By Ali Weatherford

A lot of people cite “free” as one of the great benefits of breastfeeding. In some cases that’s true. You might get started with breastfeeding easily and continue without problems. You also might not leak or have to go back to work until much later after you’ve stopped breastfeeding. If this is how it goes for you, you probably won’t technically need to buy anything.

BUT that’s just not how it goes for most people.

Most people will find that certain supplies are necessary or at least make things easier. For example, you may have very leaky breasts and would like to buy a product to catch the leaks rather than walking around with a towel in your bra or a wet shirt all the time.

If you go back to work and/or need to spend significant amounts of time away from your baby, you’ll likely need a pump so that you can maintain your milk supply and provide bottled breast milk for your baby while you’re gone. That will require several purchases. Or you might just like the convenience of nursing tops or bras.

There are a lot of products related to breastfeeding that you might need or that will make things easier for you. Fortunately, most of the products are one time purchases and you will likely still end up spending much less money than if you were using formula for a year which can end up costing as much as $10,000 when using liquids or some name brand formulas. Using powdered and generic formula brands or using a combination of breast milk and formula means spending half as much or even less which can still add up to several thousand dollars in formula.

You’ve probably seen a lot of lists to help you prepare ahead of time and pack for birth at a hospital or birth center. It’s great to be prepared! You also may have made a registry list, or just a list of baby-related needs like a car seat and diapers.

While it is a good idea to prepare ahead of time for your return home and breastfeeding, everyone’s experience is different, so you may or may not need all the things you’ll see listed below. A great piece of advice is to either wait on those purchases, or keep things in their original packaging and save your receipts! If it turns out that you don’t need it, you won’t be stuck with it. Even if you end up purchasing everything on this list, you will still probably not spend more than $1,000. Remember that pumps and lactation support services are most often covered by insurance.

Breastfeeding Supplies For the Hospital or Birth Center

There is really not much of anything you’ll need immediately following birth while you’re still at the hospital or birth center. Hospitals have very good pumps if you do happen to need one, although it’s rare to need one then. There are a couple of things you might like to have:

  • Sleep nursing bras: These are bras that come in basic sizes (small, medium, large, XL) and are very comfortable to wear even when you’re sleeping. The purpose of these is to give easy access to the breast which is nice especially when you’re first learning. They ALSO give you a place to put a towel or pad if you have leaky breasts. So many people wake up to a soaked mattress before they get this figured out. It can take some time for your breast milk supply to normalize, and until that point, you might have a lot of leaking. Even if you’re not planning to breastfeed, these can come in handy while you’re waiting for the milk supply to go away, so you’ll most likely use these no matter what.
  • Silver nursing cups or gel nipple pads: If you have a lot of discomfort with breastfeeding at first, you might benefit from wearing these. I wouldn’t recommend buying them before you know you need them though. They can be pricey, and a lot of people don’t end up needing them. If you are still at the hospital or birth center and feel like these might be helpful, you can ask someone to shop for you and bring them. They are intended to protect your sore nipples from further discomfort from clothing friction so they can heal more quickly without the added irritation. You might like to continue using these longer, and that is generally safe. Make sure to use them as directed.

At Home and After

There are SO many products out there that can make breastfeeding more comfortable and convenient. Remember, though, that these products aren’t exactly necessary for a lot of people, and everyone’s needs are different. Especially if you’re trying to save money, it’s a good idea to wait and see on some of these purchases. It’s always great to get some gift certificates during baby showers so that you can make these kinds of future purchases without worrying about the cost.

  • Reusable or disposable breast pads: These are pads that fit inside your bra and catch milk leaks. You may have very leaky breasts and continue to need these for many months, or you might just need them for a few days or weeks. You might like to have a combination of both kinds. Reusable breast pads are better for the environment and will likely save you some money. If you’re VERY leaky though, they may not be quite enough. When I was at home, I would use these, but I needed to stack 2 or 3 so I didn’t leak right through. That looked really funny under my clothes, so I didn’t do that when I needed to go out in public. When I left my house, I used the disposable pads because they are thinner and more discreet. They also have a plastic backing so they don’t leak through and get your clothes wet, and often a sticky backing so they don’t slide around.
  • Creams and ointments and balms (oh my!): Some people LOVE a particular product for healing cracked or sore nipples, and others never need them. I always recommend seeing a lactation consultant FIRST! If you have a lot of pain or discomfort, it’s best to figure out the source and get that fixed. Then you hopefully won’t need the products. If you do need them temporarily for healing, there are many good ones out there. Just be sure to use something that is safe for the baby to ingest, since they will be putting their mouth there.
  • Breastfeeding pillow: There are many different designs, and these can be very useful. You can also just use your own pillows or couch cushions to support your elbows and body parts for more comfortable breastfeeding. The breastfeeding pillows are designed to make it a little easier for you and can be very nice to have, if they fit into your budget.
  • Leak catching device: When a baby feeds from one breast and initiates the milk “let down”, that means milk is released from both breasts. The baby will get a mouthful, and your other breast will leak or even spray! You can either use a towel or breast pad to soak that up, OR you can collect it for future bottle feeding. There are products that make that easier for you. The Milkies Milk Saver, the Haakaa Milk Collector, and the Elvie Catch are some examples. They catch and collect the milk from the second breast and make it easy to pour the milk into a storage bag or bottle so you can use it later. Some people actually collect enough milk this way so that they never need to pump.
  • Nursing cover: This is definitely not a necessity, but some people like to have these. There are a lot of different designs, but the general idea is that they make it so that you can easily look down to see your baby breastfeeding, but other people can’t. Some people prefer to just use a baby blanket or scarf. That can sometimes be more discreet because it’s not obvious that the baby is breastfeeding and not just sleeping. A nursing cover can be helpful for you to feel more secure, but also if your baby needs to be screened from distractions. When babies get a little older, they may be very interested in what’s going on around them, especially if they’re in a strange place. A cover can help them stay focused on their meal, and maybe even get in a nap.
  • Nursing bra: Once you’ve been breastfeeding for at least two weeks, you can safely try on and purchase your nursing bras. At that point, your breasts are not as likely to change size and shape dramatically anymore as long as you continue to breastfeed. These bras might be the ones you plan to wear out in public, and can be bigger investments sometimes, ranging in price from $20-70. Again, these are optional, but can make breastfeeding while you’re out and about a lot easier.
  • Nursing tops: If you think you’ll breastfeed on-the-go often or if you just like the convenience for at-home breastfeeding, you might like to purchase some tank tops, shirts, dresses, or pajama tops that are designed with breastfeeding in mind. They make it easy to expose just the necessary part of the breast to feed your baby without having to take everything off or lift everything up. These are optional too! A fun tip if you’re trying to save money is to layer your tops. Wear a tank top under your shirt. When you need to breastfeed, you can just lift up the top layer, and lower the neckline on one side of the tank top to expose the breast. Your belly is still covered! The baby’s head covers the exposed breast, and the other side is still covered by your tops.
  • Bottles: You may need or want to provide bottled milk at some point. Babies will often show a preference for a certain type of bottle or nipple, so be sure that you don’t buy a big supply of one kind before finding that out. You might be able to find a variety pack of bottles so you can test a few, or ask your lactation consultant for recommendations if you’re visiting for another reason.
  • Bottle cleaning supplies: If you’re using bottles and a pump regularly, you can be more efficient with your time if you have the right tools for cleaning the parts. A bottle brush would be the most important, and you might also like to have a special drying rack that makes setting the small pieces up to dry an easier task. It’s important to keep a separate clean area for all of your baby feeding supplies so there is no contamination.
  • Breast pump: If you’ll need to spend significant amounts of time away from your baby and want to continue to provide breast milk, you may need a good breast pump. There are manual breast pumps, electric breast pumps, and lots with special designs for special needs. Choosing the right breast pump for your needs is important, but it’s also very important to choose the right flange size for your comfort and productivity. A lactation consultant can also help you discover the right size if you’re not sure. And remember that breast pumps are most often a covered expense, so check your insurance benefits!
  • Cooler bag: If you’re going to be pumping and storing a lot of milk, it can be handy to have a small cooler bag and reusable ice packs to take with you. You can add your pumped milk to the cooler bag to keep it cool until you can get it to the freezer or fridge.
  • Storage bags or containers: If you’re pumping and storing milk, you’ll need containers to put the milk in! A lot of people use disposable plastic bags that are designed to hold breast milk, but there are also reusable storage container options if you prefer.
  • Hands free pumping bra: Again, if you are going to be pumping regularly, it can be very convenient to have a wearable pump so that you can get other things done while you’re pumping. A good hands free pumping bra is a necessity if this is your goal.

That might seem like a lot, but remember that you may not need or want all of these supplies. It’s good to know that these things are available in case you need them though! You might also be able to find some of these items at online hubs where people post items for sale or for free in your local area. A lot of people purchase bottles, clothing, covers, or other supplies and end up never using them or only using them a few times.