Breastfeeding pillows

What should I know about breastfeeding pillows?

Holding a baby can be tiring, so many mothers use a breastfeeding pillow for the first few months, when babies feed for up to five hours a day. A breastfeeding pillow is specifically shaped to support the baby and remain in place on the mother’s lap. Not every pillow works for every mother. When choosing a pillow, mothers need to consider its height, shape, fit, and how it holds the baby. A pillow should keep the baby’s body straight with the ear, shoulder, and hip in line and baby’s mouth right in front of the nipple. Regular pillows can work, but they tend to slide away. This can be minimized by using a non-slippery cover. 

A) Reasons for using a breastfeeding pillow

The average newborn breastfeeds about 20 minutes per side, taking both sides at most feedings. Newborns feed at least seven times a day, which works out to nearly five hours a day in the first few weeks.

Many mothers who breastfeed using the cradle, cross-cradle, or under-arm hold use a breastfeeding pillow to support the baby for the first few months, because holding the baby for these times can be tiring. Support can also be very important to maintaining proper positioning

A breastfeeding pillow is specifically shaped to support the baby and remain in place on the mother's lap. This may be a U, V, or L shape; we recommend the first.

Those using the laid-back or side-lying holds may use regular pillows to keep themselves comfortable and in position to breastfeed.

B) Reasons that mothers stop using a breastfeeding pillow

Mothers generally stop using the pillow:

  • As the baby grows.
  • As feeds become shorter.
  • As the baby becomes more active during feeds.
  • When she and her baby are away from home.

C) Choosing a breastfeeding pillow

Ideal pillow thickness

Every mother-baby pair is unique. This means that not every pillow works for every pair. Pillows that don’t fit both the mother and the baby can result in poor positioning.

Consider the following when choosing a pillow:

1) Pillow height

Assess the distance from your nipple to your lap.

  • A mother with shorter breasts will have more distance from her nipple to her lap and will need a thicker pillow to support the baby.
  • A mother with longer breasts will have a smaller distance from her nipple to her lap and will need a thinner pillow to support the baby.
  • A mother with very long breasts may not need a pillow at all.
  • A larger, heavier baby may need a firmer pillow.

A pillow that is the right height will:

  • Lift the baby so the baby’s mouth is in front of the nipple.
  • Eliminate the need for you to lift the baby while breastfeeding.
  • Allow you to sit comfortably instead of leaning forward or backward.

If the pillow is too thick, you will find your nipple well below the baby’s mouth instead of in front. You may struggle to keep the pillow and baby down as you breastfeed and the baby may pull upwards on the nipple causing nipple pain and even damage.

If the pillow is too thin, you will find your nipple well above the baby’s mouth instead of in front of it. This will result in you leaning forward to bring the nipple down to the baby or in the baby pulling down on the nipple and causing nipple pain and even damage.

2) Pillow shape

Assess the distance from your tummy to your back. If it is very small, look for a pillow with shorter side arms. Longer arms may push against the back of your chair and keep the middle part of the pillow too far away from you. This may result in a gap. When breastfeeding in a cradle or cross-cradle hold, the baby will tend to fall into this gap. Alternatively, you will find yourself fighting to keep the pillow snug against your tummy.

In general, choose a pillow that is shaped like a U and not like a V or an L. A V-shaped pillow has a gap in the middle for the baby to fall into. An L-shaped pillow tends to have a very long side arm.

The pillow should be wide enough in front and on the sides to allow a baby to be placed and supported in the desired position and also support your forearms and wrists.

3) Pillow fit

A good pillow for you will fit comfortably around your waist. It should not be too tight or too loose.

Some mothers have a larger tummy after delivery. This can result in the pillow being pushed away from the mother’s body and not useful for the baby. In this situation, mother can use their tummy to support the baby or use the under-arm, laid-back, or side-lying holds.

4) How the baby rests on the pillow

A good pillow keeps the baby’s body straight with the ear, shoulder, and hip in line. The baby’s body should not be twisted.

The pillow should also be firm enough to keep the baby in position but not so hard that the baby rolls toward or away from you.

5) Type of pillow cover

The cover should be removable and washable and the surface should not be slippery. A good pillow stays in place. One option to keep a pillow in place is to use one that has a strap that goes behind your back.

D) Twin pillows

Mothers of twins benefit from using a pillow that allows both babies to breastfeed at the same time (tandem breastfeeding) in the under-arm hold. Because mothers must manoeuvre two babies at once, they need to pay extra attention to the pillow’s fit and characteristics. Furthermore, twin babies are more likely to be premature and therefore weaker and require extra support.

In general, twin pillows:

  • Are very firm.
  • Have side arms wide enough for the mother to hold each baby in an under-arm hold.
  • Have a strap to keep the pillow in place that goes around the mother's back.
  • Should be high enough to support the babies at nipple level but not above.

A perfect pillow for twins lets the mother breastfeed without using her hands. She should also be able to latch the first baby, let go of the first, and then latch the second baby using both hands. Once both are latched, most mothers then use one hand behind the neck and shoulders of each baby to keep them secure.

A “log” made of a rolled towel fastened with tape can be used as extra support under the wrists when using the under-arm hold.

E) Alternatives to breastfeeding pillows

Mothers can substitute a regular bed pillow, but they tend to slide away because of a slippery cover and their elliptical profile (higher in the centre and lower at the sides). This can be minimized by using a non-slippery cover. It can be a flannelette cotton cover or even a towel wrapped around the pillow and held in place with tape or hand stitching. The cover can also be used to make the pillow firmer and less elliptical.

When using the under-arm hold, the support is needed by the mother’s side. Instead of using a pillow, mothers can use a folded-up blanket or the soft armrest of a chair or couch (sofa).

Some mothers bring a firm blanket when they go out. When the baby is hungry, they can fold the blanket into a pad to use under the baby while breastfeeding. Inflatable pillows are another option when out.