lasted a couple of months.
Bravado Women’s Bliss Nursing Bra is an excellent structured bra that also provides a bit of padding. (This will buy you a little time in case of an unexpected leak.) It looks great under a t-shirt and is very comfortable.
Organic Nursing Pillows
The section on nursing pillows has been moved here.
For privacy while nursing in public, you may want to purchase a nursing cover. I don’t think there’s a perfect one on the market, but Bebe au Lait makes the best I have come across. Their covers feature a neck strap that holds the cover in place, and an open neckline that encourages airflow and allows you to see your baby during nursing.
They offer three options: the Bebe au Lait Premium Nursing Cover, which is their standard version; the Premium Muslin Nursing Cover, a breathable version that is great during summertime or in warmer climates; and the Organic Cotton Nursing Cover, which is made with organic fabric (although I don’t think this is essential).
Related: The Best Probiotics for Babies
You’ll most likely need nursing pads to absorb leakage. (Now would be a good time to mention keeping an extra shirt handy when you leave the house, just in case!) For convenience, when I was working full time I personally used traditional, disposable nursing pads. I liked both the Lansinoh Nursing Pads and the Johnson’s Nursing Pads.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate any organic disposable nursing pads, but you can find some good washable ones. Eco Organic Nursing Pads are popular, as well as the Baby Zelis Organic Nursing Pads.
Hot/Cold Therapy Nursing Packs
When dealing with sore nipples, engorgement, mastitis, clogged milk ducts, or other breastfeeding-related pain, you’ll want fast therapeutic relief. Nursing packs are one approach, and they can either be heated in the microwave or frozen for hot or cold relief.
Boob-Ease Soothing Therapy Pillows are made from Oeko-Tex certified bamboo rayon fleece and flax seeds, and contain no gels. Truly a non-toxic option, the Boob-Ease come highly recommended and rated. Earth Mama Booby Tubes are another excellent option. Made from 100% cotton with an organic outer shell, the Booby Tubes also contain no gel and can be frozen or microwaved. Lansinoh’s TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pads are a popular option, but aside from the manufacturer claiming they are non-toxic, I can’t find much information that details the claim. That said, they work well and it’s important to treat breast pain quickly, especially if you are dealing with a clogged duct or mastitis.
According to Kelly Mom, risk factors for clogged ducts and mastitis include engorgement (i.e. skipping feedings or going too long between pumping), inflammation, pressure (i.e. a too-tight bra), and infection. If you think you have a clogged duct or mastitis, please call your doctor immediately.
Organic Nipple Cream
Many breastfeeding moms worry about cracked and sore nipples, and rightly so. Unfortunately, the most popular solution I’ve come across for this is lanolin cream, which comes from sheep’s wool and typically is treated with pesticides, and can contain other harmful elements, including fecal matter and GMOs (!). For these reasons, I strongly recommend avoiding lanolin cream and opting for a safer alternative. I haven’t even listed lanolin on my breastfeeding essentials checklist because I recommend avoiding it altogether!
The good news is that you may not need any cream at all. You could just apply breastmilk or olive oil to your nipples for the same effect. If you’d like something more substantial to work with, consider the Motherlove Organic Nipple Cream or Earth Mama Organics Non-GMO Nipple Butter, both of which are lanolin-free.
Even if you plan to exclusively breastfeed your baby, you’ll likely want to introduce a bottle at 3-4 weeks of age. This is important because it means that you won’t be needed for every single feeding — and you will need a break and some rest. So this is where pumping comes in!
The Affordable Care Act now requires most health insurance companies to cover the cost of a breast pump for pregnant patients. Some insurance companies will allow you to choose any breast pump, while others will give you specific ones to choose from. You may be able to purchase your breast pump from any retailer and receive reimbursement from your insurance company, or you may need to order a pump from a specific home medical equipment company referred by your insurance company. Either way, I hope that you get to choose from at least one Medela pump, because they are top-notch pumps and come very highly recommended from lactation specialists. (Though, let’s be honest, breast pumps still have plenty of room for improvement!)
In my experience, the most-recommended breast pump is the Medela In-Style Advanced Breast Pump. The In-Style is a highly effective double electric breast pump that is great for pumping at work or on the go since it comes with its own tote bag, bottle cooler, AC adapter, and battery pack (that uses AA batteries). This is the pump that I have used and it works great.
The Medela Freestyle Breast Pump is another popular option, since it’s lightweight, has a rechargeable battery pack, and is much more portable than the In-Style. It’s also a great choice for travel. You should be able to pump for a couple of days on a full battery charge.
BUT, I have to say that my favorite way to pump is using a manual pump. So, at least as a back-up for emergencies, or for lightweight travel purposes, you should have a manual breast pump. I highly recommend both the Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump and Haakaa Silicone Manual Breastpump. The Harmony is an awesome and easy-to-use substitute for an electric pump, and the Haakaa can be used while you are nursing. All you have to do is attach it to your other breast while your baby is nursing, and you can collect milk without having to pump. It’s awesome — I highly recommend it!
Medela pumps come with their own plastic pumping bottles, but in an effort to avoid plastic, I would often pump directly into a glass Dr. Brown’s bottle. They fit perfectly, and I highly recommend skipping the plastic bottles when possible.
In case you aren’t able to pump successfully, consider seeing a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). You might have more success with a hospital-grade pump and they can help you find one to rent.
Hands-Free Pumping Bras
Multi-tasking is key, especially while pumping! So you’ll want to have your hands free as much as possible when pumping. This is where hands-free pumping bras can be really helpful, especially for working moms who will be pumping at the office/on-the-go.
For a hands-free pumping bra, try the Organic Pumpease Nursing Bra. However, I don’t actually think you need to buy an organic one, so you could also consider the Simple Wishes Hands Free Breastpump Bra.
I highly recommend getting one of these!
Non-Toxic Breastmilk Storage
The most popular solution for storing and freezing milk is plastic breastmilk storage bags. But since plastic can leach into liquids, it’s not an ideal storage solution for pumped breastmilk, whether frozen or stored in the refrigerator. Truthfully, there aren’t many great alternatives available at this time, but you could consider using glass baby bottles (and just buy a lot of them, preferably inexpensive ones) or glass mason jars.
I used 4 oz. mason jars for freezing, and 8 oz. mason jars for refrigerating milk. When it comes to freezing breastmilk, keep in mind that milk will expand in the freezer, and be sure not to fill the jar to the top. Freezing in small portions (about 3 oz. at a time) also enables you to not waste milk if your baby only needs a small amount at a time.
Water Bottles for Nursing Moms
It is so important to hydrate while breastfeeding that I just had to add this to my breastfeeding essentials checklist, even though it isn’t necessarily a breastfeeding-related item.
Since you’ll be nursing with only one free hand, it’s much easier to use a glass straw water bottle. It will be a life-saver, I promise.
There are lots of options to choose from, but I personally recommend the Lifefactory 22 oz. Glass Water Bottle and Camelbak Eddy Glass Water Bottle (24 ounces) because both come with a silicone straw, while most other glass straw bottles use plastic straws. So you can avoid most exposure to plastic by using one of these bottles. Just note that they can get pretty heavy when full, so be careful when using these around your little one.
I hope you found this breastfeeding essentials checklist helpful as you prepare for your breastfeeding journey. I wish you luck with breastfeeding and encourage you to seek the support of a lactation consultant or the La Leche League if you are experiencing any pain or difficulty. (Many hospitals and baby boutiques also hold breastfeeding support groups that are led by a lactation specialist. Some lactation specialists will come to your home for a consultation.) They can gauge how much milk your baby is getting during nursing and offer additional advice, such as ways to help increase your milk supply or deal with blebs or clogged ducts. If needed, they can also recommend additional products specifically for you, such as nipple shields.
There is no other skill where we expect we should have a sudden knowledge and ability, in the way that we do about breastfeeding. No one expects that they will buy a piano (with no prior knowledge) and be able to play a concerto a week later. They don’t feel they have failed when they can’t do it. – Carol Smyth, IBCLC
If you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, read more uplifting words from Carol Smyth on Kellymom. Make sure you have a support system to encourage you at times when it’s not as easy as you thought it might be. And just remember, you are not alone. Breastfeeding is a special bonding experience between mom and baby, but it’s a learning process, and it takes every new mom time to figure it out. Join my free Facebook group for even more support!