In all the new-mom literature about how to prepare for breastfeeding, avoiding backaches never seems to get a mention.
Yet, as we moms know, nursing for too long in the wrong position can lead to sleepless nights and back spasms as you try and 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. This will prop your baby’s little head up for an easy feed and alleviate back, neck, and arm stress while feeding.
Nursing pillows come in several shapes and sizes, and there are even some designed for moms with twins! We’ve put together a list that’s full of potential, so let’s take a look.
In this article:
Will I really need a nursing pillow?
When perusing the seemingly endless list of suggested gear for babies, new moms are usually eager to skip those unnecessary purchases. Although nursing doesn’t depend on them, breastfeeding pillows are an investment well worth making.
A nursing pillow that wraps around your waist can offer much-needed neck, back, and arm support to tired new parents, while safely cradling the baby and elevating it to a healthy nursing height.
Nor do the benefits begin or end there. Boppy and L-shaped pillows can provide mom with comfort while either 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 require upright breastfeeding.
Because nursing pillows are made from firmer materials than standard bed pillows, 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 need to wash your bed linens in the event of a leak or spit-up.
While nursing pillows may not seem essential, there are many ways in which they can make new parenthood easier.
What features should I look for in a nursing pillow?
- A good fit: If the nursing pillow wraps around your body to any degree, make sure it’s actually comfortable. If you slip it on and feel any degree of discomfort, just imagine yourself trying to breastfeed a wiggly, fussy newborn on a hot day while wearing it! Choose a pillow that fits comfortably, as it’s a high-use item.
- Props baby up effectively: Flimsy nursing pillows that don’t offer support or elevation won’t be of any use to you, so bypass them in favor of thick, dense materials that offer support and add height.
- Material that’s comfortable with covers that are machine washable: Nursing pillows will naturally be pressed against both mom and baby’s skin often, which means that comfortable, soft, allergen-free fabrics are best. The filling should also be firm with comfortable give, so that the pillow is supportive, yet retains its shape. Finally, the cover should be removable and machine washable, as mess is inevitable.
- Portability: If you spend 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 diaper bag. While larger pillows work great at home, a portable nurse pillow can often fit right into your diaper bag (or even be inflatable), offering you the benefits without the space constraints.
- Good value: If looking for a nursing pillow while on a tight budget, there’s really no need to break the bank. The price range varies on these pillows, so there are plenty of well-made, affordable options.
What types of nursing pillow can I choose from?
- Traditional “boppy” style: These ones wrap most, if not all, of the way around the wearer’s body, offering support to both mom and baby. Some secure behind the back with straps or buckles for extra support.
- Flat or shelf style: These can be placed across your lap or 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 needs 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 — though the tag says ‘one size’, that’s not quite true. Some nursing pillows that fit all the way around the body aren’t very adjustable, leaving plus-size moms short 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 are 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 confident in naming 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 the baby dozes off during nursing.
This traditional C-shaped pillow also has a convenient pocket with equally well-planned placement. As with the buckle, it can be accessed with one hand as the other supports your little one. 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 easily and correctly. The soft, thick cover of this pillow is machine washable, while the generously sized straps mean it’s an ideal fit for all body types.
What we love
- Uses a strap with a silent release buckle for greater security and support
- Adjustable to fit most body types
- The Velcro part of the strap may catch while 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 the 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 central, cylindrical pillow and can be flipped up or down to create the balance of height and support that both mom and baby need.
It’s an ideal style for taller moms, whose longer waists place a greater gap between baby and breasts.
Is perfect for babies who suffer from reflux or GERD, as it helps them adjust to an upright nursing position, which is necessary to avoid triggering such issues.
While this pillow is fairly large when laid out, a durable ribbon is attached to the bottom which can tie the layers together at the top, making it more portable and a great alternative to boppy-style options.
What we love
- 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 can tie and secure the layers, making it easily portable
- Because it doesn’t curve around the body, can be awkward 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 buybuyBABY) one of the best nursing pillows for twins, as it skips the frustration of trying to manage two separate devices in favor of one comfortable, effective pillow that secures with a buckle.
The softback of this firm but fluffy pillow flips up to act as a backrest, letting mom recline comfortably as she nurses her babies. Its 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 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 a 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 — are not likely to react to the cloth.
It’s smaller than a traditional nursing pillow, so easier to position away from the belly, making it ideal for use during cesarean recovery.
Uniquely, this pillow is filled with buckwheat hulls, making it feel like a bean bag. It conforms to the 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 dads to use while bottle feeding.
What we love
- 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 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 offers lumbar support. The My Brest Friend Original (check price on Walmart) 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 that dad could slip it on to give baby a bottle feed as well.
What we love
- Fastens around the body for secure support while nursing
- There’s a handy pocket for stashing your essentials
- The design alleviates neck, arm, and back strain
- The cover is thin, which means messes can penetrate and soil the pillow
The nursing pillow FAQ
How do I wash a nursing pillow?
Babies — and breastfeeding — can often be messy. From leaks and drips to the inevitable spit-ups, regularly cleaning your nursing pillow is a given.
In almost every case, nursing pillows are made with slipcovers. 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 worry, as the manufacturer’s website will have the instructions you need.
If you aren’t sure of your pillow’s make, material, or washing instructions, here are some general tips:
- Fully remove the pillow’s cover and spot-treat 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 non-removable vinyl exterior, using an antimicrobial spray or wipe to clean the surface should be 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 awake, but it absolutely doesn’t double as a sleep mat or bassinet.
It’s not safe for your baby to sleep on or near the nursing pillow which, like other pillows, can pose a suffocation hazard1. Reserve nursing pillows for when baby is alert, setting 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?
Almost any time a new mom is feeding baby, a nursing pillow can offer extra comfort.
Pillow styles that wrap around your waist will offer considerable back, neck, and arm support, helping prevent pain while breastfeeding, while enabling you to nurse for longer.
They also place your baby in a healthy eating position, meaning they can be useful when bottle feeding as well.
Portable nursing pillows are great for travel nursing, while an adjustable pillow can ensure that, regardless of their size, the baby’s head is lifted high enough to nurse in comfort.
So, in conclusion, there are a variety of choices of nursing pillows, their uses are versatile, and, once you’ve tried 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, our experience says yes.
There’s a wide range of nursing pillows, from adjustable ones to those designed for travel, both of which come in handy when you have a newborn or need to take the show on the road.
A boppy-style nursing pillow will help new moms stay comfortable both during and after pregnancy, and having one upstairs and one downstairs can prevent unnecessary disruption.
There’s also the matter of keeping them clean! Unexpected mess is a common hazard when nursing, so if a slipcover needs a sudden wash and mom can’t manage a laundry before the next feeding, the pillow will be out of commission. So perhaps have at least one spare on hand…
Can I bring my nursing pillow onto a plane?
The general consensus from the TSA is that, yes, 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 this in mind, it would certainly be wise to consider a travel breastfeeding pillow.
Airline seats are 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 your baby’s head and offer support, while its smaller design will solve that ‘tiny cabin-space’ problem.
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 prevent the development of flat spots on the back of their head while strengthening their neck and shoulder muscles to facilitate sitting up, crawling, and walking.
While a boppy-style pillow is traditionally used for nursing, it can also be used during a baby’s tummy time. Just remember — when giving the baby tummy time, ALWAYS supervise them for their safety.
Our top pick is…
A good nursing pillow can take a lot of the pain and discomfort out of breastfeeding, and the My Brest Friend Deluxe (check price on Amazon) checks all the boxes.
Its buckle-to-secure design offers both upper and lower back support while alleviating neck and arm pain. It has a firm, flat surface that’s safe and comfortable for babies, 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 decent-sized storage pocket, make this a seriously useful addition to your maternity arsenal.