In all the new-mom literature about how to prepare for breastfeeding, avoiding a backache never seems to get a mention. Yet, as we moms know, nursing for too long in that dreaded wrong position can mean sleepless nights and back spasms as you try to recover from carrying AND nursing that sweet baby.
Enter a glorious invention that’s quickly made it to the top of many mama’s request lists: the nursing pillow, which props baby’s little head up for an easy feed and alleviates back, neck, and arm stress while feeding. They come in a few shapes and sizes, and there’s even pillows designed for twin moms! We’ve put together a list that’s full of potential, so take a look.
In this article:
Will I really need a nursing pillow?
When perusing the seemingly-endless list of suggested gear for baby, new moms are often wisely eager to skip unnecessary purchases; though nursing doesn’t rely on them, a breastfeeding pillow is an investment that’s worth making. A nursing pillow that wraps around your waist can offer much needed neck, back, and arm support to tired new parents, safely cradling baby and elevating them to a healthy nursing height.
The benefits neither begin nor end there. Boppy and L-shaped pillows can provide mom with comfort while sleeping or lounging during late pregnancy. Using a pillow for breastfeeding is also ideal if your baby suffers from common digestive issues like reflux or GERD, which will require upright breastfeeding.
Nursing pillows are made with firmer materials than your standard bed pillows, so they offer better support when propping baby up during breastfeeding. They also generally come with machine washable slipcovers, so they’re easy to clean, and you won’t be forced to wash your bed linens in case of a leak or spit-up.
While you might not explicitly NEED a nursing pillow to feed baby, there are a lot of ways in which nursing pillows can make new parenthood easier.
What features should I look for in a great nursing pillow?
- A good fit: If the nursing pillow wraps around your body to any degree, you’ll want to make sure it’s actually comfortable. If you slip it on and feel any degree of discomfort, imagine yourself trying to breastfeed a wiggly, fussy newborn on a hot day while wearing it, and put it back! Go for something that feels great, because it’s a high-use item.
- Props baby up effectively: Flimsy nursing pillows that don’t offer much support or elevation won’t be of much use to you, so bypass them in favor of thick, dense materials that offer support and add height.
- Material that’s comfortable and covers that are machine washable: By their nature, nursing pillows will be pressed against both mom and baby’s skin often, which means comfortable, soft, allergen-free fabrics are best. The filling should also be firm with comfortable give, so that the pillow is supportive but retains its shape. Finally, the cover should be removable and machine washable, as messes are inevitable.
- Portability: If you’re someone who spends a fair amount of time on the go, hauling a big wearable nursing pillow around with you can feel like overkill when combined with the stroller and the diaper bag. While the bigger pillows are great at home, a portable nurse pillow can often fit right in the diaper bag (or even be inflatable), giving you the benefits without the space constraints.
- A good value: If you really need the benefits of nursing pillows but are on a budget, there’s really no need to break the bank. The price range on these pillows runs the gamut, but there’s plenty of well-made options that are affordable, so don’t feel compelled to overspend.
Related: How to Reheat Breast Milk Safely
What types of nursing pillow can I choose from?
- Traditional “boppy” style: These pillows wrap most of the way or all of the way around the wearer’s body, offering support to mom and baby. Sometimes, they secure behind the back with straps or buckles for extra support.
- Flat or shelf style: These can be placed across your lap or your arm to support baby during nursing. Some styles have adjustable height features.
- Smaller nursing pillows: like arm cuffs and inflatables, these are great for travel. They’re also helpful during cesarean recovery, a time when mom will need to shift baby’s weight away from her healing incision site.
Different Ways to Use Your Breastfeeding Pillows in Different Positions:
In what situations might I need a specific style of nursing pillow?
- You’re a plus-size mom: Many of us have been there — the tag says ‘one size’, but it’s not quite true. Some nursing pillows that fit all the way around the body aren’t very adjustable, leaving plus-size moms wanting for comfort. Look for a boppy-style pick with adjustable straps for increased flexibility, or opt for a pillow that doesn’t wrap around your body.
- You’ve had a c-section: Breastfeeding your little one naturally places their weight near to your belly, which is where a healing cesarean incision sits. To avoid trauma, it’s important to keep baby’s weight away from your surgery site, so smaller adjustable pillows that don’t wrap around the body are best.
- You’re nursing twins: With blessings times two, some logistical complications tend to pop up, and the use of nursing pillows can be one of them. It’s certainly possible to use two smaller adjustable pillows at once, but you might also consider a pillow designed for twin moms. They have a space for each baby, so there’s no struggling with two devices and two babies at the same time!
Nursing pillows are often shown with pictures of women breastfeeding in the traditional cradle hold, but a good, supportive pillow will also work well with other positions like cross cradle and football hold!
Our picks of the best nursing pillows
Both during and after pregnancy, a good nursing pillow can offer you comfort you didn’t know you needed. There’s options for every body type and situation, and all the picks on our list have machine washable covers that make cleanup and maintenance a breeze. Ready to ditch the aching back and neck? Let’s find the best nursing pillow for you:
Design: Dark grey, grey patterned
Uses Buckles: Yes
Has Pocket: Yes
We feel pretty confident in calling My Brest Friend Deluxe (check price on Amazon) the best nursing pillow, as wearing it feels a bit like having a tool belt or spy kit. You’ll feel like you’ve mastered the art of nursing with the ultra convenient one hand silent release buckle, which allows you to swiftly and quietly remove the pillow if baby dozes off during nursing.
This traditional c-shaped pillow also has a convenient pocket with equally well-thought placement, as like the buckle, it can be accessed with only one hand as the other guides your little one. The design also includes a supportive backrest, providing firm cushioning that molds to the wearer’s body.
Unlike other c-shaped carriers, there’s no gap against the wearer’s midsection, allowing baby to latch more easily and correctly. The soft, thick cover of this pillow is machine washable, so it’s easy to clean, the the generously-sized straps mean it’s great for all body types.
What we love
- It uses a strap with a silent release buckle for greater security and support
- It adjusts to fit most body types
- The Velcro part of the strap may catch on receiving blankets and other soft textiles
Best for Tall Moms
Design: White floral and grey
Uses Buckles: No
Has Pocket: No
A nursing pillow that can be adjusted as baby grows or position warrants is exceptionally helpful, and the butterfly-style design of the Infantino Elevate (check price on Amazon) offers just that. Six firm cushions are anchored to a center cylindrical pillow, and can be flipped up or down to create the balance of height and support that mom and baby need. It’s an ideal style for taller moms, whose longer waists place a greater gap between baby and breast.
It also comes in handy if baby suffers from reflux or GERD, as it can help adjust them to an upright nursing position, which is necessary to avoid triggering these issues. While this pillow is fairly large when laid out, a durable ribbon is attached to the bottom which ties the layers together at the top, making it a great deal more portable and an all-around good alternative to boppy-style options.
What we love
- The design allows mom to adjust the height of the nursing pillow to baby’s needs
- Allows for upright nursing, great for babies with GERD or reflux
- A cute and sturdy ribbon ties to secure the layers, making it easily portable
- Because it doesn’t curve around the body, this pillow can be harder to keep in place
Best For Twins
Shape: Multi-child traditional
Design: Light blue textured
Uses Buckles: Yes
Has Pocket: No
We’d be hard pressed not to declare the Twin Z Nursing Pillow (check price on Amazon) one of the best nursing pillows for twins, as it skips over the bulk and frustration of trying to manage two separate devices in favor of one comfortable, effective pillow that secures with a buckle.
The soft back of this firm but fluffy pillow flips up to act as a back rest, letting mom recline comfortably as she nurses her babies. The pillow’s curve also makes it an effective maternity pillow during pregnancy, giving mom a bit of much-needed support during those last months carrying her twins.
What we love
- There’s room for two here, making it an ideal option for twin parents
- It has buckles, so it can be securely worn around the body, offering back support
- The super-soft cover can be removed and washed separately
- It’s big enough to hold two babies, which means it takes up a fair amount of space
Best For Plus Size Moms
Material: Organic cotton
Uses Buckles: No
Has Pocket: No
Naturally hypoallergenic fabrics are often the best choice for anything that will be close to baby’s delicate skin. The Nesting Pillow (check price on Amazon) is made from 100% organic cotton, so even the most sensitive little ones — and their parents — aren’t likely to react to the cloth. It’s a bit smaller than a traditional nursing pillow, so it’s easier to position away from the belly, making it ideal for use during cesarean recovery.
Uniquely, this pillow is filled with buckwheat hulls, giving it characteristics similar to a bean bag. It conforms to baby’s shape while also offering support, creating a comfortable experience for both mom and baby. Because it’s so easy to position, this is also a great pillow option for plus-size moms or for dad to use while bottle feeding.
What we love
- It’s made from 100% organic cotton, so it’s great for sensitive-skinned babies(and parents)
- The filling is made of buckwheat hulls, so it conforms to baby’s body shape for comfort
- It’s not large, so it’s easy to comfortably position away from a recovering c-section tummy
- The nature of the filling can make this pillow feel rather heavy and hot compared to other feeding pillows
Best Lumbar Support Pillow
Design: Seven pattern options
Uses Buckles: Yes
Has Pocket: Yes
If your least favorite part of breastfeeding is your aching back, you may be in need of a nursing pillow that can offer lumbar support. The My Brest Friend Original (check price on Amazon) can be just as beloved a pal as its name indicates, securing around your waist with an easy-to-operate buckle during breastfeeding. It’s one of the best nursing devices for relieving lower and upper back strain as well as pain in the neck and arms caused by nursing your baby.
The firm, flat surface of the pillow can help keep baby securely in place during breastfeeding, and a handy pocket on the side of the pillow is perfect for stashing essentials — nipple cream, a bottle of water, or even your phone. The generous straps make this pick wearable by just about any mom and baby combo, and it’s likely dad could slip it on to give baby a bottle feeding as well.
What we love
- It fastens around the body for secure support while nursing
- There’s a handy pocket for stashing your essentials
- This design alleviates neck, arm, and back strain
- The cover is thin, which means messes can penetrate it and soil the pillow
The nursing pillow FAQ
How do I wash a nursing pillow?
Babies — and breastfeeding — can often come with a little bit of mess. From leaks and drips to inevitable spit-up, needing to wash your nursing pillow is a totally reasonable concern. In almost every case, nursing pillows are made with slip covers. This means that the exterior cover can be removed, washed, and replaced.
Typically, your nursing pillow will come with washing instructions for its slipcover. However, if you tossed the box or bag straight away after purchase and are scrambling for information on how to properly clean it, don’t fear! The manufacturer’s website will likely have the instructions you need.
If you’re not totally sure of your pillow’s make, material, or washing instructions, here are some general tips:
- Fully remove the pillow’s cover, and spot-treat it as necessary
- Zip the cover all the way closed, protecting the zipper
- Wash the cover on the gentle cycle, in warm water, using your baby’s laundry detergent
- DO NOT machine-dry the cover! This can shrink it. Instead, let it air dry.
If you’re using a “professional” nursing pillow with a vinyl exterior that doesn’t get removed, using an antimicrobial spray or wipe to clean the surface is sufficient.
Is it safe for baby to sleep on a nursing pillow?
Nursing pillows are a fantastic accessory for mom and baby’s mutual comfort while they’re awake, but it absolutely doesn’t double as anything resembling a sleep mat or bassinet. It’s simply not safe to allow your baby to sleep on or near the nursing pillow which, like other pillows, can pose a suffocation hazard to babies1. Reserve nursing pillows for while baby is alert, and set them aside when it’s time for a nap.
Safe sleep recommendations include a firm, flat surface without extra items (like pillows, blankets, and crib bumpers) and placing baby on his or her back to sleep.
When will I use my nursing pillow?
Just about any time a new mom is feeding baby, using a nursing pillow can offer extra comfort. Styles that wrap around your waist offer serious back, neck, and arm support that can help prevent pain while breastfeeding, allowing you to nurse for longer. They also generally place baby in a healthy eating position, which means they’re useful when bottle feeding as well. Portable nursing pillows are great for travel nursing, and an adjustable nursing pillow helps to assure that regardless of their size, baby’s head is lifted high enough to nurse successfully.
In other words — there’s more than one kind of nursing pillow, their uses are versatile, and once you try one, you’ll likely use one whenever you have the opportunity.
Should I buy more than one nursing pillow?
Although your lifestyle will go a long way in answering this question for you, our experience says yes. There’s a wide range of nurse pillows, like an adjustable nursing pillow or a nursing pillow for travel, that can come in handy when you have a newborn or have to take the show on the road. A boppy-style nursing pillow can help new moms stay comfortable both during and after pregnancy, and having one upstairs and one downstairs can help prevent unnecessary disruption.
There’s also the matter of keeping them clean. Unexpected messes are a common hazard of nursing, which means into the wash a slipcover goes — but, if mom doesn’t have time to do the laundry before the next feeding, her pillow is out of commission. Why not have at least one spare on hand?
Can I bring my nursing pillow onto a plane?
The general consensus from the TSA seems to be that yes, within reason, there’s no reason mom can’t bring a nursing pillow onto the plane2. This can be a godsend, as tiny, flat airline pillows will hardly support a fussy, fidgeting baby as they nurse while combating the discomfort of changing air pressure.
With that in mind, this is a situation where it would be quite wise to consider a travel breastfeeding pillow. Airline seats are very narrow, especially in economy, and neither you, your seatmate, nor your baby will likely enjoy the constriction of a thick boppy-style nursing pillow wrapped around your body. A travel breastfeeding pillow is designed to elevate baby’s head and offer support while also minimizing space impact through the use of smaller designs.
Can a nursing pillow be used for tummy time?
Tummy time, which describes the supervised periods in which baby is placed on their stomach while awake, is an important part of baby’s development. It helps to prevent the development of flat spots on the back of their head, and it also strengthens their neck and shoulder muscles to facilitate sitting up, crawling, and walking. While a boppy-style pillow is traditionally used for nursing, they can also be used during baby’s tummy time3. Just remember: when baby has tummy time, they must ALWAYS be supervised for their safety.
Our top pick is…
A good nursing pillow can take a lot of the pain out of breastfeeding your baby, and the My Brest Friend Deluxe (check price on Amazon) checks all the boxes. Its buckle-to-secure design offers upper and lower back support while also alleviating neck and arm pain. It has a firm, flat surface that’s safe and comfortable for baby, keeping them securely in place while they nurse. It has generously-sized straps, so most moms and dads can wear and share it easily. Finally, convenience features like a one-hand operable silent buckle and a decent-sized storage pocket you can actually reach make this a seriously helpful addition to your maternity arsenal.