How you feed your baby is yet another (needlessly) controversial subject. I say “needlessly” because while breastfeeding has significant proven benefits to your child’s health and development, that your little one receives the nourishment needed to thrive means much more than how that nourishment is delivered.
Whether you breast or bottle feed, there are some resources and products out there that can really make life easier. But, as an expecting first-time parent, how can you know which products are necessary and which products' value is primarily in their ingenious marketing? Whether you breast or bottle feed or both, this article will help you navigate between products you need, products you want, and products you can forget about.
You might be surprised to learn successful breastfeeding often takes more than a baby and a breast. While most women’s bodies do produce milk, breastfeeding can take a lot of trial and error and cause a lot of tears. Sometimes your own. If you are planning to breastfeed, you might read “Breastfeeding Basics for the New Mom.” It has a lot of tips and resources to help make breastfeeding successful and a beautiful bonding experience. Here are some things that may help make your experience the best it can be.
1. Support. For many, breastfeeding can feel anything but natural. Many hospitals have lactation professionals to help you learn to facilitate latching and teach you basic holds. Privately hired lactation consultants, doulas and midwives can also assist. La Leche League is a great organization that is dedicated to providing support and information to breastfeeding mothers. You can also call the National Women's Health and Breastfeeding Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday. You may also find a variety of resources online. Getting help early on can save you weeks of pain and misery.
2. Nursing Bras. Nursing bras are probably the most important clothing item to buy, since they allow you to unclip each cup so you don’t have to take the whole bra off every time you breastfeed. You will want well-fitting, supportive bras as your breasts will become quite heavy with milk. A properly fitting nursing bra will help support your breasts and relieve strain on your shoulders and back. However, avoid a bra that is too constrictive, as such can make you more susceptible to plugged ducts or mastitis. Buying nursing bras ahead of time in preparation for the big day sounds good in theory, but your breasts' cup size can increase dramatically during pregnancy and again when the milk comes in. (I went from a D to an H!) Consequently, you may prefer to buy one or two as you near your delivery date and wait to purchase more until after you are more certain of size.
3. Nursing Pads. Once your milk comes in, you might be surprised to find your breasts leak milk when you least expect it. Nursing pads slipped into your bra can help protect your clothing from showing the signs of those leaks. While leaking is common, not all breasts leak, so you might want to start with just a set or two. We like Bamboodies Nursing Pads. They’re soft, effective and reusable.
4. Breast Pump. If you work outside the home or travel or intend to spend time from baby, pumping allows you to do so while still enabling your child to drink breast milk. Breast pumps can also help get your production up in those early days. The Medela Pump in Style Advanced provides a double breast pump, customizable settings, and the bottles, storage, and accessories you need – all in a carrying backpack or tote. NOTE: Many insurance plans cover breast pumps, so check with your insurer regarding breast pump benefits. You might also consider pumping bras and wearable breast pumps if you wish to have more mobility while pumping.
Once you start pumping, there are some supplies you may need. First, if the pump you select does not include them, you’ll want bottles to attach to the pump and an insulated carrier (discussed under bottle feeding needs) to protect that beautiful milk until it can be refrigerated, frozen, or used. You may also want to invest in steam clean bags, like these from Medela. You simply put all the pump parts and bottles in the bag with a little water and microwave it. They are BPA-free and reusable for up to 20 uses.
5. Upspring Milkscreen Strips. We all know that alcohol and babies don’t mix. But once your baby is born, there may be times when you wish to imbibe. While drinking alcohol is not a “need,” ensuring your baby does not drink alcohol-tainted milk is. UpSpring Milkscreen Strips can help ensure your baby does not get alcohol-tainted milk.
6. 8-14 Burp Cloths. These are must-haves whether you breast or bottle feed. For a list of top burp cloths, click here.
7. Storage Containers. Proper storage is essential for maintaining the safety and quality of expressed breast milk and for the health of the baby. Consequently, there are very specific guidelines when it comes to storing breast milk. (For a breakdown of these guidelines and useful information concerning breast milk storage, check out these articles from the Center for Disease Control and the Mayo Clinic.)
Breast milk, when being stored for more than a few hours, should either be refrigerated or frozen - toward the back, never in the door. How long it keeps depends on the method of storage. For example, freshly expressed milk (not leftover from a bottle) can be stored without refrigeration for up to four hours (so long as room temperature does not exceed 77 degrees F). It keeps in the refrigerator for up to four days. If stored in the freezer, it is best within six months, but can keep up to one year. Thus, you want to purchase storage containers that can be refrigerated, frozen, and offer a means for waterproof recording dates and times.
Additionally, you want to ensure the container has tight-fitting lids to avoid contamination or spillage. (I promise, spillage can make you cry!) You also want to avoid any container made of a BPA-containing plastic. Look out for bottles with the recycle symbol number 7 on them, as such indicates BPA-containing plastic may be involved. Also, never store breast milk in disposable bottle liners or plastic bags that are not intended for storing breast milk.
You can store breast milk in bottles or bags. Bottles are more rigid, more costly, and take up more space. Consequently, I recommend using breast milk storage bags. I used Lansinoh, and found they worked great. They are pre-sterilized for safe storage and are BPA and BPS free. They are also designed to lay flat for fast freezing and thawing, which means they can also be stacked, taking up less space. Additionally, they are sturdy, seal tightly, showed the quantity of milk stored, and allow you to record the date the milk was expressed and stored. For additional breast milk storage container recommendations, click here.
Wants That Make Life Easier or More Comfortable:
1. A Nursing Pillow. Babies are always hungry. Most exclusively breastfed newborns eat every 2-4 hours. Some babies may feed as often as every hour at times (called “cluster feeding.”) While a nursing pillow may seem like an unnecessary item, a good nursing pillow helps support baby on your lap, propping him or her up to reach your nipple more comfortably. The nursing pillow made nursing much easier for me – especially when I was just starting out. While there are countless options, we like My Brest Friend Deluxe nursing pillow because the pillow is flat (so baby stays put), it has back support, silent release, and arm and elbow supports. We recommend you also get 1-2 pillow covers.
2. A Nursing Cover. Breastfeeding is natural and truly beautiful (IMO), but some feel uncomfortable breastfeeding in front of extended family, friends, and/or strangers. Even if you are comfortable generally, sometimes the response of strangers (be they Lookie Lous or just people who choose to verbally criticize) makes covering up more comfortable. Nursing Covers create privacy and can shiled your little one from the elements and distractions. That said, my son wouldn’t eat under one, so you may want to start with a swaddle before buying a cover. For more information on them, check out this article.
3. Nipple Cream. Nursing can hurt, especially if your baby has trouble latching early on. Nipple cream can soothe dry, cracked nipples and yet be safe for your baby. While there are several types of nipple cream on the market, Lansinoh Lanolin Nipple Cream is a good first choice. It’s safe for your little one, hypoallergenic, has no additives and it is effective. Also, if you buy it and end up not needing it for your nipples, you can still use it for other purposes, such as lip moisturizer or cuticle care cream.
4. A Comfortable Chair/Rocking Chair. This is another want that can feel like a need. Nursing (or bottle feeding) can be hard on your body. It is nice to have a comfortable place to sit and nurture your child. We had one in the nursery, the use of which we incorporated into a bedtime routine that lasted into the toddler years.
5. Nursing Clothing. Clothing designed for nursing works similarly to nursing bras - they provide easy access to breasts and make breastfeeding much easier. Nursing tanks, blouses, and dresses designed for breastfeeding women usually have flaps or slits in the front so that you can breastfeed without having to pull up or remove anything. Of course, a button down shirt or lifting up your shirt work just fine - which is why clothing is listed as a want more than a need.
Similar to nursing bras, tight-fitting tops can be uncomfortable and could lead to sore nipples, plugged ducts, or mastitis. Consequently, you want to pay attention to fit.
Looking for some great brands? I bought a lot from HATCH. The quality was amazing and the line more stylish than other brands. (They have great professional and casual maternity clothing as well!) You can also rent "fourth trimester" (and maternity) clothing from Rent the Runway. Nursing tanks were a go-to for me as they can be layered. Some of the top nursing tanks brands are Storq, Kindred Bravely (great for pumping!), Smallshow, and Suiek. Note: This Suiek tank does not have any bra support and may be better for nighttime.
Whether you'll be feeding formula exclusively, combining it with nursing, or using bottles to serve up expressed breast milk, being forearmed with information can help make bottle feeding easier. For a list of bottle feeding do's and don'ts and general information, check out this What to Expect article.
Several items listed used for breastfeeding are also used for bottle feeding. For example, burb cloths, nursing pillows, comfy chairs, and, if you are bottle feeding breast milk, nursing clothing, pumps and pumping products, are just as necessary and desirable with bottle feeding. There are also bottle-specific products that can help make bottle feeding easier.
1. 5-10 Bottles. When selecting bottles, you need to know whether you are going to be primarily bottle or breast feeding. Certain bottles are specifically designed to work in tandem with the breastfeeding experience. Others are better for formula-fed babies, with built-in valves to prevent colic and gassiness. Even then, you will need to experiment. Different babies prefer different shapes, sizes and textures, and it can be hard to know which one will work for you until you actually use it. Note: For newborns, you need four or five-ounce bottles. Once your little one's appetite grows, transition to a larger bottle. Como Tomo was a great brand for us because I breast fed. That bottle's shape and nipple resemble a breast, which allegedly makes it easier for breastfed babies to navigate. Dr. Brown’s is another tried and true favorite. For more information on the best bottles of 2021, read these articles by WhattoExpect.com and RedTricycle.com.
2. 5-10 Nipples. Nipples for baby bottles come in stages, or levels, that are defined by their flow (how fast or slow the milk comes out). Flow is controlled by the size of the hole in the nipple. Newborns usually start with Stage 1 slow flow nipples, which slowly distribute milk as the baby’s mouth compresses. As they get more developed and can manage a faster flow, you will transition to Stage 2 and, later, Stage 3 flows. You will need to experiment a bit to see what shape of a nipple your child favors, so hold off on buying quantity until you know what works.
3. Formula. Choosing which formula to use can be a daunting task. Of course you want the best for your baby, and it seems like there is so much out there to consider. Should the formula be organic? Non-GMO? Corn syrup and maltodextrin-free? Should it contain MFGM (milk fat globule membrane) and/or inositol? Will baby be allergic or adversely react to one or more of the ingredients? Does my baby have special medical needs that need to be factored into a formula decision? Thankfully, choosing your formula is simpler than it may seem if you keep some basics in mind.
First, know your options. There are four general types of formula: cows milk-based, hydrolyzed, soy, and specialized. Cows milk-based formula is made of cow's milk that has been altered to resemble breast milk. It makes up 80% of the formulas out there. Hydrolyzed formulas contain protein that has already been broken down (hydrolyzed) into smaller proteins, which makes for easier digestion. These predigested formulas may be either partially or exclusively hydrolyzed, and are often marketed as “calm” or “gentlease.” According to the Mayo Clinic, hydrolyzed formulas are designed for babies who can’t tolerate cow’s milk-based or soy-based formulas, or for babies who have a protein allergy. Soy formula is made from soy protein and a carbohydrate like glucose or sucrose. They are useful if you intend to exclude animal products from your baby’s diet. They may also be useful if your baby is intolerant to, or allergic to, cow's milk formula or to lactose, a carbohydrate naturally found in cow's milk. Lastly, specialized formula is available for babies with special medical-based dietary needs or preterm babies.
Next, formula comes in three forms: powdered (requiring the addition of water), liquid concentrate (also requiring the addition of water), and ready-to-use (premixed with no additions necessary).
Additionally, there are imported formulas as well as U.S.-based formulas. All infant formulas legally sold in the United States must meet the nutrient standards set by the FDA. Although manufacturers might vary in their formula recipes, the FDA requires that all formulas contain the minimum recommended amount of nutrients that infants need. Some imported formulas, like the European brands HiPP, Holle, and Töpfer, are often illegally imported through third party vendors. These formulas are not approved by the FDA and present certain risks (in addition to illegal import).
Lastly, there are generic or "store" brands and name brands. At least one expert suggests there is no real difference between them, other than cost.
When choosing a formula, talk to your pediatrician. Ask for recommendations. If your baby has allergies or seems to respond negatively to formula, ask about lesser known options. You should also consider accessibility. You want to pick a formula you can readily find and acquire even if you travel. If you can afford it, organic formula is a good choice. Organic formulas should not contain ingredients that are genetically modified and may be less likely to contain traces of herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and growth hormones. Also, most babies should be given a standardized iron-fortified formula. Babies need iron to grow and develop, especially during infancy. In addition, consider whether a formula uses cane sugar (sucrose) to sweeten it, as sucrose could contribute to tooth decay and excess weight gain.
4. An Insulated Bottle Carrier. Insulated bottle carriers help you transport your bottles while keeping them at a safe, desirable temperature. While you can always mix formula on the fly, it is much easier to have prepared bottles when out and about. Consequently, while a bottle carrier might technically be more of a want than a need, a harried parent with a hungry infant would likely argue otherwise. (Pro tip: always keep a bottle or two of water and some pre-measured formula servings in your diaper bag just in case.)
When selecting a carrier, choose a cooler that you put in the freezer, like Packit, or one that will hold an ice pack. The cooler should be well-insulated. An insulated zipper is a bonus. For a list of top bottle carriers, click here.
Wants That Make Life Easier or More Comfortable:
1. Bottle Cleaning Brushes. Even if you toss everything in the dishwasher, you might still want bottle cleaning brushes to help ensure your bottles and nipples are clean. Those nooks and crannies can be hard to get clean without them. For a list of 2021's top bottle cleaning brushes, click here.
2. Drying Racks. You will be doing a lot of bottle washing in your new role as parent. Whether you hand or machine wash, it is important to keep your baby’s feeding gear clean and dry. A good bottle drying rack can help them dry (or finish drying) faster and can keep easy-to-lose pieces in one spot. We used the Boon Lawn Countertop Drying Rack. It is whimsical and functional and works for anything, not just bottles. Moreover, it’s made from BPA-free, phthalate-free and PVC-free materials, and comes in various sizes. Plus, you can order cute accessories in case you need to "branch out" (hee hee). Pro tip: the tray doesn’t drain, so give it a regular check and hand-washing to prevent mold and dirt buildup. For a list of other top bottle drying racks in 2021, click here.
3. Dishwasher Basket. Made of plastic and designed for use in a dishwasher, these baskets have special slots for nipples, bottle caps and rings and help keep the pieces from getting lost. As with most things, you will want one that is BPA-free. Your basket should also have enough holes to allow the cleaning to occur, but holes small enough to avoid small pieces falling out and becoming lost. You will also want one that can accommodate multiple bottle parts, like this one from OXO.
Bottle Gear You Can Live Without:
1. Bottle Warmers. Babies often prefer breast milk or formula to be warm – around body temperature. Breast milk (which should be stored in the fridge or freezer) and formula cannot be heated in the microwave. Although bottle warmers can make the heating process faster and even alert you when the bottle is good to go, you can also warm either breast milk or formula in a pan of hot water. Still interested in bottle warmers? For a list of 2021's finest, click here.
2. Bottle Sterilizers. Bottles, bottle rings (which hold the nipple in place and are part of the bottle), and nipples should be sterilized before their first use. Moreover, the Center for Disease Control recommends sterilizing bottles and parts once a day if your baby is younger than 3 months, was born prematurely or has a weakened immune system. However, most experts suggest they need not be sterilized for subsequent uses. Consequently, the need to sterilize ends long before you quit using bottles. Additionally, to sterilize, you need only submerge the items in boiling water. As such, a fancy sterilizer is not necessary. That said, you might like the convenience of being able to load and run a sterilizer without needing to boil water every time. (This is especially true if you're feeding multiple babies.) Moreover, bottle sterilizers can be handy when if you are staying somewhere without a full kitchen. For more on bottle sterilizers, including brand recommendations, click here.
3. Formula Dispensers. A formula dispenser enables you to take pre-measured portions of powdered formula with you on-the-go. In essence, it reduces the amount of time needed to measure, pour, and mix a formula bottle on the go or in the middle of the night feedings. The user can simply pour the portioned formula into prepared water, mix, and feed the baby. Frankly, you can always pre-measure formula and put it into a storage container. Consequently, a formula dispenser may be something you can live with out. That said, for a list of the best formula dispensers in 2021, click here.
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