Why will I need breastpads?
Most women will need to use breastpads for some time after the birth, and some may find that they need to use breastpads ahead of the birth because of breast leakage.
If you're breastfeeding then you are likely to find that your breasts leak milk between feeds, at the very least until your milk supply settles down and your baby is feeding at regular times. Some mums find that they leak milk throughout the whole time that they are breastfeeding, though this is less likely to happen when you cut back to only a couple of feeds a day. Your breasts may be stimulated into producing milk between feeds quite easily, hearing your baby cry is a classic, but you may also leak milk when your baby isn't there at all; looking at a picture of your baby may prompt milk production, or even hearing someone else's baby cry. Some women also find that one breast reliably leaks while their baby is feeding on the other.
Of course going round with two great damp circles around your nipples isn't the best look for any outfit, but more importantly, if the material around your nipples is damp and rubs against them, then it can cause irritation and make infection more likely. Breastpads allow you to keep the material around your nipple dry and so prevent this chafing - you can change the pads frequently - without needing to change your bra so often.
You may think that a breastpad is a breastpad and it doesn't matter which you use, but in fact, even something so apparently simple can vary quite a lot from person to person in terms of comfort, fit and meeting your absorbency needs. Getting the right breastpad for you can make a material difference to your experience of breastfeeding and so help you breastfeed for longer.
Disposables or reusables?
Breast pads fall into two main groups, re-usable and disposable, and there are, of course, pros and cons to each.
Disposable breastpads are cheaper in the short-term (a pack of thirty typically costs around £3 - 4), so it's easier to try out a few brands if you don't get it right first time. Disposables are thinner and so more discreet than many (though by no means all) reusable breastpads, and of course, you don't have the hassle of washing and drying the pads between uses.
Reusable breastpads, meanwhile, involve a bigger financial outlay in the beginning (they typically cost around £1.50 - £2 a pair but can cost over £5 a pair for the all-singing, all-dancing varieties), but if you're going to breastfeed for anything more than a few weeks then they quickly become the more economical option. Given that you can bung the pads in the wash with your regular laundry they're also a more environmentally-friendly option than disposables.
Many mums find that having fabric against their skin is generally more comfortable than the paper of disposable pads, although there is quite a bit of variation from brand to brand in both kinds of pads. In our experience, washable breastpads are also more absorbent than disposables, so you'll probably need to change them less often, but exactly how many you need will depend on the extent of your personal propensity to leakage.
On the down side for some mums, reusable pads can be quite a bit bulkier than disposable pads (but this does vary from brand to brand) and not everyone likes the idea of needing to wash the pads, or is happy to pay for several pairs of pads at the outset. However, there is a fairly new and innovative product that deals with all these potential issues: ultra-slim silicone breast pads called LilyPadz which require a quick wash under the tap and air-dry in a couple of minutes, although these aren't recommended for use until your milk supply has settled into a pattern (see below for more details).
What to look for
- Shape - Disposables can vary greatly in shape and thickness, which can affect comfort and their visibility under your clothes. Genereally speaking you want to look for a pad contoured to your breast, but a good fit can be quite a personal thing, even with breastpads.
- Absorbency - Here you want to find the right trade off between thickness and absorbency depending on how much leakage you usually produce. A breastpad that may be perfectly adequate for one mum's needs may just not cut the mustard for you, so be prepared to try a few out. There are some ultra-thin pads that are designed not to compromise on absorbency, and we've heard very good reports on Lansinoh's disposables on this score.
- Comfort - Look for a pad that has a nice, silky soft lining against your nipple, such as Tommy Tippees Closer to Nature pads (£9.9 for 100). Also watch out for any seams on the lining of the pad that could irritate your nipple
- Staying put - Disposable pads can have a habit of slipping if they're not anchored in place, but there are many brands that now include adhesive tapes to secure them to the inside of your bra.
- Individually wrapped pairs - How you feel about these really depends on your take on waste: They can either be an excessive packaging demon or very useful for keeping pads tidy and dry in your bag. As a compromise you could keep individually wrapped pads for out and about use, rather than everyday use at home.
- Non-irritating - Different disposable pads make use of different materials and you may find that some irritate your skin - another reason for trying out different brands.
- Green credentials - There are several more environmentally-friendly options out there in the form of biodegradable disposable pads, such as those made by Natracare (£2.20 for 25).
Tip - If you don't find the perfect breastpads for you right away then why not swap around several fresh pairs with other mums from your antenatal group so you can all try several brands without wasting money.
- Fabric/shape - Reusable pads come in a variety of fabrics/materials, shapes and sizes, with each changing how the pads will fit and perform. Some washable pads are very simple flat circles, which may appear more bulky and be less comfortable than something contoured to a breast shape, like Medela's washable pads (£5 for a set of two).
Bamboo has several advantages as a fabric: it's more absorbent than cotton (so the pads can be thinner), the material is naturally anti-bacterial (so helps to reduce the risk of infections), and bamboo tends to stay softer through the washing process than cotton, so it's more comfortable against the skin and may mould better to your nipple shape. There are several brands of bamboo pads, including the contoured pads from Motherease (£11 for a pack of 6 pads). Hemp is another fabric option that scores very well on the absorbency stakes.
- Fabric linings - Our first washable breastpads were from unlined cotton microterry and, while good on the absorbency front, the material could get quite stiff and uncomfortable next to the skin, particularly after line-drying (you'll want to avoid fabric softeners with washable breastpads as these reduce absorbency). A different material lining to the pads (such as brushed cotton, bamboo, cotton velour or silk - be prepared to pay more for silk linings) will probably be more comfortable than a simple terry pad. Swaddlebee breast pads, for example, use an organic cotton velour lining for smoothness next to the skin (£5.99 for 6 pads).
- Seams - As with disposable pads you want to watch out for seams on the inside of the pad, next to the skin, which could irritate your nipple.
- Non-leak outers - Some washable pads have now adopted the PUL or fleece outer linings used so successfully with washable nappies to all but ensure you don't experience any leaks at all. Fuzzi Bunz makers, Mother of Eden, have developed their leak-proof breast pads with a wicking soft fleece lining and PUL outer (£6.99 for 6 pads). Mommy's Touch pads also use fleece to wick away moisture from the nipple and a PUL lining to prevent leaks. They're also available in 3 different sizes to accommodate different cup sizes (£5.25 per pair). Note that many of these leak-proof options aren't made from natural fibres, however.
- Green credentials - If you're after the greenest options then look for organic cotton, wool, hemp or bamboo pads.
- Staying out - Slippage tends to be less of a problem with washable pads than disposable ones, and a well-fitting bra should mean that your pads stay put. However, some pads are designed to give a bit of traction against your bra material, such as the lace outer on Medela's pads.
- No laundering - Newest reusable breast pads on the block are LilyPadz silicone pads. Unlike other washable pads, LilyPadz don't absorb leaks from the nipple, but work by exerting a light pressure on the nipple to prevent leaks and stopping moisture reaching your clothes. The pads allow natural moisture from breast milk to keep the nipple supple and help avoid infections while cutting out chafing, but any excess moisture help in the shield should be wiped away as and when necessary. The silicone pads are breathable, so slim as to be pretty much invisible under clothes and can be washed and dried in a couple of minutes. They are also self-adhesive, sticking comfortably to your skin, so they stay in place easily. On the down side, the makers of the pads recommend that they're best used once your milk production has settled into a regular pattern, so they might not be a good option for the first few weeks. We've heard rave reviews of these from friends, but have yet to get our mitts on them to try them out for ourselves.
Where to buy breastpads
Disposable breastpads are widely available and you can get good prices at big chemists, baby care specialists and in supermarkets. You can buy some washable pads on the high street, at shops like Boots and Mothercare, however, you tend to get a very limited choice there - usually only a couple of big names such as Medela and Avent. Online shopping gives you far greater scope for washable pads and most of the online washable nappy sites also stock reusable breastpads.