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squishmallow as a breastfeeding pillow
Courtesy of Sarah Lester

The Best Breastfeeding Pillow Is Actually A Squishmallow

The genius advice one lactation consultant gives new parents.

I breastfeed three children, and I used a Boppy nursing pillow pretty consistently for the first couple of weeks. After that it was used mainly to support my husband’s arm as he rocked a baby and watched football. (Ask him about the one piece of baby gear he’d recommend for a dad, and he’ll say it’s a Boppy.) When my babies were big enough, the Boppy just became another soft thing in the house that they could fling on the floor. Until I finally got rid of it.

But now I’m wondering if I should have just used a Squishmallow as a breastfeeding support pillow instead. IBCLC Sarah Lester, owner of LATCH Breastfeeding and Postpartum Wellness Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina, thinks so — in fact, she keeps them in her practice specifically for this purpose.

On the off chance your home has not become overrun by Squishmallows and you’re unsure of what they are, let me explain: They are impossibly soft and squishy stuffed toys that come in various sizes and shapes. They are extremely popular with kids, in part because they are ubiquitous, come in dozens of varieties, and are not as expensive as some other stuffed toys. My own 9-year-old sleeps with about 17 of them in her bed. They are so soft and oddly pleasing that my husband will recline on a pile of them in our girls’ room and insist that maybe he use them for a mattress topper instead of our current situation.

That density, matched with pliable softness, is what makes the Squishmallow perfect for breastfeeding moms, according to Lester. “Pillows that are made and marketed as ‘nursing pillows’ tend to focus solely on supporting the baby, but don't take into account the support that the breastfeeding parent requires to not fatigue,” she says. “In general, I try to teach families not to feel like they need to rely on extra tools, but sometimes their arm can get tired in a particular position.”

Lester has found that not only are Squishmallows cheaper than most breastfeeding pillows, they’re also “the perfect density and size” for this kind of arm support, and they’re far more fun to have in the nursery. “I tend to prefer the 14” to 16" ones because they work to be the perfect height when they — the Squishmallow — are ‘lying down,’ and for someone with a long torso, the Squishmallow can be used ‘standing up.’”

Courtesy of Sarah Lester

This kind of support can keep your arms and shoulders from aching as you hold your baby (especially in those early days when they seem to nurse forever), as well as avoid upper and lower back pain and “keep the hunchback — kyphosis — from forming,” Lester says. And she has a professional explanation for what I discovered myself, that support pillows are really best in the early weeks “until baby has better function and neck control.” Once that happens, you can generally nurse your baby without any support (or continue to use a Squishmallow for some extra arm help). Even in the days where my baby was big enough to keep her neck up to nurse, it was still nice to shove a pillow into my armpit so my shoulders didn’t hurt.

And a personal reason I find the Squishmallow a better option? Parents might be less likely to use it as a prop to hold their baby for sleeping or tummy time. In a study last summer, 162 newborn deaths were linked to nursing pillows, and a Squishmallow does not have a tempting “hole” or opening for a baby to rest inside, which is where the danger lies. Lester agrees. “Squishmallow wouldn’t allow for any propping of the baby, nor would — I hope — anyone think to use them as such.”

And of course you should follow all safe sleep guidelines with your newborn, and keep the Squishmallow out of baby’s crib for the first 12 months. Just like breastfeeding pillows are not meant to be sleeping devices for baby, do not use a Squishmallow as one.

Squishmallows are also easy to clean and dry, and they can be bought in several different shapes and varieties. You can also pick them up nearly everywhere, from your favorite Target or Walmart to your local Walgreens. A Squishmallow as a breastfeeding support is economical, easy, and you then get to have a fun little nursery playmate for your child as they grow. If I ever have another baby, I’ll grab a football-themed one for my husband.