You know those scenes in medical dramas where the surgeons are meticulously prepping for the operating room while dramatic music swells in the background? Medical professionals are scrubbing in and tying back their surgical caps in slow motion with determined, far-off gazes. Then we cut to the OR and there’s a pristine stainless steel table carefully laid out with every necessary surgical instrument. And as the resident begins to take over the entirely too-complex procedure that in real-life a resident would NEVER lead, she catches a glimpse of the patient’s anesthetized face and we realize it’s her estranged twin sister! Du-du-dum!!! Oh man, that episode would be a doozie! But let’s get back to that tray with all the tools, mkay? Because it’s that kind of intense precision I think you need to bring to your nursing or bottle-feeding station setup. Hear me out on this!
I’ll admit that initially, setting up a nursing station seemed like one of those things you read about online that’s completely dedicated to feeding on new-mother insecurity and nudging us into buying insanely expensive gliding chairs or bevies of various creams and balms for sore nipples. “Umm hmmm…sure,” I thought dismissively. “I think I’ll just plop down on the couch with my baby. Thanks, but I’m good." And after a grand total of about three nursing sessions where I didn’t have something to prop up the arm supporting my baby and it began to shake like I was in Barre class or when I realized how incredibly chapped my lips were right at that very moment and I could NOT stop fixating on getting some Chapstick or when the dog busted through the door and found his toy duck WITH AN INTERNAL SQUEAKER and began to chew as though that thing were full of peanut butter coated bacon until the incessant squeaking ratcheted my dozing and nursing infant wide awake in scream and well…lesson learned. Consider me nudged into action. Nursing corner set-up rocketed to priority number one.
Naturally, everyone’s needs for a nursing or bottle-feeding area are going to be individualized. But there are some common items to think about having handy that will make life with a nursing or bottle-fed baby a little easier. I mean, prior to getting my set-up finalized, there were times when I didn’t even recognize myself as I fed my baby. I became a contortionist trying, trying soooo hard, to grasp my book or phone just out of reach without dislocating my shoulder or disturbing my baby even the slightest bit. I became a ninja when the nursery got too dark and I would have to tiptoe out amid a floor of books and toys that with the slightest bump would scream the ABC’s at me in a demented singsong and wake the baby I had just laid in his crib. With nursing my second child, I became an over-achiever in mime class as I twisted my face into warnings and over-enunciated silent words desperately trying to convey to my toddler to please be quiet for just five more minutes and then I would get her a snack as soon as I put the sleeping and fed baby down. Ugh, the ridiculous intensity of it all! So yes, if having some items within arm’s reach to stave that off is what it takes, I think it’s worthwhile. Here are a few things you may want to include:
- A good chair - Like I said earlier, some of the price tags on these seem like they warrant a 15-year fixed rate mortgage, but there are lots of reasonably priced chairs. Look for something comfy with good arm support. You may want a chair that reclines or an ottoman to go with it given that there will be times you will be napping there while your baby dozes on you and it’s nice to put your feet up.
- Water, water, water - Keep a big cup (preferably with a lid) handy. If you’re nursing, you’ll drink so much water!
- Burp cloths - Babies spit up, your boobs will leak, your postnatal hormones will make you ugly-cry by merely glancing at the cover of The Giving Tree, and you’re inevitably gonna spill that big water cup at some point. Have some burp cloths at the ready to mop it all up.
- A supportive pillow - Whether it’s specifically designed for nursing or just a regular pillow, there will be times when you are frozen in position holding your sweet baby while she eats and a little extra support propped under your arm goes a long way to keep joint and muscle pain at bay.
- Snacks - You’re finally able to sit for five minutes and as you settle into a baby-feeding sesh, you realize just how hungry you are. Something you can easily snack on (often one-handedly) is helpful.
- Extra nursing pads - Once one side gets up and running, that other side usually starts to leak. Something about not having greasy wet spots of milk right over my nipples helped me cry less about what a mess I felt like during those early months. (It’s the little things.)
- Nipple balm/cream, nipple soothing gel pads or a nipple shield - Unfortunately it’s true, your nipples will hurt insanely if you’re nursing. Keep your chosen nipple relief products at the ready.
- A book, magazine, e-reader, your phone - Again, you’re finally off your feet for a few minutes and it can help you relax and feel slightly more like yourself to read something, flip through your phone or answer emails and texts. Have a charger nearby as well.
- Television remote or head phones - Sometimes we’ve just finished our novel and before we dive into that collection of essays about the Federalist Papers, we figure it’s about time to finally watch the entirety of Ken Burns’s documentaries. Just kidding. Sometimes we just need a little brain candy or guilty pleasure in the form of some Real Housewives or Law and Order reruns.
- An extra pacifier or two…or five - If you’re using a pacifier to help soothe your little one, keep some spares handy. They have a tendency to disappear just when you need them most.
- A swaddle - Feeding tends to put babies to sleep, be prepared to set them down in their crib for a cat nap after eating by wrapping them up in a swaddle before or after their meal.
- A lamp or nightlight - I once nursed my baby to sleep in complete darkness thinking it would help him fall asleep faster. I don’t know if it worked or not. But I do know that when I blindly stubbed my toe on the corner of his bookshelf hard enough to knock the sound machine to the ground and yelped due to the instant wave of nausea from banging my toe so hard, well, that woke him up. So yes! A soft light is a good thing.
- Something to occupy your older children - While I nursed my second baby, there was a definite power dynamic flip between my toddler and me. She cleverly realized my helplessness as I was trapped under her baby brother and would choose those moments to show up with a package of Oreos. Or somehow she’d have opened a container of Kinetic sand on her own and would be innocently threatening to play with it over the new rug. Having a snack they can access themselves in addition to a quiet activity (that doesn’t involve vacuum-clogging sand) all tucked right into your baby-feeding corner can prevent those tersely whispered threats I found myself casting toward my toddler. It can also dispel some feelings of jealousy that might be brewing from your older kiddo towards your baby.
- Hand lotion and lip balm - Again, it’s the little things. I can’t tell you how insanely preoccupied I could become the times I was rocking in a chair nursing my baby thinking, “my lips are so dry” and just wishing I had put a tube of lip balm near me. It was weird. Maybe I was just grasping at something to control during those challenging postpartum months? I don’t know…but it looks like our session’s ended and we’ll have to circle back to this next week. This counts as therapy, right?
- Tissues - Again, postpartum hormones are a challenge and there will be tears occasionally, both joyful and sad ones. But sometimes, you’re also just going to need to blow your nose.
So those are some of the things you might want to have within a two-foot radius of your nursing chair. They probably won’t be arranged on a sterile steel tray with precision. In fact, they may at times be heaped in a basket with a few used tissues crumpled at the bottom or a slightly sour smelling reusable nursing pad that you yanked out during a middle-of-the-night nursing session and have been wondering what the hell happened to it. A large portion of feeling like you’re on top of your game as a parent is in prevention. If a pack of Goldfish can prevent a jealous toddler from waking the almost-asleep baby as he nurses, get those snack packs ready. If a nursing pillow can prevent carpal-tunnel in your wrist from supporting that sweet little fuzzy head, get that pillow on lock. And if applying some Original Cherry Chapstick prevents you from feeling like you are physically falling to pieces, then keep a fresh tube nearby. (Maybe even throw in a tube of Vanilla Mint flavor as a little self-care treat yo’self - again, it’s the little things, right?)