Breast pads are an essential item for a newly breastfeeding mom. Available in both washable and disposable varieties, these little circles of padding collect the inevitable leakage of breast milk in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding as the breasts establish milk supply and then adjust to the baby's need.
At a recent family dinner my newly nursing sister-in-law mentioned to me how glad she was to find out from a friend that she wouldn't be yoked to using these pads forever, which reminded me that it might be worth a short mention and discussion of this important but (yes!) impermanent breastfeeding supply.
What are Breast Pads?
Breast pads are 3-4 inch circles of cloth and/or padding that are placed inside a nursing bra to collect leakage of breast milk in the early days and weeks of nursing. On the eco-friendly front, reusable, washable pads are available. I'd recommend all-cotton breathable pads for this option (I like Medela which I purchased for my first baby, see below).
Disposable pads vary in available options. Some are simple thin cotton pads, while some get fancy with adhesive that fastens the pad to the bra, absorbent gel similar to disposable diapers and non-stick surfaces against the breast. (My favorite is this "high-tech" variety, Lansinoh, that I purchased for use with both of my daughters.)
Choosing Washable or Disposable Nursing Pads
Whether to use reusable pads or single-use pads is largely a matter of preference, although there are a few considerations worth mentioning. Reusable cotton pads can stick slightly damp surface of the nipple. This may pull a tiny bit when removing and leave tiny cotton fibers on the nipple. The cotton fibers certainly aren't substantial enough in my opinion to bother the baby, and generally won't bother the mother, *but* in the case of sore or damaged nipples can definitely add to discomfort. In this instance I'd definitely use a non-stick pad.
Washable pads also need to be changed more often than a pad with absorbent features. However, disposable pads are definitely an environmental blight (albeit a short-lived one), so if you are considering cloth diapers, you might want to at least try out reusable pads as well. Lastly, disposable pads are an essential item for a mother treating thrush (see related link below).
Cost may work out to be able the same (maybe slightly less for reusable if you wash often or need them for longer), as washables cost around $3-4 a pair and disposables cost around $8-9 for 30 pair and you'll use anywhere from 1-10 or more pairs a day.
The good news is that whatever version of breast pad you choose, your relationship with them will likely be short-lived. Most mothers finish needing pads within 6-12 weeks of breastfeeding, although some may experience shorter or longer periods. Working moms may choose to use breast pads inside clothing on the job "just in case."
For mothers who leak only from the non-feeding breast when the baby stimulates the milk to let down, try pressing gently on the leaking breast with your forearm until 30 seconds or so after letdown and that may be enough to stop the leakage. Eventually the gentle, supportive pressure of a nursing bra (try a sleep bra at night, see related link below) is usually enough to contain leaking. Working moms for whom leakage may be minor (but embarrassing!) can try a smaller profile pad, or even cut some reusable flannel or cotton fabric scraps that can be easily replaced during the day if needed).
Here's some links to my favorite pads from my own experience: