Amongst the many many lists of baby equipment strewn across the internet, you’ll find many variations of so-called ‘essentials’. What is essential for one person is obviously not essential for another! I thought perhaps I could help bring some clarity to the subject by listing my favourite essentials for breastfeeding mums. These are based on my midwifery experience with hundreds and hundreds of new mums dealing with daily breastfeeding challenges.
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Hydrating is essential when you are feeding a baby. As some feeds can take up to an hour, it’s definitely worth having a source of water nearby. A water bottle will definitely come in useful as it can go wherever you go in the house to feed the baby!
I like this sort of bottle, which shows how much you should be drinking by a certain time of day. It helps you make sure you are getting the right amount of fluid, not just a glass or two. Fill it up twice a day – morning and lunchtime – and you know you’ve got the minimum 2 litres needed. Fill it up three times and you’re doing brilliantly!
The reality of breastfeeding is not all rose coloured mums and babes smiling in a shaft of sunlight. Sometimes there is soreness, cracks and bleeding. Your nipples have to adjust from being areas treated gently and softly and covered by a protecting bra, to being worked constantly, sucked and stretched and gummed 23.5 hours a day. It is no wonder that they will often get really painful, with cracks or bleeding noticeable.
While you should always get your attachment and positioning checked if you develop sore nipples, sometimes your body just needs to harden them. It’s like a hiker going on a 25-mile walk. If they’ve only walked 800 metres a day before, their feet are going to develop blisters. If they slowly work up to 25 miles each day, the skin on their feet thickens and hardens which makes blisters much rarer.
As a protective and preventative measure, nipple cream can be really useful. I would recommend buying several tubes of it so that you have one in each place you are likely to feed, plus one in your handbag. If you feed downstairs with the cream upstairs, the likelihood is you will forget to head upstairs and apply the cream after the feed. Just one forgotten application can make more difference than you think.
Nipple cream creates a moist barrier which allows the skin to recover and repair any damage. It is great to use because you don’t have to wipe it off before a feed. Lansinoh is one of the more well-known brands, but feel free to try some other brands and compare the results!
Another tip hot off the press from a London mum friend of mine is Vaseline. Apparently, the midwife helping her in the postnatal ward recommended using lashings of the stuff to repair cracked nipples even more quickly than the standard nipple cream does. My friend can testify to the truth of that promise!
There are two things to remember here: first, use a lot of the stuff! Not a thin layer like nipple cream, but a good thick coating is what it takes to work its magic. Also, you will need to remove this before you feed the baby.
So, have a go and let me know what you think! Is this a London secret that I need to start sharing up in the north?!
The wonder of nipple shells is that they work on two fronts. First, they catch all that extra milk that you might find drips from one nipple as you feed from the other. We don’t want to waste such a precious resource, so by catching it we can store it and use it in the future when we need to top baby up or go out for an evening. Try looking at Pinterest for more ideas on uses for breast milk other than feeding babies!
The other wonderful thing about nipple shells is that they lift your shirt or top off your nipple which, as mentioned above, may be a little sore!
You can go even further and use one of these for actively collecting the milk which drips from the free breast during feeding. The vacuum means you are more likely to collect a larger amount of milk, which can be useful for increasing milk supply.
Breast Milk Storage Bags
If you are collecting all that precious breast milk, you are going to need to store it in something. I cannot recommend these storage bags enough. They are strong, just the right size, and enable you to label the date and time the milk was collected! Did you know that the consistency of your milk changes according to the time of day you produced it? It is often thicker in the evenings and overnight, which helps to keep baby settled for longer.
Any breastfeeding mother can tell you the tale of their baby’s first cold. However and whenever it happens, it can have a serious impact on feeding. This is simply because if your baby has a stuffy, blocked nose, he or she struggles to breathe out of their nose as they feed at the breast. Feeds become shorter but almost constant, with lots of breaks and coughing up the precious milk they’ve just managed to drink.
If you are concerned about your baby’s health, please see your GP sooner rather than later. They will be able to reassure you whether it is just a cold which will pass or whether your baby needs more help to recover.
Once your GP has confirmed that the baby has a simple cold, you can help them in ways which are similar to those you would use yourself. You have probably heard of Vicks vapour rub, which can be rubbed onto a child or adult’s back, chest or feet. The unique smell calms coughs and eases congestion.
Snuffle Babe is a similar product made just for babies, so you can be confident using it on your littlest ones.
Another essential for your baby’s first cold is saline drops. They are simply a small bottle of salty water which you can squirt up your baby’s nose. Although you may wonder why you would want to do this, you will find that this flushes out all the snot blocking their nose and helps them to breathe more easily.
If you want to be ‘Wonder Mum’ you can even try a nasal aspirator, which is apparently even more effective! This simple device enables you to literally suck out all the gunk from your baby’s nose. There is a filter between your mouth and the gunk, so you don’t get a nasty surprise! When my mum first told me she had used one of these on me, many decades ago, I was horrified. However, I now understand the clear and urgent need to resolve blocked noses as soon as possible! My poor mum didn’t have the luxury of a filter protecting her from inhaling all my gunk – which goes to show the depths of love mums go to, to ease baby’s discomfort and get some sleep! Thank goodness for some advances in technology!
Nursing Bras / Nursing Tops
The other very essential thing for feeding baby, especially at night or in public, is a proper nursing top. This allows you to access the feeding area without having to completely strip off. Most nursing tops also provide a low but significant level of support which you don’t find in normal cami-style tops. Try searching on Amazon here.
If you have the time and the pennies, you can search the internet and online retailers for many cleverly styled nursing tops. If you don’t have the time or pennies to do so, Pinterest can still offer suggestions for altering your normal cami-tops to make them nursing tops.
The very important note is to not skimp when you buy a nursing bra or two! I’m not offering online links for this as I think it’s important to be seen face to face by a bra-fitting expert who can guide you to the right fit and style for you. In the UK, most department stores offer a face to face bra fitting service, and Bravissimo are brilliant for those who may have a larger cup size. Shop around for choice but don’t skimp on quality!
After a good feed comes a good burp and occasionally some positing. Muslin cloths are great for catching anything the baby brings up. They are also brilliant for putting over your shoulder or knee or arm etc when winding or just holding babies. Use them as a sheet on a makeshift bed and dry your tears when the baby blues arrive. You can even use them to squeeze or bite at that point of pain at the beginning of the feed when baby is pulling your nipple out. You know the one, where you clench your fists and curl your toes? Don’t go anywhere without two or three of these lifesavers!
Have you noticed that your milk will flow at the slightest thing? The power of hormones means even someone else’s baby crying can start your breasts dripping! To avoid rather obviously damp circles on every top you own, make sure you have a good supply of breast pads. They absorb the milk and keep you dry.
The other essential for breastfeeding mums to have on hand is a snack of some kind. You may have a long feed ahead, and you need to keep your strength up. Having a pre-packed snack within reach makes this really simple. If you are super organised you could try to create your own homemade organic superfood snacks, but this is real life, people! Most of us are impressed when we manage a shower by 3pm. Let someone else make your snacks for you! You can turn into that wonder woman a few months down the line if you have the energy!
Pretty bags for storing it all!
With all these essentials to keep handy, it’s definitely worth investing in a small, pretty bag or two. Makeup bags can be the perfect size to hold a few pads, a nipple shell, snacks, and creams and keep them close to you. You could have one bag that moves around the house with you. You could even create a couple of them and keep them in your favourite feeding spots.
Whatever your essentials list holds, just remember you are doing a brilliant job. Be kind to yourself. Have a treat or two. Embrace naps. These early days can be intense but you can do this!