Breastfeeding is generally considered to be the best choice for you and your baby. What's more, you don't have to make up bottles of formula or wash and sterilise feeding equipment every day, and breast milk is free. In fact, some people may argue there is no such thing as breastfeeding 'equipment' and that nature gave you everything you need to do it.
There are, however, lots of products on the market to help you breastfeed, but don't rush out and buy it all in advance if you are on a budget – you could end up spending a fortune on stuff you never use. See how you get on when baby arrives and buy things as and when you need them.
To begin with you are likely to need:
These are front opening bras that allow you to feed your baby easily and discreetly. Look for comfortable, supportive, soft cotton bras with wide shoulder straps and cups that are easy to open and close. Breast size can increase a lot when you begin breastfeeding, so it's worth getting measured by a professional bra fitter during your last month of pregnancy.
Some people never leak milk in between feeds, while some only leak for a couple of days, and others leak milk profusely for months! Everyone is different, so you might want to have some nursing pads put by just in case. Nursing pads stop milk leaking through your clothes and help you avoid any embarrassing incidents.
Nursing pads are available in disposable and reusable varieties. Disposable nursing pads can end up costing you a fortune if you leak a lot. It could be worth your while investing in some washable breast pads that you can use again and again, and you may even find that using a combination of disposable and reusable pads works well for you.
Muslin cloths are likely to be among your best baby buys. You may well use several each day to mop up after your baby. Soft, light and versatile, you can use muslins as burp cloths, for mopping up milk spills during feeding and to cover yourself so you can feed discreetly in public. In fact muslin cloths have so many uses, you might find you have one permanently over your shoulder and wonder how you would ever get by without it.
If you suffer nipple soreness and cracking during the early weeks of breastfeeding, the relief you get from using nipple cream may make the difference between persevering with breastfeeding and giving up. Lansinoh HPA Lanolin cream is completely natural and there is no need to wash it off before each feed.
And here are some optional accessories that may make life easier:
Nursing pillows are crescent-shaped, v-shaped or wrap-around pillows for sitting comfortably and raising baby to the right height for breastfeeding and latch-on. They help prevent back pain, aching shoulders and a sore neck. Some nursing mothers swear by them, while others find them completely useless.
If you think you need a pillow, you may find regular bed pillows or scatter cushions do the job just fine. If you do buy a nursing pillow and you don't get on with it, you could use it as a comfy pillow for sitting up in bed, or for propping up baby when he is learning to sit.
You can use a breast pump to express milk, which is then put in a bottle and fed to your baby. This allows dad to do some of the feeds so that you can have a break, and it gives him more opportunity to bond with the baby. Pumping is also useful for stimulating milk production if your supply is low, or if your breasts become uncomfortably engorged.
You can opt for a manual handheld breast pump, or a more expensive electric pump. If you only want to pump occasionally, a cheaper handheld pump may do the job just fine. For regular pumping several times daily (perhaps you need to go to work), you might find a speedier electric pump is a worthwhile investment. How often you need to pump, or whether you even need to pump at all, depends on your circumstances.
If you give your baby expressed milk from a bottle, you will of course need some bottles with teats. It is important to wash breast pump parts, bottles and teats thoroughly with soapy water and a bottle brush, and sterilise them before use to get rid of bacteria. For sterilising, you can use a cold water steriliser such as Milton, an electric or microwave steam steriliser, or good old fashioned boiling water.
You may want to store your breast milk so that your baby can have it when you're not around. If you are going back to work, you want to have an evening out, or you unexpectedly have to be away from your baby, it is useful to have a supply in the fridge or freezer.
Breast milk can be stored in sterilised airtight glass or plastic containers, or in pre-sterilised plastic bags specially designed for milk storage. Some breast milk bags conveniently allow you to pump directly into the bag so you don't have to pour the milk between containers.
A nipple shield is made from soft silicone with a hole at the tip to allow milk to flow through. Worn during breastfeeding, nipple shields provide relief from sore and cracked nipples, and can be useful if baby has difficulty latching on. However, nipple shields are not intended as a permanent solution – it is worth seeking advice from an experienced lactation consultant to help with persistent breastfeeding problems.
Worn inside your bra, breast shells collect milk that leaks from the opposite breast during breastfeeding or expressing. Breast shells are handy if you leak a lot and get through a lot of nursing pads, and you can add the collected milk to a sterile bottle or suitable breast milk storage container instead of wasting it.
An ounce of milk collected here and there soon adds up to a full feed, but it is important to note that breast shells must be sterilised before use if milk is to be stored.
A nursing cover or shawl is designed to help you breastfeed discreetly in public or at home when you have guests. On the other hand, it could draw more attention to the fact that you are even breastfeeding at all.
You may find a muslin cloth or light blanket draped over you is enough to adequately cover your modesty, but as baby gets older he might keep pulling it off or it could blow away when nursing outside. The advantages of a nursing cover are that you can adjust things underneath the cover more easily, you can see baby during breastfeeding, and baby has plenty of ventilation.
You may find you don't need them, but there is a massive selection of stylish nursing tops, dresses and nightgowns that give you easy access for breastfeeding. Choose from v-neck crossover designs that you can easily open with one hand, double layered fronts that lift open, tops with openings at the sides, buttons that open down the front, and straps that pull down easily for discreet feeding.