One of the things you get familiar with fast in those first few weeks after you have a baby is bodily fluids.
Blood and urine, lochia and poo, vomit and saliva and tears and snot — between you and baby, you’re creating a perfect storm of leaks that means you need an endless supply of towels, pads, tissues and wipes on hand at all times.
In an ideal world, breastmilk wouldn’t be one of those things — that liquid gold would stay firmly in breast until feeding time, but unfortunately, that’s almost never a reality.
So, how do you curb those lactation leaks? And, how do you prevent stains on your clothing, or the chafing or cracked nipples that can come from sensitive skin being pushed into damp nursing bras?
And how do you prevent bacteria wriggling its way into tender breasts?
Two words! Breast pads.
What are breast pads and why do you need them?
Breast pads, also known as nursing pads, are, in many ways, exactly what they sound like — a small, round piece of either disposable or reusable absorbent fabric, bamboo or silicone — that you slip into your bra to catch any breast milk leaks.
They more or less function the same way a sanitary pad does, but instead of catching menstruation, they catch breast milk.
In that sense, there are many reasons why you might choose nursing pads, but generally speaking, they prevent breast milk leaks staining your bra or clothing, and are delicate and soft enough to help prevent skin irritation and sore nipples.
Types of nursing pads
Like with other sanitary items, if you Google ‘breast pads’, you’re going to get millions of links pop up with products that range in size and scope, some with slightly different functions.
Chances are you'll also be greeted with tips on how to make DIY-style breast pads out of items you might find in a bathroom cabinet or kitchen drawer.
Generally speaking though, you can sum up nursing pads in five distinct categories.
- Disposable nursing pads are the sort you can buy in packs of 40+ from your local grocery store, which often make them pretty convenient. They can come in a range of shapes and sizes, and are designed to be used and thrown away.
- Reusable nursing pads are often bought in smaller packs, but are often gentler on the skin and always washable, making them a more environmentally-friendly alternative.
- Silicone pads are a little different. As opposed to preventing leaks by soaking up the breast milk, they apply a slight amount of pressure to the breast in a way that stops you leaking at all. Because they’re non-absorbent, they’re particularly good to wear under swimsuits if you’re making your way into the pool or heading to the beach, but because they stick via adhesive, they might not always work for sensitive skin.
- Hydrogel breast pads are less about preventing leaks, and more about providing cooling relief to nipples sore from breastfeeding. They can be particularly good if you’re looking for something to ease any mastitis or cracking.
- Homemade nursing pads are an option too, and can generally be made from cutting up some handkerchiefs or old flannels to make some. They might seem like a substitute for reusable breast pads, but the downside of them that the fabric won't be antibacterial or purpose built for tender breasts, and you might not have time pull out a pair of scissors and a sewing kit to make them.
While that might seem like a lot of options for breastfeeding mums, the two most common types of nursing pads you'll find are reusable pads or disposable ones.
So, what are the benefits and the drawbacks to them? And, how do you figure out what will be the best breast pads for you?
What are the pros and cons of disposable breast pads?
Disposable nursing pads certainly win points for ease of access. Available at most grocery stores or pharmacies, and usually in bulk packs, they can be a handy thing for a new parent on the go.
Most come with an adhesive strip or adhesive backing that sticks to your bra, which generally keeps them where you want them. Plus, you can really shop around for ones that match the absorbency, material and contoured shape and size that suits you, which makes finding the best disposable nursing pads a unique experience.
That said, the single-use only factor is definitely a drawback.
If you’re experiencing high levels of leakage between breastfeeding your baby, constantly having to buy more as you go through them can make them more expensive than you realise, and having to rush out to the store to get more before you head out to dinner, to the park or to work can be hard.
On top of that, single-use anything contributes substantially to landfill and can have a harmful effect on the environment, making disposable breast pads costly in more ways than one.
What are the pros and cons of reusable breast pads?
On the other hand, reusable pads are becoming increasingly common, you can even pick them up at many grocery stores these days too! They are generally made from absorbent, super soft and more breathable fabrics such as bamboo and cotton, and feel and look invisible inside your bra.
Without the sticky strips too, they can be especially good for any parents with skin sensitivities, eczema or dermatitis.
While they might be slightly more expensive as an initial cost, and unfortunately, will add to your baby-clothing-heavy laundry load, being a reusable nursing pad means you’ll always have a few sets on hand, and you can mix and match them if one breast leaks more than the other.
This keeps you feeling eco friendly, and will help you save money in the long run as you're not having to go out and replenish all those disposable options.
What should I look for in a nursing pad while breastfeeding?
Like with many things, it's often easier to talk about what to avoid rather than what to really look for.
Breastfeeding parents should steer clear of any breast pads that contain synthetic materials as they're likely to irritate your nipples, and similarly avoid anything made of cotton wool or panty liner material as it can cause chafing and sticking that isn't pleasant.
What you should look for will depend on your breast size and your milk supply, but you can't go wrong with something with waterproof backing, a secure fit with more coverage, an antibacterial inner layer and super absorbent material such as bamboo rayon velour, which will help to prevent leaks.
Kin's Breast Pads are reusable and are a cost-effective option when it comes to nursing pads. These pads are leak-proof, provide full coverage and are invisible under the bra.
They're made from sustainably-sourced bamboo material and with three pairs included, you won't ever be without a clean set.
And, these are ideal for overnight use to give your breasts the TLC they deserve while you sleep (or at least catch whatever glimpse of it you can while your new baby sleeps too).
What else do I need to know about nursing pads?
Ultimately, picking the best breast pads for you comes down to your individual needs. But, once you have a set of breast pads ready to go, it's important to know how often they need to be changed.
While this varies wildly depending on your own body and milk supply, the general rule of thumb is to change them when they're damp and to never wear them for longer than a day. If you're wearing reusable nursing pads, it's best to change these a few times a day and regularly wash the soiled pads.
Nursing pads can be a breeding ground for bacteria that would like to burrow down into cracked nipples, so regularly changing your nursing pad, regardless of whether it's a disposable one or a reusable one is essential*.
This means that you'll likely need a few pairs and stashing a few extra breast pads in your handbag or nappy bag is always a good idea.
Having a disposable option as well as a reusable option can also be valuable as it means you always have at least one pair on hand to catch any excess milk.
The important thing is to pay attention to your body, explore your options and regardless of the breast pads you choose, take care of yourself so you can take care of your baby too.
*Regardless of whether or not you use reusable breast pads or disposable ones, your breasts and nipples are vulnerable during breastfeeding.
If you notice any serious chafing or scabbing around the nipple area, or feel any pain, tenderness, heat, hardness or discolouration in your breast, make sure you talk to your doctor as soon as you can or give the Australian Breastfeeding Association a call.