Sunday, May 17, 2015

Gear Up! Nursing Essentials

Breastfeeding is hard. There, I’ve said it. It’s true. It’s a challenge and it’s not for everyone. No judgement here. I didn’t end up breastfeeding Lil’ O, but have been able to stick it out with Lil’ Chica. It’s different for every mom, every child, every life situation. Part of finding balance is picking our battles. For those determined to give breastfeeding a try, bravo.

If your breastfeeding journey is like mine, and I sincerely hope it’s much easier, you may benefit and find encouragement in gearing up for the task. Through much trial and error, here are the products I’ve found to be essential on my journey. I hope other moms find this useful.

Nursing tank tops – These are simple tanks that include a shelf bra and straps that come undone for easy nursing. They seem like a no-brainer for summer, and are great when you want to wear only a simple tank, but I actually found them to be most crucial in the winter. They’re a great base layer and kept me from baring my stomach to the cold while nursing or pumping. There is a full range out there, but I really liked the Mama two-pack nursing tanks from H&M. They come in a variety of patterns, and, because they come with two together, were the least expensive option that I found.

Nursing bra – When not wearing a tank or simply wanting more support, nursing bras join the arsenal of gear. Shop for something comfortable. Comfort is first and foremost! Once you find the bra that fits, buy it. In every color. My favorite is the Bravado seamless nursing bra, but this is a matter of personal taste. For help, see this article on choosing a nursing bra.

Nursing pads – These are meant to keep leaks in check. Leaking is normal, especially early on, but also the last thing you want to worry about when finally out and about. Nursing pads rescued my piece of mind. If I felt a leak, I could at least know it wasn’t showing through my top while I excused myself or changed plans to go address it. The disposable nursing pads work fine, and I like that it has a plastic back, so there’s no chance of leaking onto clothing, but that same plastic back can create an overly moist environment that’s ripe for bacteria. No thank you! So, I tried lots of reusable options. Here are my notes:
  • Mother-Ease Stay Dry Cloth Nursing Pads – If you only get one type of reusable nursing pads, these are the best all-around contenders in my book. The weave of the fabric can be a little scratchy on already irritated skin, but once you’ve healed, these contour nicely and stay put, both day and night. The stay-dry element is also key, especially for nighttime wear.
  • EPiBi Physician-Designed Washable Nursing Pads – These are my favorite for daytime wear. They wick away any moisture, dry quickly and are antimicrobial and hypoallergenic. I received a sample from my lactation consultant while battling a skin irritation, and I quickly purchased more. Note: The company website is no longer live, so act fast and scoop these up from Amazon if you’re interested.
  • Bamboobies Super-Soft Washable Regular and Overnight Nursing Pads – These are indeed super soft. During the early days/weeks/months when everything hurts, something feeling soft is not to be undervalued. Once past that, though, I didn’t much care for these. If I leaked at all, these had me feel every soggy drop; and, if leaking went beyond the pad, the heart shape was no longer cute. The overnight pads are better, but still don’t have the moisture-wicking element that some of the other pads offer.
  • Medela Bra Pads – Do not buy these! They’re easy to find and I purchased them while pregnant with Lil’ O before doing my research. They work fine, but don’t absorb as well as some of these others. Plus, they don’t wash well, but become scratchy and torturous to wear. Just avoid them and save your money.

Nursing cover – While some babies don’t much care to be covered, these can be helpful if nursing on the go or for covering up while pumping. I’ve also found it useful upon occasion to keep Lil’ Chica focused on nursing instead of being distracted by everything around her. She had a period where even the curtains were fresh entertainment, so blocking her view was helpful. Keeping her covered and focused at home also acted as practice for our first plane ride, during which she basically nursed or slept nonstop, both of which were helped by keeping her covered and snuggled close. I use a basic cover by Baby Au Lait, but there are a plethora of options out there, so find what fits your style.

Breast pump – Pumps can relieve pressure; do the full task, such as when a working mama is away from baby; help increase supply; enable a stockpile of frozen breast milk. It’s an all-star player that you’ll want in your lineup. For those that will be pumping frequently, a double pump is best, so you use that precious time as efficiently as possible. While pumping for Lil’ O, I used the Medela breast pump on the go tote, which made bringing the pump back and forth to work inconspicuous and as convenient as carrying a pump is going to get. This time around, I’ve been using a hospital-grade pump on loan from the hospital as I continue to fight low supply. It’s worth checking if your hospital offers breast pumps on loan so you can weigh the options available to you, and possibly avoid buying your own if that’s the less expensive option and it fits your needs.

Hands-free pump bra – To make pumping easier and more efficient, I highly recommend getting a hands-free pumping bra. It’s essentially a bra with holes cut out to allow for the breast pump phalanges. Super awkward looking, but it enables you to have use of both your hands while pumping. Now, instead of pumping and holding the various pump parts in place, you can use both hands to type, fold laundry or whatever else you need to do. And, if you’re going back to work, and your pumping accommodations allow, a special pumping bra will make it so you can be productive while pumping, possibly even answering emails or taking calls, instead of needing to take breaks. I initially thought this bra was a silly waste of money, but with pumping nonstop for Lil’ O for four months and pumping now for the six months I’ve been back to work since having Lil’ Chica, I’ve gotten more than my money’s worth out of it.

Salve – When breast milk alone won’t cut it, applying a topical moisturizer can help keep tender skin. My lactation consultant recommended coconut oil, which can be purchased at most health foods stores or even in some grocery stores, because it moisturizes and acts as a mild, natural antifungal agent. I also like Earth Mama Angel Baby Nipple Butter, which was recommended by another lactation consultant who shared that it’s better than lanolin, which can actually dry skin.

Hydrogel pads – These are essentially for wound care, but in addition to helping heal cracked and raw skin, they also feel amazing. I’m partial to the Ameda hydrogel pads since that’s what they provided me at the hospital and lasted me for about five days. Since these are to be used when you’re most sensitive, I think they can make a big difference in sticking with breastfeeding.  

Smartphone and/or tablet – Nursing and rocking little ones can take a while and is done at all hours. A smartphone and/or tablet can really help fill that time with something productive like reading a good book, binge watching a TV show or catching up with friends and family by text or on social media. That these devices can be read in the dark and managed with one hand is especially helpful. I especially loved reading on my Kindle and binge-watching Downton Abbey on my iPad.

I expect this list will be different for each mom, so please let me know what other items you found especially useful. And, I send blessings to all the mamas in the trenches taking care of little ones. You’re not alone!

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