Q. What’s the best baby equipment?

A. Breasts and loving arms are the best “equipment”, of course! Many devices and products actually interfere with breastfeeding and other natural parenting practices.

But there are a few items that do come in handy:

1. A big bed makes for cozy family sleeping. A crib with its rail down, pushed next to the parents’ bed, also allows for closeness and easy breastfeeding. Some families sell their beds and cover the floor with wall-to-wall futons or other mattresses. Babies should not sleep on waterbeds, as they are unable to push themselves away if necessary. A firm surface is ideal. Parents sleeping near a baby should also avoid smoking, alcohol, street drugs, and prescription medicines which interfere with alertness.

2. A baby sling, which can also be used for nursing. They’re indispensable for “wearing” the baby and keeping hands free for working or shopping. There are now lots of articles out there on the many benefits of baby wearing, as well as Facebook groups on this old-fashioned but timeless way of transporting your little ones!

3. Pillows are very helpful for both comfort and support while breastfeeding. They can be placed behind the back, for supporting and lifting the baby on the mother’s lap, and for leg support while nursing lying down. Various sizes are useful for different positions, and for growing babies. Specially-designed pillows for supporting the nursing baby, such as the “My Brest Friend Feeding Pillow” or other breastfeeding pillow that helps to position your baby comfortably at your breast, can be very helpful — although you do need to watch and make sure that pillows aren’t too thick, which can prop the baby up too high to latch onto the breast properly. But those pillows can be great for cuddling and also for cuddling with dad.

4. A footstool, such as the Medela Nursing Stool. This simple item can be remarkably useful in relieving back pressure when breastfeeding in a sitting position. Foot support also helps raise baby to breast level for the most effective and comfortable nursing position. Phone books or catalogues will do if you have anything like that kicking around, but a sturdy footstool is better, and having it reminds the mother to use it. Pillows, footstools and other items that make breastfeeding easier make wonderful baby shower gifts!

What to avoid:
Baby bottles are unnecessary. If challenges arise necessitating supplementation, cups or spoons can be used – while continuing to breastfeed. If a doctor suggests weaning, check with a La Leche League leader (there is a directory of La Leche League web site groups at the La Leche League web site) or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (ask your local hospital or health department for a referral — or look these up online) for expert help in making such an important decision. In the vast majority of cases, there are alternatives to weaning.

Cribs, playpens, dummies (pacifiers), baby swings, nursery monitors, and strollers (especially those which block baby’s vision of the parent) subtly and not-so-subtly alter natural parenting, and can interfere with the mother-child bond.

What can parents do if they receive gifts they don’t want to use? The problem here is that if there is an unwanted baby device in the house, someone will try it sooner or later. Parents shouldn’t feel obligated to accept any gift. If they receive one they do not want, they could thank the giver for thinking of them, then add, “I don’t think we will use this. Could we go and exchange it?” (Shopping together could be fun.) Or, if they don’t expect to be asked about its use, they can return the item privately, break the item and recycle the materials, or donate it to a breastfeeding support group for educational displays. After all, baby equipment should only be used to enhance the bond between parents and baby.

Happy parenting!