The Breastfeeding Essentials You Need as a Nursing Mama

Last Updated: March 18, 2024
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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If you know me, you know I’m super passionate about helping pregnant mamas prepare for birth AND postpartum. And with that comes breastfeeding! As a second time breastfeeding mom, I’ve got my personal list of breastfeeding essentials down pat.

I’ve already shared a lot of this over on Instagram in my Bedside Items highlight, but I wanted to create a reference with all the details here, too.

Because the truth is, having the right breastfeeding supplies at the ready – before baby comes home – can really help!

Things like the proper pillow support, creams for when things get painful, and even the right breastfeeding night light can make all the difference.

So, whether your due date is around the corner or you’re already in the throes of nursing your babe, here are the breastfeeding essentials that will make your journey just a little bit easier.

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Why do I need breastfeeding supplies?

Okay, so you wouldn’t be the only mama out there that’s kind of scratching their head at the word “supplies”. I mean, don’t you just put baby to the boob and they eat?

If only it were that simple.

Yes, there are some mamas that successfully breastfeed without anything more than their sleeping pillows for support. But for the rest of us, breastfeeding comes with a lot of obstacles and even some pain.

Breastfeeding essentials will make things easier

Don’t forget that you’ll eventually be away from baby at some point (whether that’s when you go back to work or otherwise) so if you want to continue to breastfeed then, you’ll have to pump. And not surprisingly, there’s a lot of gear involved there.

So, while it is POSSIBLE to breastfeed without the items on this list (or anything for that matter), I know my experience was a whole lot easier and more comfortable with these essentials at the ready.

10 Breastfeeding essentials for every nursing mama

1. A Back Support Pillow

Sometimes these are called boyfriend pillows or husband pillows. They basically create a little armchair right on your bed which is PERFECT for nursing (especially in the middle of the night). My back support pillow is essential because I like to nurse my babies right in bed when they wake up at the night.

This provides the back support you need to feel comfortable and get baby in the right position for a good latch. So yeah, back support pillow for the win!

2. A Nursing Pillow (like the Boppy)

Okay so the first tip is for YOUR positioning, and this pillow is for positioning baby. I happen to have and use both the Boppy and My Brest Friend pillow. For me, both have their pros and cons.

A lot of mamas agree that My Brest Friend is especially good when you have a tiny newborn, because it really closes the gap between you and baby. I’d also say it fits a variety of body types a bit better.

But, if you’re only going to get one, the Boppy does feel more universal to me. You can use it through the first year of breastfeeding, and it’s more multi-functional! When you’re not using it to nurse, it can be used as a little infant lounger to prop baby up (when they’re awake and under a watchful eye, of course).

If you have to pick just one

So bottom line? If you’re only getting one, go for the Boppy! If you can get both, I love My Brest Friend for the first month or two.

Bonus tip – if you have a house with two floors get yourself two Boppys mama! So nice to NOT have to lug that thing between two floors along with everything else. I love to leave one hanging out in the living room and one in my bedroom.

Bonus, bonus – bring your nursing pillow with your hospital bag! So nice to learn right from the start with a nursing pillow. It makes positioning baby so much easier.

3. A Breastfeeding Night Light

For middle of the night feeds you’re going to need a bit of light. Usually when baby wakes up you will change their diaper if they have a poop and then get situated for feeding. In the beginning, baby often needs a bit of help and support to get their latch right.

You’re going to need a bit of light for this, but you don’t want to turn on a bright overhead light (or even lamp). Keeping the room darkened is key for helping baby sort out their days and nights and promote newborn sleep.

Insert my favorite, touch to turn on, dimmable, night light! It also has different color settings. The JolyWell baby light is where it’s at! It’s a gem in my nighttime changing/feeding routine.

4. Breastfeeding education

As you prepare to breastfeed and gather your breastfeeding essentials, I have to encourage you to invest in some breastfeeding education! Like I said in the beginning, breastfeeding isn’t as easy as so many of us expect, there is a steep learning curve involved.

What’s more, if you’d got a good understanding of things like latch and how supply works before you start, things may feel easier and your transition to breastfeeding might be easier!

Breastfeeding education made a difference for me

I 100% attribute the fact that breastfeeding my second has been more successful because of all the breastfeeding education and know-how I’ve acquired after my first. Troubleshooting in real time can be a lot more challenging.

Milkology is an online breastfeeding course that covers everything you need to know in a self-paced, virtual format. It’s priced low (just $29!) because she wants to get breastfeeding education out there to as many mama as possible. It’s PERFECT for pregnant women hoping to breastfeed. Can’t recommend it enough!

5. Nipple Cream

Mama, your nips are gonna hurt. Sorry if I’m the first to let you know. Because even if you’re doing everything right, their usually is some degree of nipple pain in the beginning. The good news is, nipple cream can really help!

My all-time favorite is Motherlove, and I’ve tried a lot of different nipple creams. Bonus tip: if you don’t use the whole jar it makes a great lip balm!

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6. Breast Pads

Leaky boobs are one of the unfortunate side effects as a nursing mom. And when your milk first comes in it can be especially pronounced. I don’t know about you, but smelling like sour milk is not my favorite.

Inserting reusable breast pads, especially overnight, can help absorb leaking milk. This way, you only have to switch out your breast pad and keep wearing those same comfy clothes for a few days at a time, hah.

Some breastfeeding women leak more than others. I usually only use these during the night, but I know lots of mamas who wear them every day to keep leaky boobs under control. Either way, grab a set to have on hand and then see if you feel like you could use a few more.

7. The Haakaa

The Haakaa is a super simple, handheld breast pump that is so dang helpful and versatile

  • It can be used to take the edge off engorgement without signaling your body to make a ton more milk (like pumping can)
  • It’s great for middle of the night breast pain when baby slept longer than usually and you feel like your boobs might explode (but don’t wanna do a full pump)
  • You can use it to help relieve a clogged milk duct by filling your Haakaa with warm water and Epsom Salt
  • The Haakaa will catch the letdown on the opposite boob while nursing baby
  • It can even be used to complete a full pumping session if you’re in a pinch and can’t use your electric pump for some reason

Basically, I freaking love the Haakaa. It’s the handiest little breast pump and I think all mamas can benefit from having one!

8. The right breast pump for your lifestyle

Aside from the handy dandy Haakaa, all nursing mamas need to have an electric pump in their lives. Pumps are essential is you every plan to be away from baby, but also as a safety net in case you’re ever forced to be away from baby.

You see, if baby doesn’t extract milk regularly you will be at risk for things like engorgement, clogged ducts, and even a full blow breast infection known as mastitis.

Extracting milk is important if you plan to feed baby milk while you’re away, but it’s equally as important to keep yourself comfortable and safe!

Breast pumps are covered under insurance

The good news is, in the United States, your health insurance company has to fully cover or reimburse you the cost of a double electric breast pump. Often, they have 1-3 pump stha you can choose from and they are sent directly. But usually, you can opt for a different pump that they offer and have the cost reimbursed.

What I recommend to all the mamas in my free pregnancy series, is to go ahead and call your insurance company directly. Talk to a representative directly and get the low down on how to acquire your free pump. Find out about limitations and exceptions. This will help you get the pump you really want!

Selecting the right pump

Which brings me to my next point – I think a lot of first-time moms (me included!) just kind of accept the breast pump their insurance sends them. And you know what, ignorance is bliss, hah. I had a Spectra with my first baby, and honestly, it was totally fine!

But this second time around, I set out to try as many pumps as possible! And to my surprise there is a LOT of difference between them. Mama, there’s a good chance you will be spending a lot of time with your pump. For this reason, I recommend doing a little digging and research ahead of time so that you can select a pump that will be a good fit for you.

Here’s a quick list of some I’ve tried, with full reviews linked for your convenience:

  • Willow Breast Pump: This is a hands-free, tube-free, completely wearable breast pump. I love that this pump is just two self-contained units and how effective it is! The major cons here are cost and the fact that it’s usually not fully covered by insurance because it’s more of a specialty pump. I suspect more companies will cover it in the future!
  • Elvie Breast Pump: This is ALSO a hands-free, tube-free, totally wearable pump. And the good news is that far more insurance companies actually cover this one in full. The con here is that it’s just not quite as good as the Willow in my opinion, but if it’s covered – it’s still a solid pump. Especially if a wearable pump is a must for you!
  • Motif Luna Breast Pump: In terms of traditional style, double-electric breast pumps, the Motif Luna is hands down my top pick! It’s so quiet, and has a hospital-grade motor for maximum effectiveness. I can’t say enough good things about this solid pump. I like it much better than the Spectra and Medela!
  • Spectra Breast Pump: Spectra is a household name in the world of pumping, and there’s really nothing wrong with this pump. I refer to it as my old faithful. The only major con here is that it does personally take me a bit longer to pump with the Spectra than the Motif. It’s just not quite as efficient. But if this is all your insurance company will cover, girl, you’re still in good hands!
  • Medela Breast Pump: The Medela is another solid option. In terms of output, I yield just as much with this pump, and I actually like the simulation a little better. But, if I was ranking all of these pumps, it’s probably my least favorite. But that’s mostly because it lacks in features. It doesn’t have a timer, it’s pretty loud, there’s no light for pumping in the dark, and there are a lot more parts to clean!

Along with your pump don’t forget to grab accessories like breast milk storage bags, a drying rack for your pump parts, a pump bag if you’re heading back to work, and bottles!

You can find a more complete and detailed list of these kinds of things in my article, Bottle Feeding Essentials.

9. Nursing bras and other nursing wear

best breastfeeding outfit infographic

Having a few good nursing bras and other nursing clothing can make your experience a lot more comfortable and convenient.

Nursing bras provide good support to your boobs and make nipple access way easier. Usually, they are wire-free and are designed not to dig-in and potentially cause a clogged duct.

For me, nursing bras, nighttime nursing bras, nursing tanks, and a couple of nursing/pumping friendly shirts are a must. Kindred Bravely and Larken are two brands with a wide selection that I love!

10. Your final breastfeeding essential: Lots of support!

Breastfeeding is challenging. It’s really that simple. Deciding the breastfeed is a wonderful choice, but for most, it takes a lot of perseverance and determination to make it work. And for some it might not work out, and that’s okay!

One thing you can do as you gather your breastfeeding essentials, is line up support! The more you learn ahead of time and better support systems you have in place, the better off you’ll be.

Breastfeeding comes with a steep learning curve, but you can get ahead of it by including education and support in your breastfeeding essentials.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Take a breastfeeding class geared for expecting mothers to get a leg up on how it all works – I know I mentioned this in the education section, but having your class as a reference will be a support lifeline, too!
  • Learn about breastfeeding/new mom support groups in your area
  • Look up your local La Leche League Chapter
  • Ask about lactation support that will be available after birth
  • Find out if your pediatrician has a lactation consultant on staff
  • Check if your hospital has drop-in lactation support hours
  • Talk with breastfeeding mothers in your life
  • Read as much as you can about breastfeeding before giving birth, the Mommy Labor Nurse blog is a great place to start!

Gather it all into a breastfeeding basket

breastfeeding essentials infographic

One thing I LOVE to tell pregnant and new breastfeeding mamas: create a little breastfeeding basket with all your essentials to carry with you around the house.

It’s so much easier when everything is all in one place at all times. My breastfeeding basket includes a lot of the essentials I just shared on this list…but here’s a complete checklist:

  • Water (I love ICE COLD water when I’m nursing, so an insulated water bottle is perfect for this)
  • Snacks (THE HUNGER IS REAL!)
  • Breast pads
  • Nipple cream
  • Haaka (to catch the letdown on the other side! Waste no breastmilk, mama)
  • Burp cloths
  • LaVie breast massager (this is so helpful for stimulating a letdown – especially for inpatient babies and while you’re pumping!)
  • TV remote
  • Chapstick (though, nipple cream totally makes a good lip balm in a pinch)
  • Nail clippers (If you know, you know! Those baby nails are sharp)

All your breastfeeding essentials, in one place

Mama, I’m so excited for your breastfeeding journey. Some of my best memories with both my boys involve nursing. But just remember, if things don’t go exactly as planned, it’s going to be okay.

Breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone and that doesn’t make you any less of a mom. In the end, you need to do what’s best for you to be the best mom possible.

Breastfeeding shouldn’t define you or steal joy for your experience as a mother, please remember to always put your mental health first!

Happy breastfeeding!

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Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

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