Do you really need a nursing pillow?

In theory

In theory, all you need to breastfeed is, you know, a breast and a baby. But in practice, there are some extras that can make it easier and more comfortable. Some mamas swear by a particular brand of nursing pillow, while others don’t even bother with one. You may find that what works for one baby doesn’t suit another or that your needs change as your baby grows.

Did you know that nursing pillows were originally designed to prop up babies who are not quite ready to sit on their own? They became popular when women started using them to help them nurse.

Nowadays these curved pillows are on many “must-have” checklists. They can sometimes be quite useful. For example, mothers nursing twins may find it helps to use the extra-wide pillows. Being able to lie the twins on each side of the pillow is almost like having an extra arm. Here’s what to keep in mind.

Do you need a nursing pillow?

It’s definitely not required to have a nursing pillow – you can breastfeed effectively using just a regular pillow. But many new moms find the special design and bonuses of nursing pillows to be super useful during the first months. If you don’t plan to breastfeed, a nursing pillow can still be great for making bottle feeding more comfortable too.

When do you need a nursing pillow?

In general, when you’re nursing while sitting, using a cradle, cross-cradle or football hold, a nursing pillow can be a great idea. When you consider how often you breastfeed, every day and night for months, it’s not surprising to hear that not having the proper support can lead to wrist and hand injuries, as well as shoulder and back pain. It’s totally worth taking the time to get the setup right.

When can a nursing pillow be helpful?

Your body type definitely plays a role, and there are some situations where a firmer, thicker nursing pillow can be helpful. If you have a long torso, a thicker U-shaped pillow can help raise the arm that’s holding your baby higher so that you’re not hunching over.

In general, when you’re nursing while sitting, using a cradle, cross-cradle or football hold, a nursing pillow can be a great idea.

Some people like a nursing pillow that comes with an adjustable strap so that they can raise it to the right position on their bodies and this can be helpful if you have larger breasts. If you’re breastfeeding twins, a nursing pillow designed for multiples can be a huge help to get everyone positioned right, often in the football hold.

Nursing pillows can be multipurpose, too: Some parents use them for baby’s tummy time (up until baby is able to roll over on their own), and they’re also handy when your wobbly babe is learning to sit up. Always put a nursing pillow on the floor for these activities, and be sure to supervise your baby.

What are some nursing positions that don’t need a nursing pillow?

Of course, sitting up isn’t your only option for breastfeeding. Reclined nursing, sometimes called biological nurturing, means that you are leaning back in bed or in a reclined chair, with your baby lying, tummy down, on your chest. Gravity will provide most of the support, but you still have to use one hand to support your breast, as needed, and the other hand to support your baby’s thigh or bum. Also, you still need a pillow or two to support your head, shoulders, and arms.

Then there is the side-lying position, which, as the name implies, means that you are lying down on your side, with your baby lying flat on the mattress, close to your breast. Place a pillow under your head and another behind your back so that you can lean against it. A pillow between your knees is often more comfortable for your back, too.

Both of these positions are useful if it hurts to sit up, for those who have had C-sections, perineal tears from delivery, or headaches from epidurals. Your baby may like these positions, too, because they don’t put any pressure on their head or neck. If you have lots of milk or a forceful letdown, lying back or down can help slow the flow so that your baby isn’t spluttering and trying to keep up with swallowing. If your flow is low, these laid-back positions can help your baby get a deeper latch and reduce nipple pain so that you’re able to nurse longer and ensure that your baby gets as much milk as possible.

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