Wait, what? Breast pads?! What on earth are they?

Wait, what? Breast pads?! What on earth are they?

Posted by Corryn Barakat on 12th Aug 2019

There are some things that you can't even imagine before becoming a mum. I put leaky boobs in that category. I remember when I first found out that there was such a thing called "Breast Pads", I was quite horrified. "Wait, what?! My breasts will leak unexpectedly? I need pads for my bra? What have I gotten myself in for?!" 

But then, as often happens, I had my baby. Suddenly, between nappy changes (explosive poos and unexpected projectile wee, an added bonus of having a little boy), maternity pads and, most importantly, getting to know my new baby,  nursing pads were totally no big deal, and just one more thing to add to my shopping list.

When your breasts start to leak unexpectedly

I went to my first mothers group when my newborn was only 3 weeks old. I was wearing a cute pink top and jeans and I was quite nervous. I was also running late and feeling flustered. I had no idea what I was doing as a new mum, and my baby just seemed to want to feed all the time. So, walking cautiously in through the open front door and calling out ‘Hello!’, I tip toed into the lounge room of a woman I had never met and sat on the floor because the lounges were all filled with other women I had never met, all with new babies of varying ages. Everyone smiled at me, and the health visitor who was speaking smiled at me and continued talking (about what I cannot remember!).

Inevitably, my little baby woke up (because hello! no more movement), and decided that NOW was a great time for breastfeeding. So I wriggled around and started breastfeeding as discreetly as I could as the health visitor kept talking. Lo and behold, within about 1 minute, I had saturated my top with breast milk from the breast that my baby wasn’t feeding from. I spent the rest of the meeting flapping my top trying to dry it, with a huge milk stain from nipple to belly. I was lucky enough to have a warm and supportive group of women around me who sympathised with my situation and it turned out to be a great ice breaker! #MotherhoodUnplugged

What are breast pads?

Breast Pads are small circles of fabric, normally between 8 to 12 cm in diameter that are worn inside your bra to absorb any leaking breast milk. They often have a waterproof backing to help prevent milk staining your top. They are available as disposable and reusable or washable pads, in a wide range of fabrics.

Often when a breastfeeding mother hears a baby cry, her breasts will produce milk, or "let down" automatically. Breastfeeding mothers will experience different volumes of leakage, some women leak a lot, and some don't leak at all. Different women will find different types of breast pads suit them better.

How much will my breasts leak when I start breastfeeding?

At the time of the story above in my first Mothers Group, I was wearing some cheap disposable breast pads from the supermarket, but with a very fast let down, and oversupply (not that I had any idea what either of those things were at the time), they just weren’t up to the job. As it turns out there is a wide range of leakage levels for different women. Some women never need breast pads at all, and others need them 24/7. You may even find that you don’t need them until your baby is a little bit older. One of my friends didn’t need them until her baby was 3 months old. And even then she only needed them for 3 months. By the time she’d started remembering to wear them she didn’t need them anymore!

On the other hand, I’ve needed breast pads from when my milk ‘comes in’ after birth (about 2 days after birth) up until about 5 months old. I haven’t just needed to wear one or two a day, I’ve needed multiple throughout the day, plus a towel under me at night in case the breast pads soak through or slip out of place. Funnily enough, it was worse with my first baby (who was a very enthusiastic feeder) than my second (who preferred to only nurse while I was lying down to slow the rush of milk).

Which is better? Disposable vs Reusable Breast Pads

I’ve tried a range of disposables, as well as  reusable breast pads, and am a huge fan of reusable breast pads for 2 reasons:

  1. The first is that you save money (you can use them for every baby you ever have, and then hand them on) and it is better environmentally than the disposables. 
  2. The second reason is that most disposables aren’t great for your skin, and when you’re dealing with sensitive, sore or cracked nipples it’s great to have organic cotton or bamboo pads, and to always wash them in sensitive skin detergent and no fabric softener. The fewer chemicals on your sensitive skin, the better. 

Having said that, it can be a good idea to have some disposable breast pads on hand for when you’re out and about, or when you’re operating in survival mode and just need convenience. In this case, I recommend getting disposable breast pads that are made with natural fabrics where possible.

Random tip that could save your sore nipples

Another pro-mama tip is that airing your nipples is crucial to helping them heal. Keeping cracked or split nipples covered in a moist environment is a sure fire way to get an infection or thrush. It sounds weird, but walking around at home with your nipples out is highly recommended – just rub a little bit of breast milk on them and go for it. Just remember to put your top back on when answering the door (it sounds strange, but anything is possible in the new baby haze!). The other products that can really help when you have cracked nipples are breast shells. These fabulous products keep your clothes off your nipples and allow them to air, while still being covered up.

So, how do you use breast pads?

Bamboo Reusable Breast Pads

Breast pads are placed into your nursing bra, over your nipple and will absorb any milk that leaks. You will need to change the breast pads at least once a day, or more if you experience heavy leakage. 

Milk can leak randomly through the day, after a warm shower, if you hear a baby cry, or you might find that just one side leaks when you’re breastfeeding on the other. Every woman is different, and every baby is different, so the amount of leakage can change significantly for every baby. You will need to use trial and error to work out how many times a day to change your breast pads. Just remember to change them regularly and wash them to avoid infections or thrush. 

You can choose between disposable breast pads or reusable breast pads, or have a stash of both that you can use in different situations. Disposable breast pads often have an adhesive strip to help it stick to your bra, and reusable breast pads often have one side that is a little more textured to help it stay in place inside your bra. 

To wash reusable breast pads, you can just pop them into a lingerie bag in with your clothes, and just make sure you use sensitive skin detergent and avoid fabric softener to limit the amount of chemicals that could cause irritation. Most reusable breast pads increase in absorbency every time you wash them.

Shop our favourite disposable and reusable Organic and Bamboo Breast Pads here >

About the Author

Corryn Barakat, Author

Corryn is a lover of coffee, hugs and sunshine. Mum of 3 and founder of Milk and Love, Corryn loves chatting to new mums and pregnant mums. She has extensive breastfeeding experience, and is an advocate for gentle parenting, cosleeping and looking after Mum's mental health...  read more about Corryn here 

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