Breastfeeding essentials

7 min read

From nursing pads to maternity bras and breastfeeding pillows – we go through what products you may want to get ready before the birth and how to get prepared for breastfeeding.

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There’s a wealth of things available that can make life easier when you’re getting started with breastfeeding, both in the very early days after you’ve given birth and later on when you feel ready to venture out with your baby.

Breastfeeding comfortably

Here’s a list of things that a lot of new mums find useful in the early weeks of breastfeeding, which may help you get into a comfortable feeding routine.

Breastfeeding pillow

A large, u-shaped pillow to rest your arms and baby on when feeding can come in very handy during long feeding sessions. (As a bonus, it can double up as a really comfortable support when sleeping in the third trimester of pregnancy; put it behind your back or between your knees.)

Reusable or disposable nursing pads

Not all mums leak milk, but if you do, you’re most likely to leak most in the early weeks after the birth, before your milk supply regulates. 

Nipple cream

Some women find a specific cream really helps with sore nipples, while others swear by just letting their nipples air with breastmilk on after feeding.

Bedside cot

Most newborns feed many times in the night, and if you’re breastfeeding you’ll likely be doing most or all of the night feeds. A lot of new mums find having their baby sleeping next to them in a bedside cot is the best way to get some much-needed rest between feeding

Breast pump

Expressing milk with an electric or manual breast pump can be handy if you want your baby to have the benefits of your breast milk even when you’re not there to feed them.

Muslin cloths

For burping your baby, wiping up sick, cleaning up food that you spill on your baby’s head… You name it, there are endless uses for muslins, towels or washcloths.

Remember to pop some breast pads and breastfeeding-friendly clothes in your hospital bag ready for the birth.

Your breastfeeding corner

Breastfeeding a newborn is hard work and it takes a lot of time. Having a dedicated breastfeeding area set up for long hours of nursing in your home can be a lifesaver, especially when you’re feeding your baby through a growth spurt (and there are many growth spurts!). Useful things to have within reach of where you’re sitting include:

  • Large cups/bottles of water (breastfeeding thirst is a thirst like no other)
  • Snacks
  • Books or magazines
  • Remote control for the TV
  • Phone and phone charger
  • Muslins or burp cloths
  • Breastfeeding pillow (or any other cushions to support your baby).

Breastfeeding clothes

Having outfits and bras that allow easy access for feeding, but still suit your style, can make you feel a lot more comfortable when breastfeeding your baby.

A lot of maternity clothes also double up as breastfeeding clothes, but after a long pregnancy you may want to wear something that isn’t designed to fit a bump! And while there are clothes designed especially for breastfeeding, for example with underarm zips, they can be more expensive and offer fewer options than high street clothes.

The good thing is that a surprising number of regular clothes can be used when breastfeeding, with just little tweaks allowing easy access when your baby needs a feed. Chances are you already have items in your wardrobe that you can use. Here are some tips on what to wear when breastfeeding:

  • Buttons or zips down the front: whether on dresses, shirts or tops, look for an outfit with front openings. A word of caution though: your baby will learn to pull down a zip in no time (accessing milk is the perfect motivation to develop fine motor skills!).
  • Layers: wear a strappy vest under a second top, so that you can pull the bottom layer down below your breast and lift the other layer up to feed without feeling like you’re exposing your whole torso in public.
  • Wrap dresses or tops: one of the simplest outfits for breastfeeding, pull just one section of your top out of the way. Especially quick if it’s elasticated.

Nursing bras

Nursing bras come with hook-and-eye fastenings that you can undo to pull down the cup when feeding. It’s important that the bra isn’t too tight or putting pressure on your breasts, as that can increase your chances of getting blocked ducts or mastitis.

  • Wireless maternity bras: an especially good choice in the first month or two after your baby’s born, as your breasts may change size and that’s when you’re at the highest risk of blocked ducts.
  • Underwired maternity bras: make extra sure that you’re wearing the right size and that the wire sits against your chest – not your breast tissue.
  • Sports bras: check that they’re not too tight and avoid wearing them for long periods of time.

Bear in mind that breasts often change cup size after your milk has come in after the birth, so you might want to hold off buying too many new bras while you’re still pregnant.

Breastfeeding out and about

While taking the time to rest, recover and get to know your new baby after the birth is really important, before you know it you’ll be itching to go outside. There are a few things to know that can make breastfeeding out of the home easier.

Breastfeeding in public

Wherever you are in the UK, you have the right to breastfeed anywhere, however young or old your child is. For example, if you choose to breastfeed in a café, the staff aren’t allowed to refuse you service, ask you to stop breastfeeding or tell you to go to the toilet to feed your baby.

You also have no duty whatsoever to cover up for the sake of others when you’re breastfeeding in public. However, some mums feel more comfortable using a nursing cover when out and about. If you feel that way, you can either use a muslin cloth or a specifically designed breastfeeding shawl.

Getting around with your baby

Once you and your baby get the hang of breastfeeding, you may find a convenient way to get around is to wear them facing you in a sling or carrier on your chest. That way, you can simply lower the sling or carrier on one side, making breastfeeding on the go a lot easier.

Which? has reviewed the most popular carriers and slings, so you can find the one that’s best for you and your baby.

It’s also a good idea to put a couple of extra breast pads, muslin cloths and a spare top in your changing bag when you head out, so you’re prepared in case of extra leaks or your baby being sick after feeds.

Preparing for breastfeeding

While you won’t know until your baby’s born what breastfeeding is really like, there are things you can do while you’re still pregnant to try to be as prepared as possible.

Antenatal classes and breastfeeding meetings

Many antenatal classes go through how to get started with breastfeeding, from latching and positioning your baby, to how to feed responsively. You can contact course providers before you sign up to one, to find out how they cover infant feeding.

Some course providers, such as La Leche League, run more in-depth antenatal workshops specifically about breastfeeding. La Leche League also has support group meetings that you’re welcome to attend during pregnancy, where you can get valuable advice and insight from experienced breastfeeding mums.

Support from your midwife and hospital

You can ask your midwife any questions you have about breastfeeding at your antenatal appointments, and your midwife may also know of local breastfeeding support groups or baby cafés that you can go to with your newborn.

If you’re still deciding where to give birth, it can be a good idea to compare how supportive your local maternity units are of new mums wanting to breastfeed. Look up a hospital or birth centre by using our Birth Choice tool and check out their ‘Baby Friendly’ status to see how much support you can expect.

Books and online groups

Many books go into the physiology of breastfeeding in more depth than classes, and they can also provide a lot of advice on what to do if you’re having trouble breastfeeding. Ask your midwife for book recommendations if this is something you think sounds useful.

If you don’t have a lot of breastfeeding mums local to you, you may also find it helpful to join some of the online breastfeeding groups on social media, where thousands of women can advise, support and cheer you on as you get to grips with breastfeeding.

More from Which?

  • How to budget for having a baby: Getting to grips with your family finances during pregnancy will give you peace of mind as the due date approaches.
  • Breastfeeding support: From midwives to lactation consultants – find out where to get help if you’re struggling with breastfeeding.
  • What’s in your baby wipes? We’ve compared the ingredients in all the top brands of baby wipes so you know exactly what’s going on your baby’s skin.
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