How to Choose The Best Nursing Pillow

Although both Boppy's use a C-shape for their pillow the wider  Boppy Nursing Pillow (right) is able to secure closer to mom's body thanks to its duel buckle system.  The straighter edges also provide more arm support for different feeding positions.
Article By:
Meg Benedik and Juliet Spurrier, MD

Last Updated:
Sunday

Can nursing pillows really be so different from one another? The answer is "Yes!" We tested eight of the most popular nursing pillows day in and day out over months with breastfeeding mamas and their babies of all sizes. And, we found both subtle and more explicit differences between them that we'd like to share with you in our review The Best Nursing Pillow. Through our testing, we have come to a pretty good idea of what makes a good nursing pillow and provide you here with some basic buying advice to take the guesswork out of this process so that you can nurse your baby more easily.

Breastfeeding is a Work Out


It is hard to imagine how helpful a nursing pillow can be until you actually start nursing. At first, when overstimulated with new mama "must-haves," such an item may seem more like a luxury than a necessity. After all, regular old pillows are already in the home and should suffice, right? Well, in truth, for the majority of nursing mamas, really not as well.

The reality is that newborn nursing sessions can last up to 40 minutes a pop. The average newborn feeds 8-12 times in a 24 hour period with each feeding lasting anywhere from twenty to forty minutes. Then, after a quick nap for baby and snack for mama, you're back doing it all over again maybe as soon as an hour later. Once baby gets the hang of things and grows, frequency and duration will taper a bit but not much until solids are introduced. In addition, mom has more baby weight to support. In short, breastfeeding is a highly physical endurance act on mom's part and proper support is absolutely key. Without it, mom is likely to experience fatigue and pain of all sorts in the arms, neck, shoulders, wrists, and back. Additionally, baby may not be in optimal positioning which can in turn affect latch, nipples, and overall milk supply.

So, when realizing you will be lovingly nursing your baby from anywhere from 5-8 hours a day, a nursing pillow quickly becomes a necessity, not a luxury. After all, one of the greatest benefits of nursing is the quality mommy and baby bonding time as nursing naturally helps you both relax while adjusting to life together. Without the aid of a good nursing pillow, feeding can quickly become a strenuous, uncomfortable, and frustrating activity rather than an opportunity to further connect with baby.

Consider pregnancy as the warm-up to breastfeeding a newborn. Nursing typically has a steep learning curve, and it often takes mama and baby weeks to get the hang of feeding. The process has been known to bring tears to both. A well-made nursing pillow helps support baby so that mom can use her hands to both get her breast in the right position as well as guide support and guide baby to a proper latch. Mom also uses her arms to help support and cradle baby close. A great pillow will also provide mom with a place to rest her arms during nursing which helps mom to sit up straight and put less strain on her neck, shoulders, and back. We really like the design of the My Brest Friend pillows as they have lumbar support as well.
With a very portable size  support  and adequate arm space for nursing  the Blessed Nest is a good choice for a mom who wants to nurse in many locations and for many months.
With a very portable size, support, and adequate arm space for nursing, the Blessed Nest is a good choice for a mom who wants to nurse in many locations and for many months.

Nursing Pillow Basics


There are a variety of options when it comes to nursing pillows and some have more bells and whistles than others. However, remember that a nursing pillow has one sole purpose; to aid you and baby in having the best breastfeeding experience possible.

Expected Length of Nursing


The first question you may want to consider when purchasing a nursing pillow is "How long you'd hope to nurse your baby?" Though your ideal may change once baby is born, sprouts teeth, or starts solids or you go back to work, having a ballpark timeline in mind may be helfpul. A pillow's longevity may not matter to you if you plan on breastfeeding for 3 months. If you will be nursing at home exclusively throughout baby's first year, a bigger investment will likely make sense.

Fit


Feeding on the pillow side up of the two-sided Boppy Nursing Pillow offers almost equal stability for baby as using the sturdy foam side. For women with shorter torsos the height on this pillow can be almost too high as baby gets bigger.
Feeding on the pillow side up of the two-sided Boppy Nursing Pillow offers almost equal stability for baby as using the sturdy foam side. For women with shorter torsos the height on this pillow can be almost too high as baby gets bigger.
As you look at nursing pillows, no matter where you nurse, you will be sitting straight up and it will need to fit your torso so that baby's head and body are positioned at the height of your nipple. Some pillows, like the Boppy Two-sided Nursing pillow, Luna Lullaby, and Leachco are taller which suits longer torsos better while the Dr Brown's Gia pillow is nearly half the height. Try to imagine yourself 5-6 months pregnant to help in finding one that will fit your midsection best after birth.

Shapes
The Leachco Cuddle-U utilizes a wrap-around C-shape
The Leachco Cuddle-U utilizes a wrap-around C-shape
Nursing pillows come in a variety of shapes: "c", "o", and "crescent". The quintessential Boppy Original innovated the traditional c-shape which now the newer Boppy Two-sided Nursing and Leachco Cuddle-U both mirror to some degree. This shape of pillow tends to fit most body types and also provides adequate arm support no matter which side baby is feeding on or which hold you are using.

The My Brest Friend brand is o-shaped meaning that it wraps around the entire body with the benefit of providing lumbar support. We reviewed both the My Brest Friend Deluxe and the My Brest Friend Original with cotton cover. Both versions have machine washable covers and front pockets for storing small items.

The increasingly popular curved, crescent-shaped pillows wrap around the side of mom's body. The crescent Luna Lullaby provides extra support in the middle of the pillow where baby's head rests. However, it does not fit smaller women very well with sides so long that they tend to come up against the back of the chair or sofa that mom is sitting upon. However, we liked the gently curved shape of the Blessed Nest Organic Nesting pillow to which we gave our Editors' Choice award as it is very easy to adjust with one hand and fits women of different sizes equally well.

Fastening Systems
Two of the pillows we tested, My Brest Friend and the Boppy Two-Sided Nursing, offer a buckle system to give the pillow the closest possible fit.
My Breast Friend has a one sided latch system.
My Breast Friend has a one sided latch system.
While these do help keep the pillow from moving in the middle of a feeding and keep baby from slipping between mom's body and the pillow, they also make it more difficult to get the pillow on and off. Usually feeding time comes with some subtle warnings from baby and at times, some not so subtle ones.
Thanks to the Velcro strap on the new My Brest Friend Deluxe  securing this pillow is no longer a two handed job.  Simply  keep the buckle at the desired length  wrap the pillow around your body  and tighten the pillow with the easy to use strap.
Thanks to the Velcro strap on the new My Brest Friend Deluxe, securing this pillow is no longer a two handed job. Simply, keep the buckle at the desired length, wrap the pillow around your body, and tighten the pillow with the easy to use strap.
Therefore, when mom is struggling to hold a hungry baby baby with one hand while getting the pillow secure with the other the extra step of latching a buckle is not always helpful.

Nursing Location


Though you may have that fabulous nursing glider in baby's nursery, you may find yourself breastfeeding baby in the family room or kitchen where everyone is hanging out more often. When baby hits the 4 month mark and becomes more distracted when nursing, you may need to seek a quiet place together. Depending on if you will be using a nursing pillow in a glider, on a couch, in a bed, at the kitchen table, or on the floor, this may very well determine the style of pillow you choose.
The Luna Lullaby features a plusher pillow in the curve to best support where baby's head will lay. However the sides are so long they can bunch up or block you from sitting comfortably in most places.
The Luna Lullaby features a plusher pillow in the curve to best support where baby's head will lay. However the sides are so long they can bunch up or block you from sitting comfortably in most places.

A Few to go Around


When baby is ravenous, but the nursing pillow is in another location of the house, retrieving it can become low priority pretty quickly. Sometimes investing in a few and having them dispersed around your favorite nursing spots within the home can make a big difference for its convenience factor.

Portability


Also, finding one that is easily portable to throw into the car like the Blessed Nest Organic Nesting or one that deflates and packs flat into a suitcase like the My Brest Friend Inflatable Travel pillow can make a big difference when nursing outside of the home or on the road.

Cleaning


After two minutes of trying to put the cover back onto the Dr. Brown's Gia  it was still quite difficult to guide the pillow back to its original shape.
After two minutes of trying to put the cover back onto the Dr. Brown's Gia, it was still quite difficult to guide the pillow back to its original shape.
Spills and spit-ups while nursing happen so you will have to clean it fairly regularly. The question is how much time and patience do you have for cleaning. The easiest ones to clean have both covers and pillows that can be both machine washed and dried like the Boppy Original and Dr Brown's Gia. Fabric covers that repel liquid nicely like the Boppy Two-sided Nursing, the Boppy Original, and the Luna Lullaby make for a quick clean-up. Others have foam inserts that need to be spot cleaned and laid flat to dry which will take extra time.

Materials


Both the cover and pillow of the Original Boppy are machine washable and can go into the dryer. This gave it a high score for Ease of Cleaning in addtion to the fat that putting the Boppy back together again takes no time at all  in fact less than two  minutes!
Both the cover and pillow of the Original Boppy are machine washable and can go into the dryer. This gave it a high score for Ease of Cleaning in addtion to the fat that putting the Boppy back together again takes no time at all, in fact less than two minutes!
The quality of materials used in nursing pillows varies greatly and impacts both support and how easily the pillow can be cleaned. Blessed Nest was the only 100% organic pillow we tested complete with pesticide free buckwheat for support. Blessed Nest was one of five pillows that used materials with no flame retardant chemicals. These chemicals pose no extra safety for children yet are found in nearly 80% of baby products. Boppy has never used such chemicals and My Brest Friend leaves them out of their foam insert along with Luna Lullaby.

The materials used help determine how much cleaning you have to do with your pillow as well as how quickly you can expect to use your pillow after cleaning. Blessed Nest, the Original Boppy, and Dr Brown's allow both the cover and the pillow to be machine washed and dried. The added convenience of being able to wash the pillow is greatly appreciated, especially because some of the cover materials did not repel spills all that well.

If having more natural materials for your baby, you will likely be looking closely at the components that make up a nursing pillow as the fabrics can vary. Just like a baby's crib mattress, they will be spending quite a bit of time on a nursing pillow, if you exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months. Thus, materials are worthwhile to give some serious consideration. Outer covers range from cotton, synthetic polyester, and blends to organic cotton. Pillows range from synthetics like polyester and foams to natural materials like buckwheat hulls. Exposure to foams containing flame retardant chemicals is a big one and as of the date of this writing, both Boppy and My Brest Friend have flame retardant-free foam in their nursing pillows.

Conclusion


We recommend having a nursing pillow on hand specifically for the early newborn days when the line of wakefulness blurs with exhaustion. The extra support can make such an incredible difference when breastfeeding. A pillow such as the Blessed Nest Organic Nesting molds into different sizes to accommodate a newborn nicely and is as eco-friendly as they get. Also, the Boppy Two-sided Nursing pillow which was awarded our Best Value is another great early nice pillow because of its nice height, fitted strap, and dual sides that provide varying degrees of support. Every mom deserves to be fully supported in nursing her baby(ies). A nursing pillow is just one of those tick list items that can provide it. Happy breastfeeding:)

Dr. Juliet Spurrier is founder and Mom-in-Chief at BabyGearLab
Juliet Spurrier, MD
About the Author
Dr. Juliet Baciocco Spurrier is a board certified pediatrician, mother of two, and founder of BabyGearLab. Juliet earned her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Anthropology and Italian Literature from the University of California at Berkeley and her Medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington DC. She completed her pediatric residency at the Doernbecher Children's Hospital at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, OR, and subsequently practiced pediatrics in both the Pacific Northwest and Silicon Valley. Juliet serves as Mom-in-Chief at BabyGearLab, where she oversees all baby product review activity, assuring that each review delivers on our commitment to quality.

 
Unbiased.