Though breastfeeding is theoretically the most "natural" way to feed a baby, that doesn't mean there's no learning curve involved in getting started, or an absence of little tips, tricks, and products that can make your nursing life a helluva lot easier and more comfortable. There are a lot of breastfeeding essentials that have literally saved my boobs over the two plus years I've been breastfeeding my son, from stuff I actually bought (like those awesome gel packs that are designed to fit inside a nursing bra or around breast pump flanges), to stuff I already had around my house (hello, coconut oil!), to stuff I was actually born with (my hands).
Spoiler alert: my biggest breastfeeding essential? Other breastfeeding and chestfeeding parents. Especially if it's your first time around the nursing block, having other parents to talk to, who know what you're going through, can offer you good advice (as opposed to a lot of the nonsense people may try to tell you about nursing), and who can let you know what's normal versus what's cause for legit concern, is simply priceless. Indeed, if it weren't for my "breast friends" and other nursing parents I've met, I probably wouldn't know about how crucial most of the following are for keeping your boobs in good shape as you go:
Ask any Black lady, or hippie mom of any color, and she'll tell you: coconut oil is magic. You can cook with it, eat it, use it in your hair and on your skin; it does it all. It's also fantastic for soothing sore, cracked nipples, especially for folks who are allergic to lanolin.
Comfortable Nursing Bras
I know some ladies live for the time of day they get to take their bras off, but I personally am horribly uncomfortable without a bra on. I can't lounge around in an underwire, though, so comfy nursing bras that I can wear to sleep are one of the best things since sliced bread, IMHO.
Sexy Nursing Bras
Having supportive yet sexy bras that work well under normal clothes while letting me nurse easily are really important, too. It's nice to glance at them in the mirror and remember that I'm still the sexy woman I was before becoming a mom.
Few things felt as amazing as the sweet, sweet relief of a gel pack in my nursing bra after those tough brand-new breastfeeding sessions. Next to nursing bras, gel packs that you can freeze for sore nipples and warm up when battling plugged ducts, or want to get milk flowing faster while pumping, are definitely the most useful breastfeeding purchase I made.
In addition to helping with milk production, water helps skin deal with all the expanding and shrinking it's trying to do. Good for health and good for vanity.
A Magic Wand
No, not the Harry Potter kind. The other one, the “personal massager” a lot of women use for sexy fun. Don't laugh, but when I asked the moms in one of my online breastfeeding groups for their favorite plugged duct remedies, one mom told the rest of us that she used her Magic Wand to help massage it out. Desperate for relief, I bought one and tried it. She was totally right.
Pump Flanges That Actually Fit
The flanges that come with a breast pump aren't always the right size for everyone's breasts. They definitely weren't for me, so I was very glad to have bought different ones. Having the wrong size is not just uncomfortable, it reduces how much milk you can express. Ain't nobody got time for that.
Hot showers cure nearly everything as far as I'm concerned. They're the best when you're worn out and dealing with sore boobs.
Comfy Tank Tops
Easy access? Check. Comfortable? Check. I own around fifty.
My Own Two Hands
For me, a pump isn't as comfortable as hand expressing milk. Thank goodness for old Left and Right.
A Certified Lactation Consultant
Especially in the beginning, there was no way I'd have been able to continue nursing my son without the help of a certified lactation consultant. She helped me fix his latch, plus gave me some remedies to help heal my angry nipples. Not all heroes wear capes.
My Breast Friends
Thank goodness for breastfeeding support groups, on- and offline. Getting mom-tested tips, tricks, commiseration and company is essential for keeping your boobs (and mind, and heart…) intact while breastfeeding.