Baby-Related Crafts

A Nursing Pillow that fits just right

My nursing pillow -- click for larger imageMaybe you've seen the "Boppy" pillows in kids' stores like Toys R Us and their ilk. Maybe you even own one. I don't, because I'm not built like the Barbie doll they appear to have been designed for! I did get a pattern from Elizabeth Lee Designs, which looked like it was made for a more realistic woman. However, the one I sewed ended up self-destructing, as my ample waist was placing too much stress on the inner curve. I made myself a second one after that, altering the pattern so it was large enough to go around me, and have been using it ever since. However, I thought, it would have been so simple just to make one that would fit *me* the first time, why don't I help other women with that?

The idea behind a nursing pillow is simple: get the baby's mouth to a comfortable level with the mother's breast, while giving her something on which to rest her arms while feeding. Stephen takes this a step fur ther, and has had the majority of his naps on the pillow in my lap :) If you are small enough to use the Boppy comfortably, go for it; if not, it will only take you a few minutes to draft a pattern that is uniquely your own, and use it to make the Perfect Nursing Pillow for you. The other plus about making your own is that you can include a strap, which makes it much easier to lug around if you intend to nurse in more than one place (and you will!).

This, along with a sling, makes a thoughtful shower gift for an expectant mother, though of course you will have to guesstimate about her circumferance. Make them in matching fabrics for a really "together" look! Both of them are very simple projects, suitable even for beginning sew-ers.

My latest thing with the pillow pattern: a perfectly portable pillow (pardon the p's). We're taking a trip to Washington, DC, next week, and while I didn't want to lug my trusty pillow along with me, I did want a pillow to use in museums and other places we might nurse. It'll be chilly when we go (late October/early November), and we will have winter jackets and blankets. So I made the shell of a pillow, using a 16" strip of Velcro on the outer seam, and will stuff the shell with my coat when we are inside and need to sit down and nurse! It's a all the convenience of a nursing pillow with just the shell to carry around.

This pattern is copyright to me (Jan Andrea) and is NOT for resale under ANY circumstances!

Please note: I do not make these pillows for sale. I have the directions up here so that sewing mamas (dadas, grandmas, etc.) can make them for themselves (partners, daughters, etc.) but I don't sew them for other people :) there are a lot of very talented sewists on Etsy who sell them, though, so if you're in the market, take a look there.

Edited to add, November 9, 2009: I've now seen nursing pillow inserts that come with a paper pattern for sewing the cover at JoAnn Fabrics! How exciting that something like this is now mainstream :) The pillow inserts are shaped pretty much like a Boppy (i.e. if you're plus-sized, you're still out of luck), so they'll be fine for average-sized women and below.

Materials Needed:

For drafting the pattern:

For sewing the pillow:

Directions for drafting the pattern:

Click drawings to enlarge:
Making the tracing Drawing in a cutting line
  1. Lay your paper down on the floor.
  2. Arrange your object of clothing/belt (closed or buttoned) so that the back waistline touches the edge of the paper-- enough that the finished pillow will go just fur ther than the middle of your sides.
  3. Trace around the object. This tracing, once cleaned up, will approximate your sewing line.
  4. Using your ruler, mark where the outer seam will go, around the cardinal directions.
    1. If you want a relatively wide pillow, use around 9";
    2. For a narrower one, use closer to 7".
    3. I do recommend a wide pillow, though.
    4. You may also taper the curve so that it is wider on the sides -- this gives you more wiggle room for your elbows.
  5. Connect the markings you made, following the curve set by your waist.
  6. Draw in cutting lines about 1/2" from your seamlines to make a seam allowance -- you may use a wider or narrower seam allowance, but a wide one may save you from the seams opening up once the pillow is stuffed.
  7. You will (hopefully) end up with a C-shaped pillow as shown at right.

Directions for sewing the pillow:

  1. Lay your pattern on the fabric so that it fits best, and if there is a nap, it runs in a comfortable direction (think about pulling your baby closer to you on the pillow -- which way will feel best?)
  2. Cut out the pattern. If you want to make a strap, consider how long it should be (whe ther it will go across your chest or just over your shoulder), and try to leave enough fabric on one edge to accomodate that. Alternatively, you could use a length of nice ribbon, or wide bias tape stitched closed -- whatever pleases you.
  3. OPTIONAL: Make a pocket for the pillow using the material left over in the inner curve. A lined/turned patch pocket is the simplest one for this. If you make a pocket, stitch it onto the pillow before sewing the two pieces together. A pocket is great for a bottle of water or a book -- obviously they will have to be taken out before putting the baby on the pillow, but a pocket is handy for carrying purposes.
  4. Sew the inner curve first -- I recommend using a fine stitch, and going over the seam a couple of times. You may want to do a French seam, as it is quite sturdy.
  5. Prepare the strap, and sew it to the pillow, right sides together, with the strap running along the inside of the inner curve (so that it's on the outside when you turn the pillow). Definitely reinforce the point at which the strap meets the pillow -- having it come undone would be a real pain!
  6. Sew around the outer curve, leaving a 5-6" gap in the center of the outer curve for turning and stuffing. It's a good idea to reinforce this stitching, as well, because the whole pillow will take a lot of abuse.
  7. Turn the pillow right side out.
  8. Stuff the pillow, "arms" first, avoiding excessive lumpiness in the stuffing. Try to keep the pillow relatively "flat" -- so that it's less cylindrical in cross-section, and more like a flattened oval. If it is round, it will get flatter with time, but can be sort of annoying in the beginning.
  9. Sew up the opening by hand -- a strong thread, or doubled regular thread, is best, and make the stitches as tight and sturdy as you can.
  10. You're done! Now you can nurse your baby in comfort.

Hints for use:

Other breastfeeding pillow sewing directions on the web: has a printable pattern -- seems similar in size to the original pillow, for what that's worth, and if you're larger, you will probably need to enlarge the opening. I also prefer to make the hand-stitch (or zipper, in this particular pattern) in the back of the pillow, not in the inner part, as it's easier to sew in back in my experience.


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