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Before any parent begins breastfeeding, we are told that it is the most natural thing in the world — which, yeah, we are mammals — and it’s hard to imagine you would need any newfangled breastfeeding inventions to help us along. If only! While celebrating this National Breastfeeding Month, we would like to take a moment to give thanks for the many inventions, gadgets, innovations, and tricks available to make nursing possible for all kinds of parents.
Between our modern lifestyles and our flawed human bodies, nursing moms very quickly discover that making milk and serving it up isn’t always as simple as whipping out our boobs and popping a baby on a nip. I mean, sometimes it’s that easy, if you’re lucky. But sometimes, you get dealt the hand of low milk supply (raises hand), a baby with a tongue tie that rips your nipples to shreds (also me), excessive milk supply, a baby who can’t latch, inverted nipples, clogged milk ducts, or, scariest of all, a baby in the NICU who isn’t quite ready for direct nursing. For all of this, we are so grateful to live in a world where there are clever, enterprising people who have come up with inventions for all of our breastfeeding needs. Our babies need not starve or drink formula (though the latter is also OK).
So, we arm ourselves with nipple shields, nipple shells, nipple butter, and nursing pads. We drink teas and coffees filled with herbal supplements — the inventions of our ancestors! — to boost our supply. And we settle our babies comfortably onto specially contoured nursing pillows with attractive, machine-washable covers. But then we are faced with one more breastfeeding dilemma: Do we remain with this babe attached to our bosom for the next six months to two years? Or dare we step back and let someone else feed them too?
By the way, our ancestors also came up with a breastfeeding invention to solve that one: the wet nurse. But for our times, if we choose to step away from our kids, we have a slightly more palatable option, the breast pump. Hallelujah to that milk-extracting machine, even though it makes us feel quite like dairy cows in a factory farm. Pumping can help us maintain a good milk supply, and it can make it possible for us to leave the house without exploding. And to make pumping work, we also have seen the invention of other necessary accessories, such as special bottles for breastfeeding babies not used to the feel of an artificial nipple.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the breastfeeding innovation all parents have
needed the most: Acceptance of the importance of breastfeeding, and adapting our public spaces and workplaces to make it possible. Without having a time and place to feed our babies, mothers would have to decide between nursing and switching them entirely to formula. National Breastfeeding Month is a symbol of the effort made to get us to this point.
Take a moment to enjoy how far we’ve come, and to see if any of these breastfeeding inventions might make your life just a little bit easier.
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I’m sure that back in the day, women used all sorts of oils and various forms of lanolin to treat their sore, cracked, bleeding nipples. But today, we have so many lovely choices available to us, with and without scents, and we can experiment to see which ones will forever stain our favorite nursing shirts and which ones really, truly make us feel better.
Shields can mean the difference between continuing breastfeeding or giving up because your baby’s latch is just too unbelievably painful. Experts caution that you should only use these temporarily, with the help of a lactation consultant, because they can lead to other problems, such as clogged milk ducts, down the line.
Galactagogue Coffee Pods
After all those sleepless nights, herbal tea isn’t going to cut it for many of us moms. These coffee pods have added fenugreek and blessed thistle, so you can get your (half-caf) fix while also boosting your supply.
Before breastfeeding, few of us would have paused to consider how important two little clasps can be. To whoever figured out that we need to be able to unhook one boob at a time without taking the whole damn bra off, we send you infinite thanks.
Before they were called “nursing pads” we’re sure there were women placing soft bits of fabric or cabbage leaves or whatever they could find to both catch milk leaks and hold in place any soothing lotion on sore nipples. But yeah, we like having something actually made to fit our breast shapes that can stay in place.
Even though newborns weigh so very little, nursing and bottlefeeding parents quickly realize the need for ways to prop up their arms during feeding. Every body and their baby has different height needs, so you may need to experiment to find the ideal, but the Brest Friend is a perennial favorite for the fact that you can strap it on and store a bottle or a phone in the pocket, leaving your hands free to carry your baby if you need to change location for a feeding.
If you’re blessed with abundant milk, you know the unfortunate glitch that happens on occasion when you’re breastfeeding your baby on one breast and the other begins to leak. If you place one of these suckers on the unused nipple, you can collect that milk for later.
We absolutely should be present with our babies as we nurse them, but after a while, we do also long to feel connected to the rest of the world. So, we say, balance is key. Take a little break for yourself when you’re nursing or pumping and go ahead and scroll through TikTok/Instagram/the app of your choice. We love our babies and we are more than just their milk machines.
Electric Breast Pumps
TBH, there’s something about being hooked up to a pump that makes us feel a little like a cow at a milk machine — but we have to admit, thanks to today’s technology, electric breast pumps have come a long way. This one from Elvie, for example, tucks into your bra and has a noise reduction feature that lets you collect milk discreetly, and is completely hands-free. Plus, you can use an app to control the pump instead of reaching into your bra to do it.
Galactagogue is a very fun word to say. It’s also a very, very good thing to know about — thank you to generations of herbalists and plant-wise mothers — if you have low milk supply. This particular tea, which includes fennel and fenugreek, turned up my own milk factory production levels quite a bit.
We’re pretty sure this is another ancient invention just newly packaged, but that does not diminish how sweet it is to have an altruistic reason for eating more snacks. Breastfeeding makes you ravenous, so why not eat up while boosting your supply? These Boobie Bars come in oatmeal chocolate chip, blueberry muffin, and peanut butter flavors.
Nursing-Friendly Tops, Dresses, & Rompers
You will make the mistake of wearing a dress that’s not a button-down, wrap, strapless or otherwise designed for breastfeeding only once as a nursing mother. Nursing in public is finally acceptable — but we’re not so sure about nursing topless in just your underwear. All the designers who have made popping out a single boob at a time while keeping the rest of us covered, we salute you.
The Affordable Care Act
The law better known as Obamacare, passed in 2010, made it necessary for insurance companies to cover breast pumps and for workplaces to offer time and space for nursing parents to pump. Immediately, it was easier to keep breastfeeding while returning to work, and we didn’t have to pump in bathroom stalls. Early studies showed that by 2014, the rate of breastfeeding in this country was up by 2.5 percent.
Hands-Free Pumping Bra
Hats off to the mamas who are able to do things like drive, conduct conference calls, and otherwise multitask while also hooked up to their breast pumps. Some of us are just grateful to have these hands-free bras so that we can eat and scroll through our phones.
Pumping by hand is by no means a fun and easy task. But compared to whatever you have to do if you’re suddenly caught with engorged breasts far from your baby or a power source for an electric pump, a hand pump is a godsend. (I’m currently flashing back to that time I had to squish my boobs into a coffee mug in a bathroom stall at my husband’s office.)
Breastmilk Storage Bags
Whether you have low milk supply or you’re constantly full to the brim, your breastmilk is more valuable than gold. Thankfully, we now have multiple options for storing that milk, especially if we have to freeze it for future use and transport it from place to place.
Bottles for Picky Babies
Unless you bottle-feed from a very early age, your baby stands a chance of being one of those who refuses to take a bottle. Or they might like a bottle but wind up with painful gas after gulping down their milk too fast. Thank you to all the innovative bottle makers out there coming up with more breast-like bottles and nipple-like nipples and glass bottles and bottles to prevent gas and on and on. All of these give breastfeeding moms a huge break.
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