Breastfeeding Without Stuff

Breastfeeding mother

If your focus is natural parenting, you might be trying to figure out how to navigate all of the stuff of parenting without letting the material stuff become the focus. How much stuff do you really need to breastfeed successfully? Not much. Really.

The key to keeping your stuff simple is an honest assessment of your needs. Don’t let others tell you what you need. Don’t buy a double electric breast pump, for example, if you are staying home with your baby most of the time.

Last week I was exploring a baby store, and I was just astonished by the breastfeeding aisle in particular. First of all, I want to say that I’m really glad to see so much support for breastfeeding. It should be the norm, and seems to be a realistic choice for most families. That is excellent. Along with widespread practice and publicity come the products. Yes, most of these products were created to support breastfeeding, but most breastfeeding mothers don’t need most of the products. Do you see the twist?

The person I want to hear this is the first-time mother who isn’t sure yet what she needs. The person I really want to reach is me when I was pregnant with my first child. I was so excited, and I let that excitement lead me to the baby store—a lot. I didn’t really know what I would need, so I bought a lot of extras just in case. Then, I left a lot of those extras on shelves, in closets, and in boxes. I wanted to jump into everything babies, and so much of what was available was commercial. I hope just one pre-spree parent reads this and says, “Maybe I’ll wait and see if I need those baby things.” You might need them, but they will probably still be available when you do. If you don’t end up needing them, you’ve saved yourself money and simplified your parenting.

What Do You Really Need for Breastfeeding?

When it comes to any breastfeeding products, make sure you start with a clear understanding of the need you are trying to meet so you don’t get caught up in buying for someone else’s needs. What is the rub? What would fix it? Is the need long term? Could you borrow anything that would fix it? Could you make anything that would fix it? Do you have something already around the house that could be re-purposed to fix it? Don’t go shopping until you are sure that is the only way to meet your need.

Start with good nutrition, and you could be all set. If you are going to stay home with your baby and feed on demand, you don’t really need any extras at all.

Breastfeeding book? Actually, I think this is a really good idea for the first-time parent (not just for mothers), but it isn’t essential if you already have a lot of support to get your questions answered. If you want extra information, how about reading Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding or the LLLI guide The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding? If you have a local parenting group, both of these are the kind of books that could be passed around among group members.

Nursing tea? Some kind of nutritious tea, like nettle, is always a good idea. Whether you need tea that will boost your milk production depends on your milk production. Don’t buy it unless you need it. Then, ask yourself again whether you really need it. If your milk production exceeds your baby’s need, you might find yourself engorged and needing breast comfort supplies. Find the balance and be aware of whether your baby is getting the milk needed for normal growth.

Nipple cream? You probably will need to use some kind of nipple cream at some point, but you may not need it much. Start with a very tiny (sample) size if you can find it. If you find that you get cracked nipples often, it is time to invest in a larger size. Also, ask how you might prevent irritation. Perhaps softer breast pads or nursing bra? Don’t just treat the symptoms, but look for a cure.

Nursing bra? Whether you need a nursing bra depends what you are wearing already and how you will be nursing. Support your breasts. They will be bigger and heavier, so you will probably need a new bra. A nursing bra can make things easier, but it isn’t an absolute necessity. A stretchy bra like Bravado can adjust as your breast size changes. Add at least one to your list unless you really need to keep your budget down.

Nursing shirts? This is one place I over-thought and over-bought. I thought I needed a whole new wardrobe. I didn’t; you don’t. Lifting your shirt works. If you will be breastfeeding in public, and you are modest (remember, not everyone is), having nursing tank tops to wear under your regular clothes can be enough. Start without and see if you need a nursing top. If you do, start simple with a tank.

Absorbent breast pads? You probably will need nursing pads at some point, especially if you are going out. They can be simple, though. If you sew, you can easily make them yourself. What kind of pads you need depends on when and how you need them. Are you away from your baby for 9 hours a day? You need pads—and perhaps a small wet/dry bag to keep them in as you switch during the day. Do you have tight or thin shirts? Look for pads that don’t create a giant boob target look. Thicker isn’t always better. Fiber matters, too. Pads with two different layers of fabric—cotton/wool nursing pads, for example—could be used either way, so they give you more flexibility. Start with a couple of pairs of simple pads and only get more if you find that what you have isn’t working for you.

Soothing breast pads? If you are at home, a nice, cold cabbage leaf will soothe hot, sore breasts. A multi-use rice bag could provide warm comfort. You probably don’t need breast pads that are specifically made for hot and cold relief. Try the simple solutions first to see if they do the job.

Nursing necklace? As they find their hands, babies use nursing time to explore. A nursing necklace can keep the exploration focused—keep their hands from your hair quite so often. Nursing necklaces can be very beautiful, but this isn’t a necessity.

Nursing bracelet or tracker? If you track feeding, you might want to put a small notebook at your main nursing station (where you keep a glass of water and a book). If you move around a lot and nurse on the go, you still might not need a specific tracker. I just remembered which side I was on. Swollen breasts have a way of letting you know which is next. If you find that you just forget and you don’t always sit in the same place, you might want a simple tracker. Does it need to be a bracelet? Probably not.

Nursing pillow? I had one. I didn’t use it for breastfeeding. I used it to prop up the baby when I left her sitting on her own. I had a great chair with cushy arms. You probably will need something to prop up your tired arms while you sit with your baby, but you might already have a pillow or furniture that will do the job. Start with the pillows you have and see if they work. If they don’t, ask yourself not just which nursing pillow is cute or which one your friends like but what you need the pillow to do and which will work best for your specific need.

Nursing covers? This is one thing I’ve never really understood the need for. There are a lot of nursing covers available, though, so this tells me that there are mothers who wanted and even needed these enough that they created covers for themselves and then for others. Try breastfeeding in public and ask yourself if you feel the need to cover up. If you don’t, skip it. If you do, start with a simple cover, like a blanket. Multi-purpose stuff will serve you better in the long run that single-purpose stuff. If you find yourself frustrated with the blanket, maybe you do need a cover. It’s worth waiting to figure it out first with this one.

Breast pumps? Most mothers will leave their babies for at least short periods of time, and some mothers still breastfeed full-time even if they are away from their babies for long periods. Simple hand expression works for some. I didn’t get much milk that way, so I used a hand breast pump for the time I was away from my babies. If you do get a breast pump, make sure it matches your needs.

Storage and bottles? If you are pumping, you need a storage system and bottles to feed your baby with the pumped milk. If you won’t be pumping, you don’t need to worry about this at all. But, consider this: even if you don’t think you will be away at all, it might be a good idea to have an emergency supply of milk in the freezer. Most breastfeeding mothers will want at least a simple, safe system for breastmilk storage.

Hands-free Pumping Bra? If you are pumping a lot—because you work full-time, for example—you might find that you lose a lot of time stuck to your pump. A hands-free pumping bra can free up that time for you. If you aren’t in this situation, you don’t need a special pumping bra.

You want to succeed in breastfeeding your child, giving her or him the needed nutrition and comfort while keeping yourself healthy and happy. You don’t need much in order to do that. You might be able to make do with simple solutions, but don’t keep yourself from finding solutions when you need them. If what you have isn’t working, fill the need, even if it means buying stuff. This caution isn’t meant to tell you never to buy anything but to clarify your needs before you buy—or perhaps to make or borrow before you buy new.

Support this beautiful relationship between you and your baby. If you run into problems, you will almost certainly find that someone else had the same problem, and some clever mother probably created a product to solve it.

Image © Elena Vishnevskaya |

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