Are breastfeeding pillows unsafe? Should they even be available on the market to purchase? This newborn feeding tool can be extremely helpful. But, it’s important to know what it’s for and what it’s not for. Let’s unpack how to use a nursing pillow and how to know whether a pillow is safe. Plus, successful breastfeeding relies on another important aspect: Mama’s sleep.
Are Breastfeeding Pillows Worth It?
It depends! If you’re not a super coordinated person and you’re having a hard time getting your baby to feed efficiently, a breastfeeding pillow can be helpful.
The most important thing when breastfeeding is the latch. You want to get the latch down as soon as possible so that – fast forward a couple of months – you can just put your baby in the general direction of your breast and they can latch with no issue.
To get to this point you have to put in the time and practice early on.
Whatever breastfeeding position your baby is, their head must be in alignment with their body. You don’t want them:
- Flat on their back with their head turned for feeding
- Feeding in a curled-up C position
- Feeding with their necks flexed
If you’re struggling to keep your baby in alignment (the size of your breasts as well as how big your baby is can also have an effect on this) a breastfeeding pillow can be useful.
The two go-to positions that most nurses and lactation consultants help moms with after they give birth are:
- The Cross Cradle Hold
Tuck your baby into the crook of your arm so that their bottom is at the inside of your elbow and you’re stomach-to-stomach. Your baby’s body will be along the length of your arm. It’s called ‘cross cradle’ because your baby is feeding at the opposite breast – so you are feeding from your left breast, you will be holding your baby with your right arm. “This position also works well for breastfeeding preemies, newborns…You also may want to use this position if your baby does not have strong sucking skills or is having trouble staying latched,” advises Very Well Family.
- The Football Hold
Tuck your newborn underneath your arm like a football while supporting their head. They’ll feed on the same side – so if you’re holding your baby with your right arm, they’ll feed from your right breast. “The ‘football’ position offers some of the best support for latching on to the nipple. It gives you an easy way to position the baby against your breast and a clear view of your baby’s face,” adds Medela.
Both of these breastfeeding positions can be supported by a breastfeeding pillow in those early days postpartum. A breastfeeding pillow can be especially helpful if you had a C-section or if you’re not feeling super strong in your arms to hold up your baby.
How Not To Use A Breastfeeding Pillow
As with all things on the market, you need to read the label. You don’t want to use things for purposes other than what they’re made for.
So, a breastfeeding pillow is not to be used:
- As a newborn lounger. “When babies are left unattended or sleeping on these products, they may roll over or their heads may fall in such a way that can block their airway and lead to suffocation,” says Consumer Reports about the link between infant death and nursing pillows.
- To set your baby on to sleep. “Nursing pillows are great for supporting babies when breastfeeding, but they’re not made to be used as sleep aids. Using a nursing pillow for sleep can be dangerous for them. It’s recommended that babies be placed on their backs, on a firm surface, free of any pillows or soft bedding,” explains WebMD.
- To prop your baby up for bottle feeds.
It is only to be used to support the position of your baby for latching.
Breastfeeding Pillow Recommendation
My all-time favorite breastfeeding pillow that I personally love and use in my office is My Breast Friend. It positions your baby up high enough for effective feedings.
To use a breastfeeding pillow, you’re going to first put it around yourself. Your baby will be at chest height and the pillow will support them.
Another thing I really like about the My Breast Friend pillow is that it is flat. If a breastfeeding pillow is not flat, it can result in the baby curving down on your body. So, look for a pillow that has a nice flat shelf to really support your baby.
Some other pillows on the market have a little slope down. Not only does this make it more difficult to get a good latch and good positioning, but it is also a little bit riskier. If your baby gets sleepy and you’re not paying attention, they can fall down into that hole and end up in a position where their airway is compromised.
The safest breastfeeding position is one that takes protecting baby’s airway into account and keeps their face unobstructed.
When choosing your breastfeeding pillow, get one that’s actually easy to use! You don’t want to spend time struggling to get the thing set up. What To Expect also advises that you opt for one that has a removable and machine-washable slipcover for fuss-free cleaning.
Tip: When you’re breastfeeding and you’re feeling totally exhausted, set an alarm on your phone. I always did that in the newborn days with all of my kids. If I did happen to fall asleep, the alarm would go off to wake me up.
Juggling Breastfeeding Your Baby And Sleep
Every mama’s breastfeeding journey is different. Our society really pushes “breastfeeding at all costs” and “breast is best”. We know that breast milk is excellent for babies. However, there is a whole other piece of this that often isn’t addressed: How to get sleep and breastfeed.
Breastfeeding is not all or nothing – you can breastfeed and get sleep. When I work with moms, I make it a point to prioritize their sleep. I think it’s super helpful if moms can get at least a four-hour cycle of sleep in those early postpartum days so that they can get into one REM cycle. This makes them feel so much better. “Lack of REM sleep can cause memory lapses and make tasks requiring higher cognitive functioning more difficult, leaving you feeling scattered and foggy,” explains Parents.
So, speaking specifically to the breastfeeding pillow, let’s bring it back to sleep. Many mamas are exhausted and need support. To set yourself up to feel empowered in your breastfeeding journey, you can use a nursing pillow. However, don’t forget the other aspects of successful breastfeeding: Your own health and well-being.
You can also add pumping to your breastfeeding journey. By pumping breast milk and building up a store, your partner or another trusted person can bottle-feed your little one. Johns Hopkins Medicine also advises breastfeeding mamas to practice good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding caffeine, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, and not using electronics before bed.
Bringing a newborn home is magical, but also includes challenges and a lot of changes. It’s so important that you don’t feel alone in this. “One of the keys to success during this time is a strong postpartum support network. Think of your network as a web of family, friends, and health care professionals you can depend on, and who you should ask for help. Some can be there for you in person when you need it, and others are just a phone or video call away. Any kind of support – virtual or physical – is crucial,” tells The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Getting your support team together can happen while you’re still pregnant so that you’re as prepared as possible for the fourth trimester.
You absolutely can get sleep and still have a great milk supply, you just have to understand how to manage lactation and how milk supply works.
If you are up all hours at night doing 45-plus minute breastfeeding sessions and your baby still seems hungry, you’re just in a cycle of marathon breastfeeding sessions that exhaust you.
Efficient, effective feeds lead to longer sleep (for you and your baby), and if you feel like your baby is not an efficient effective feeder, then I highly recommend that you add a lactation consultant to your support network.
A lactation consultant can support you in your breastfeeding journey. Combination feeding, how to help your baby latch effectively, how to look after your own health as a breastfeeding woman – you can get help navigating all of this and more with a lactation consultant. Learn more about our lactation consults here.
Babies are simple! You just have to understand the connection between feeding and newborn sleep and how that really affects all things in life, including relationships and motherhood. For three baby sleep tips, download our free guide for effective newborn sleep.