When you give birth to your baby, you’re going to quickly find out that feedings happen around the clock. Newborns can eat every two to four hours, and sometimes when they’re cluster feeding, as often as every hour. While it’s totally satisfying to see your little one plump up, you still need to keep your own comfort as a priority when you’re breastfeeding. And if you don’t have a nursing pillow (or if it’s in the laundry because Baby spit up all over it during the previous feeding), you’ll need to know if you can use a regular pillow for breastfeeding your baby. The good news is that yes, you can, but you need to know how first before your baby’s next feeding.
What is a nursing pillow?
Cruise down the baby aisle in any super store and you’re sure to see a number of nursing pillows — and with good reason, since nursing pillows can greatly help you and Baby feel safe and secure during feedings. “A nursing pillow is a firm pillow used to help position your baby at the level of your breast,” Sarah Schooler, RN, MSN, IBCLC, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and founder of Thrive Lactation Center tells Celebrity Parents. “Depending on what positions you are holding your baby in, you may turn or angle the pillow to fit your needs.” Most nursing pillows fit around your waist and are designed at a specific height so that your newborn can easily nurse without you having to hunch over.
“Let’s be honest: all you really need to successfully breastfeed is a breast and a baby,” she adds. “However, they can be very helpful in helping keep your body in a comfortable upright position and minimize hunching over. They also help keep Baby’s weight off of your abdomen should you be tender after delivery.”
Does a nursing pillow help?
Nursing pillows can definitely make breastfeeding easier. Since they are somewhat sturdier than a traditional bed pillow, they are able to support the weight of your baby without caving in, which could cause your child to not be able to latch as well. “In my experience, especially with your first baby a nursing pillow is definitely worth it,” Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC, a Brooklyn-based lactation consultant explains. “Once you find a comfortable position, confidence in your nursing and feeding skills will drastically increase.”
“Pillows are very helpful especially early on when you are doing upright or seated breastfeeding positions, such as cross cradle and football, at the breast,” adds LaShanda Dandrich, IBCLC, an international board-certified lactation consultant and co-founder of Uptown Village Cooperative. “They help support the baby’s body AND give you support. Because even though babies are tiny. they get heavy when having to hold them during feedings, which can take 20 minutes to 40 minutes on average.” After all, you should be able to relax your neck and shoulders and still feel that the baby is supported well at the breast. Plus, nursing pillows can be particularly helpful if you’re experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome, according to Dandrich, who adds that using wrist braces while feeding can help alleviate some of the pain.
While a nursing pillow can be beneficial, it’s not without its own set of concerns. “Nursing pillows are actually quite controversial in the lactation community. Some lactation consultants are totally against them, but then there are plenty of parents who say they couldn’t have breastfed without them,” Katie Clark, IBCLC, a certified lactation educator adds. “I think that they can be a tool, though I believe it’s important to understand different positions and how to hold your breastfed baby for a deep latch. It’s easy to become reliant on a pillow and then feel like you can’t nurse anywhere else!”
Can you use a regular pillow to breastfeed your baby?
It never fails. Your baby is on the nursing pillow during a feeding session — and has a major diaper blowout. But before you have time to toss the pillow into the washing machine, they’re hungry again. So what do you do if you don’t have a nursing pillow ready (and clean) before Baby’s next feed? Well, all the experts agree that you can simply grab a pillow from your bed to replace the nursing pillow. “As cute those pillows in the store are, they are not necessarily needed,” says Dandrich, who recommends using the hospital pillows to nurse your baby after birth. “In the first hours, days, and weeks of breastfeeding, using regular bed pillows is more effective. You may still have a tummy after giving birth and regular bed pillows will conform to your body more comfortably and keeps baby close for better latching.”
But what about when Baby comes home? Your own pillows can be perfect for feeding. “Sometimes I think regular pillows can be more beneficial because you put them under your arm or behind your back, or you can manipulate them a little more to help with positioning,” says Clark. “However, all pillows are different. As with nursing pillows, I think it’s best to figure out how to nurse without pillows, so you don’t feel like you always have to rely on them.”
To successfully feed your baby with a regular pillow, there are some things you need to consider. “The key is to support baby’s hips and butt on one side and your elbow on the other side,” says Levine. “With or without a nursing pillow, it is always crucial and important that Mom herself supports Baby’s head using her own hands.” And even if you like a super soft pillow to plunk your head on at night, that’s not going to cut it when you’re nursing. “The pillow needs to be firm so Baby does not sink down, and lets you keep them level at your breast,” says Dandrich. “It also has to be adjustable so that it can be positioned close to your body.” That way, you can be comfortable while your baby is at your breast.
Although nursing pillows can be a great tool to breastfeed your baby, you can absolutely use your own pillows to have an effective breastfeeding session. And when Baby is done nursing, you can place your pillow back on the bed so that you can use it later to sleep — if and when that happens.
Sarah Schooler, RN, MSN, IBCLC, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and founder of Thrive Lactation Center
Shoshanna Levine, IBCLC, a Brooklyn-based lactation consultant
LaShanda Dandrich, IBCLC, an international board-certified lactation consultant and co-founder of Uptown Village Cooperative
Katie Clark, IBCLC, a certified lactation educator