Nursing takes up quite a bit of my day, so let me tell you some of the helpful things I have related to the topic:
First, I have a Boppy pillow. This helps hold Caleb in place while he's nursing, and gives my arms a rest. I have tried a My Breast Friend pillow as well, and thought it actually worked better, but really, My Breast Friend? Yeah, I'm not buying that. Rename it, and I might. Or give it to me, because I'm always a sucker for a deal. Anyway, it was nice because it stayed tight against my stomach, where the Boppy will slide away, so Caleb is eventually sitting on my lap. However, the Boppy still keeps his head up and his body turned the right way, so I still like it, and it's handy when others are holding Caleb, too, just to rest their arms. As Caleb has gotten older and we've both gotten more experience under our belts, I can now nurse him without the Boppy, but still choose to when I'm at home.
Next, I have burp cloths. I call them diaper cloths or drop cloths...never burp cloths. I have no idea why, but it's all about the same. Cloth diapers really are the best burp cloths, and I keep one draped over the Boppy to keep it clean. Sometimes I think there's a hole in Caleb's chin for all the milk that gets everywhere.
Nursing bras are very handy. Regular bras are just a lot of hassle when you're trying to get a crying baby fed discreetly. I have one that's padded with underwire and one with no padding or underwire, both from Motherhood. They're okay. The fit isn't that great, but I'm just not willing to spend a lot of money on a bra, which is what I'd have to do for a better fit.
Nursing tops are also good. The only ones I have are tank tops--one black and one white--that I wear under other clothes. I do this especially when I know I'll be nursing in public, because it means that I can lift my shirt up and still have the tank on underneath. There's only one part of me that's uncovered, and it's usually covered by a baby (who handily likes to throw his arm over his face while he eats, so it's even more covered). I also bought a couple cheap and stretchy non-nursing tank tops for the same reason. I just pull them down for feeding, and it keeps my midsection covered.
For the first six weeks, I used a nipple shield. This was recommended to me by the nurses and the lactation consultant to help Caleb latch on better. Not everyone needs this, but I did. However, I think we used it for too long, because Caleb didn't develop a very good latch, and it just prolonged the "breaking in" period for me. Goody.
That brings us to our next product: lanolin. Lanolin helps heal and protect dry, cracked nipples. I had to use it for the first two months, though some people don't need it that long. I recommend the Medela brand, because it's a very good consistency. I have the Lansinoh brand, and it's really gooey and gummy. You're supposed to rub it between your fingers before applying, but the Medela brand doesn't require that.
In the beginning of nursing, most women will leak milk. They'll leak when they're feeding their babies, when their milk lets down, and when it's been awhile between feedings. Some women continue to leak milk until their babies wean. I don't know which one I am (I'm thinking the second group), but here are my reviews/recommendations of three products.
One is Johnson's nursing pads. These are one of the less expensive brands ($7 a box), but they're very comfortable. The pros are 1) very cushy, 2) not a weird shape that looks funny under your shirt. The cons are 1) not individually wrapped, so hard to take with you, 2) not very thin, again hard to take with you, 3) can stick to sore nipples, which just ain't pretty, and 4) can hold in moisture. I had to change my nursing pads every time I nursed, and was going through a box of these a week. Plus I think the constant moisture contributed to my getting thrush. Woohoo.
Clearly I needed to find another way. So I found LilyPadz. LilyPadz are silicone nursing pads. They apply pressure, preventing leaking and thus eliminating the need for something to soak it up. They're reusable (the package says up to two months), so hopefully I'm saving a little money by spending $20 on one pair. I love these! First, they don't require a bra, so I can finally sleep without a bra (and can go get the massage I was given for Christmas!). I can also wear them in the swimming pool in the summer. However, if Caleb skips a feeding (at night), then it's pretty certain that I will leak. But during the day, it works pretty great.
I've been using the LilyPadz for awhile now, and I'm still on the first pair, so that's good! However, I've been thinking that silicone against my skin 24 hours a day for a couple months can't be that great, and a friend gave me her cloth nursing pads she was done with, so I'm trying them out. They've been washed a lot, so they've pilled up, which makes them itchy. But otherwise, they're good. They don't apply pressure like the LilyPadz, so I have to put my arms to my chest whenever I feel my milk let down to prevent leaks, but that's fine. One advantage is that the cloth pads fold right up into the bra when I have to fold it down to feed Caleb. The LilyPadz won't do that, so I have to set them somewhere, which can be awkward out in public. I still wear the LilyPadz at night.
I'm also so glad I have a Medela breast pump. I really don't like being hooked up to a machine for 20 minutes of my life, but seeing the rewards of several ounces of milk in little bottles in my fridge makes it worthwhile. No, wait. Being able to hand a bottle to someone and leave my child for longer than 2 hours makes it worthwhile!
Pumping milk requires storage, and I use First Years Milk Storage Organizer, with a spring at the back to keep the bags of milk upright and pushed forward. It really helps to fill the bags (I use Lansinoh bags, but don't have a particular preference) with milk and lay them flat to freeze, then put them in the container. When I did as the package recommended, and just stuck the bags (unfrozen) in the container, they froze all different shapes and didn't fit as well. EDIT: I ran out of room in the organizer and went to buy another, only to be reminded that it cost over $20! So, I bought an ice cube box for a couple bucks, and it works great!
I can be a bit scatterbrained, and going on little sleep makes things worse, so I'm very glad I found out about MilkBands. MilkBands are silicone bracelets (like the LiveStrong Lance Armstrong bands) that have little markers that slide along minute and hour segments, so I can mark what time Caleb ate last. It also has "left" written on one side, and "right" on the other, so I flip it each time I feed. For those of you who don't know why it would say "left" and "right," and because this blog is about providing information, a nursing mama is supposed to alternate which boob she starts feeding on. That way, the baby empties the right, and then just takes what he needs to fill up on the left. Then, the next feeding, he starts on the left and empties it, which helps keep things even--physically even as well as keeping the milk supply even on both sides by regulating demand.
In order to use the MilkBand to its fullest, it's important to have a watch or clock somewhere. And I have a little flashlight to shine on the clock for the night feedings.
For public feedings, a nursing cover is a must! I tried to go without it once, and ended up with a blanket that wouldn't stay up, and I'm pretty sure more than a few indecent moments. Ever since then I've kept mine handy when we're going out. Teresa made it for me, and it's got terry cloth on the inside, so I don't even need the burp cloth. And when I'm out and about, the fewer things required for feeding, the better!
KarenD gave me a neck pillow, and it has been a huge life saver! At least a neck saver! My neck and shoulder muscles were killing me from feedings where I was too tired to hold my head up, and my chin was ending up on my chest. The neck pillow lets me stay comfortable...sometimes too comfortable! Sometimes I've left the nursery after a late-night feeding rubbing my eyes and wondering, "Did Caleb really take an hour to eat...or did I doze off?"
Other items that are nice to have on hand are a glass of water, a book, pencil and paper, and a phone. Or a computer! Though I've noticed as Caleb gets older that he's more distracted, so I usually can't do something that's too noisy or is a big bright light, like a computer monitor.
Though this list is extensive, don't get overwhelmed! These are just things that help. But really, especially after the "break-in" period has passed and your milk has regulated (which took me about 4 months, most people much faster), all you need is you and the baby! And it really is worth it. I'd go through the pain and frustration again for the sweet bonding experience of nursing.