Here it is: your totally unqualified, unprofessional, more-than-you-ever-needed-to-know guide to breastfeeding. I should probably include a disclaimer about how I’m not an expert, consult your doctor, blah blah blah but if you’re reading this blog you already know just how much I talk out of my ass and a warning would be redundant. So here’s the list of stuff I wish I had known/bought earlier.

1. Get a large water bottle. Keep it full and nearby when you’re nursing. Try to have someone around who you can yell at to BRING YOU MORE WATER NOW for when even 40 oz isn’t enough to quell your insane thirst.

2. Buy, rent or borrow a breast pump before you have the baby. I seriously spent the first day home from the hospital crying because I couldn’t figure out how to get the milk from my boobs into my child until I remembered I had a pump. I love my simple manual (discontinued) Lansinoh pump, but if you know ahead of time you’re going to be doing a lot of pumping get a fancy electric one. Check out online message boards and read lots of product reviews to find one other moms like. Even if you think there is no way you’re going to want or need a breast pump, at least invest in a cheap manual one. When your milk comes in and your boobs are so swollen you can’t put on a bra without crying and the baby can’t latch because they’re as hard as rocks you will be super glad you have it. Trust.

3. Lanolin is as precious to sore nipples as gold. Sticky, yellow gold. I bought the Lansinoh brand although others have suggested the Medela brand is slightly thinner and easier to spread. It’s especially soothing to put on before you get in the shower. You wouldn’t believe how much drops of water can hurt.

4. If your nipples get REALLY sore, buy some of these: Medela HydroGel Pads. They’re pretty expensive for something disposable but I extended their use by cutting them in half. I’m so clever and thrifty! I read that suggestion in an online review! Seriously though, these pads actually cure sore nipples instead of just cover them up. As an aside, if your nipples are super sore, your latch it probably wrong. But since I’m still working on that myself the only advice I have is to see a lactation consultant.

5. This next subject is a topic highly debated among moms both online and in real life. Never have I seen so many women debate an issue so passionately and with such strong opinions. What is it, you ask? Vaccines? Home births? Circumcision? No my friends, it’s the Boppy pillow. Personally, I love mine but I’m learning not to be tied to it. For the first few days I absolutely refused to even TRY nursing without my Boppy. How could I nurse without a Boppy?! This isn’t Communist Russia! Now that I’ve calmed down I prefer to mix up the routine. A couple regular pillows work great especially if you want to try different positions.I’ve noticed I tend to start slumping if I use the Boppy too many times in a row but it’s a real lifesaver when I nurse in the glider or propped up in bed. So I declare myself firmly in the pro-Boppy camp – although I would suggest checking with your mom friends to see if you can get one second hand. There are other types of pillows too, including one actually CALLED “My Breast Friend” but I haven’t ever seen one used in real life.

6. Buy the big thick supersized nursing pads. At my baby shower, a friend gave me 5 boxes of Gerber ultra-thin pads. I’ve used them all up already, sometimes going through a dozen pairs a day. They were pretty much the equivalent of the little Dutch boy trying to hold back the water from the dam with his finger. My reusable cotton pads are ok but way too puffy to wear under summer clothes. I’ve recently switched to Johnson’s nursing pads during the day (complete with a fake nipple that shows through thin bras and shirts) and Lilypadz at night. Lilypadz are slightly sticky plastic covers that hold your nipple in to prevent let-down, which is when most of the leaking/squirting takes place. I use them at night because the absorbent pads fail to absorb anything when I roll onto my side and they get pushed off my boob. Nothing is grosser than waking up covered in cold, damp, souring milk. $22 is a small price to pay for 6 dry hours a night.

7. Keep lots of elastics, headbands, or alligator clips around to keep your hair out of the way while nursing. I keep clips on the nightstand, in the nursery, in a basket under the coffee table and in my purse. I found it really distracting to keep pushing my hair out of the way while trying to focus on getting the latch right. Plus Baby Evan just figured out how to pull mine and his sticky little fingers are about two weeks away from ripping it out in clumps.

8. My baby books said you only needed two nursing bras but that’s crap unless you plan to do several loads of laundry a day. I have eight, seven of which I wear and two of which I really actually like. The total dud is an incredibly itchy lace bra with only two hooks in the back (Right, like these puppies can be held back with TWO HOOKS. See “little Dutch boy” analogy above).  The two best ones were $16 Gillian & O’Malley bras from Target, who also sells a really nice nursing tank with good coverage and a lot of stretch.

9. Plan on getting milk or regurgitated milk all over yourself for at least a few months. There’s really nothing you can do except wear washable materials, keep a lot of Febreeze around and stock up on burp cloths (aka old fashioned cloth diapers available at Walmart).

10. I’ve said this before but I would have quit breastfeeding all together without my nipple shield. Some hospitals hand them out at the first sign of latching trouble. Lactation consultants generally dislike them. It may affect your milk production and cause problems with the baby’s weight gain. It’s also kind of a pain to drag around and keep clean. But for ME, it was a lifesaver.

11. Hot or cold compresses are absolutely vital when you’re engorged or if you get a plugged duct. I bought reusable ones at Target that can be used either way. I actually walked around with them stuffed in my bra during the early days – hot before each feeding to get the milk flowing and then cold afterwards to reduce the swelling.

12. Things I haven’t used: my cute nursing cover and most of my nursing-specific clothes. This is mostly due to the fact that I do all my breastfeeding in my own house and anyone here at the time can look away if they don’t like it. We’re talking about taking a day trip up to Boston in a few weeks so they might come in handy then – but I feel like I’m about two support group meetings away from becoming the kind of woman who just whips her boob out wherever and dares people to call it gross.

And for my pregnant and new-mom friends or blog readers, please let me know if you have questions. All the classes and professionals tell you breastfeeding is this totally natural, easy thing but I haven’t talked to ANYONE who got the hang of it without trouble. Even the online advice sites are full of “Your problems are imaginary! There is no excuse for failing!!!” type help. Sometimes just having a fellow mom to talk to about it can be a huge help, even if I don’t have fancy business cards or a certification.

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