When your teenager someday tells you how embarrassing you are, make sure to tell her she caused you embarrassment long before you ever thought of doing it to her!
Share your stories of breast milk leaking all over the front of your shirt at the most inconvenient time. It’s mortifying, and you try to make yourself feel better by pretending no one will notice… but of course they do.
Depending on your mood at the time, leaking breasts can feel like one of motherhood’s crueler jokes or just one more crazy thing your body seems able to do now. Whatever the case, when your, uh, cups runneth over, you’ll need a discreet way to stay dry.
While you certainly look forward to the day you can regain your dignity and not be caught unawares in public with two wet blotches on your shirt, for now the only way to save yourself embarrassment is to find the best nursing pads on the market. Here’s what to look for, plus answers to all your most burning nursing pad questions.
- Not bulky, absorbs well
- Little shifting needed
- Invisible through tighter shirts
- Smooth shape under clothes
- Soft on sore nipples
- Individually wrapped
- Can be used right away
- Big enough
- No bunching with repeated washing
- Washable and reusable
- Ultimate comfort and protection
- Includes waterproof carrying bag
- A complete kit
- Organic bamboo material
- 100% leak-proof outer lining
- Less expensive
- Holds a lot of milk
- Contoured fit
What are Nursing Pads Used For?
Milk leaks aren’t just embarrassing; they can ruin clothes and increase the amount of laundry you have to do every week. Breast milk can permanently destroy finer materials, and when you have a baby to clothe and feed, spending money on yourself for wardrobe malfunctions is the last thing you want to do.
If you need to protect your clothing and your sanity, you really should buy some nursing pads. All you do is stick these absorbent pads into your bra or nursing bra. They’ll take care of any milk that leaks from your breasts.
You’ll want the pads to be thick enough to do the job. But you don’t want them to be so thick that they’ll make your already swollen breasts look like you are the second coming of Dolly Parton.
Disposable vs Washable Nursing Pads
Here are some things you’ll want to consider when you are choosing between disposable versus washable pads:
Disposable Nursing Pads
Disposable nursing pads offer the ultimate in leak protection. Although the fabric isn’t always as soft as some of the reusable nursing pads, they aren’t nearly as thick, which some women may find makes them more comfortable to wear.
Even if moms choose to use reusable pads when they’re at home, I’d recommend having a box of disposables on hand in case you find you can’t do laundry quick enough to keep your reusables in stock.
They are also handy for weekend getaways where it’s more difficult to rely on your reusables alone.
- Disposable pads usually have a plastic lining on the outside, which is the part that touches your bra. That plastic lining helps prevent leaks, even if the pad is full of milk.
- If you’re worried about the footprint you’re making on the environment, you’ll likely want to choose washable pads.
- You might go through as many as two or three 60-count boxes a month.
- This is the more expensive route to take since you can’t reuse disposable pads.
- If you have a whole day planned away from the house, you’ll likely want to use disposables. You don’t want to be stuck far from home and find you’ve already leaked through your washables. Plus you won’t have to pack a plastic bag to store your wet washables in – you can just take the disposables out, throw them away and put a new pair in.
Leaks do happen, but most women’s breasts don’t leak very much especially after the milk regulates for what your baby needs.
Editor's Note:Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC
Washable Nursing Pads
To save on costs and be a friend to the environment, many women choose reusable nursing pads.
Made of fabric or sometimes silicone, they are made to be washed and reused.
- These are more environmentally friendly. They don’t seem to prevent as many leaks as disposables unless you replace them frequently.
- If you plan to use washables, you’ll need several pairs, so you aren’t doing laundry every day.
- You’ll pay more for washables initially, but over time they’ll be the cheaper option since you won’t have to buy any more after the first investment.
- Washable pads are usually a little bulkier and thicker than disposables. This normally isn’t a problem, but when you wear shirts that are made of thinner material, you can sometimes see the outline of the pads through your shirt.
How to Choose Nursing Pads
When it comes to nursing pads, there’s one big decision you’ll have to make before deciding which kind you want – whether you want disposables or washable pads. You might choose to use a mixture of both.
Here are some things to consider to help make that decision.
How Active You Are
If you plan to do a lot of working out, you may want to have some disposables on hand because they have the sticky backing that will help them adhere to your bra. That means they won’t shift around while you’re exercising.
How Comfortable They Are
A good nursing pad shouldn’t make you feel like your nipples are rubbing up against sandpaper all day.
How Leaky You Are
The plastic backing on a disposable offers a little more protection from leakage. So if you tend to have a lot of leaking, you may want disposables or be prepared to change your washable pads frequently.
If You See Them Through Your Clothes
The best nursing pads won’t be visible under your clothes. Which would be more embarrassing – a soaked shirt or the unmistakable bulge of a nursing pad under your shirt? It’s your call.
The Best Nursing Pads of 2021
Here are the top nursing pads on the market.
1. Bamboobies Super-soft Washable Nursing Pads
This pack includes three pairs of regular pads and three pairs of overnight pads in a variety of soft pastel colors. They can be hand washed, but it’s recommended that they are laundered in a washing machine and dried in a dryer.
Soft to the touch, these pads seem to get even softer with repeated washings. Moms who worry about reusable pads being visible through shirts don’t need to fret – these don’t show through nearly as much as some of the other reusable brands do.
These are a dream, so soft and work so well. these should definitely go on the baby registry!
Editor's Note:Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC
- Not bulky, but absorb well.
- These stay put in your bra with little shifting.
- Not visible through tighter shirts.
- More expensive than other brands.
- Don’t fit as well for big-breasted women.
2. Lansinoh Stay Dry Disposable Nursing Pads
These nursing pads are absorbent enough to be used both during the day and at night. They have a quilted honeycomb lining which helps draw the moisture away from the skin, leading to drier nipples and a happy mom.
They have a breathable waterproof lining that helps prevent leaks. Moms like that even though these pads are thin, they absorb a lot of milk. They’re specially designed with a contour to mould to breasts better, and they use adhesive tape to keep the pads from shifting inside the bra.
These are great for the start of breastfeeding because they are super absorbent and I found them helpful overnight in those early months. But they aren’t soft, they’re functional.
Editor's Note:Katelyn Holt RN, BSN, BC
- Smooth shape under clothes.
- Soft on sore nipples.
- Individually wrapped so you can safely pack them in your purse.
- The material for the pads isn’t recyclable.
- Women with sensitive skin may find these pads slightly itchy.
3. EcoNursing Washable Organic Nursing Pads
Eco Nursing Pads are made of organic bamboo, and this set includes two different types of pads – thicker round pads for heavier leaks that can occur at night and heart-shaped thinner pads for lighter times. This 5-pair set comes with three heavier pairs and two heart-shaped ones.
These pads are hypoallergenic, come with a storage bag, and use a leak-proof backing to help cut down on embarrassment for nursing mothers. The multi-pack comes in four colors and the pads are machine washable and dryer friendly. This set doesn’t include a laundry bag.
- Can be used right out of the pack instead of having to wash them first.
- Big enough for women with fuller-sized breasts.
- No bunching with repeated washing.
- Slightly visible under clothing.
- Not as absorbent as other brands.
4. Baby Zeli's Organic Bamboo Nursing Pads
Baby Zeli’s nursing pads are made of ultra-soft bamboo. They come in a pack of 5 pairs, are machine washable, and include a handy laundry bag, which will be easy to spot when you are sifting through all the clothes in your machine.
They’re made to withstand multiple rounds through the dryer as well, so you won’t have to wait for them to air dry. They come in a variety of colors including yellow, white, cream, pink and gray.
Made of organic materials, these pads are hypoallergenic, and include a waterproof layer that helps prevent the worst leaks. The silky bamboo material feels breathable and light against the skin.
- They hold up well after many machine washes.
- They don’t feel lumpy when you’re wearing them.
- Gentle on sensitive skin.
- Not as soft for the first wearing, but they get softer with repeated washings.
5. Kindred Bravely Washable Organic Nursing Pads
No matter where you go, be prepared for feedings with this collection of reusable nursing pads.
With three different layers, you’ll experience ultimate comfort and protection. The waterproof PUL layer keeps your bra dry and prevents leaks, the ultra-absorbent microfiber layer wicks moisture away, and the soft organic bamboo layer stays directly against your skin for plush comfort.
Each nursing pad is washable and reusable. This multipack includes four pairs or eight pads total. Put them all in the included waterproof carry bag, which features an adorable design and fits easily in a diaper bag or purse. You’ll be able to take pads with you and change them out without fear.
Plus, because of their contoured shape, they won’t look bulky and will feel great. If you’re planning on a long road trip or flight, you can wear them comfortably without worrying about leaks or shifting.
- Washable and reusable.
- Three layers provides ultimate comfort and protection.
- Includes a cute and waterproof carrying bag.
- The PUL layer may make a crinkling sound if something is pressed against your chest, making some women feel self-conscious.
6. M&Y Organic Bamboo Nursing Pads
Do you know a soon-to-be mom who could use a little help as she starts breastfeeding? This kit has everything she’ll need and then some. It makes a great gift for baby showers or just as a gift to a mom in need.
Each kit comes with seven packs of organic bamboo nursing pads. They’re washable, reusable, and waterproof. With a contoured fit and super soft material, moms can wear them even when their nipples are sore and sensitive.
Best of all, the outer layer is 100 percent leak-proof so moms breastfeeding for the first time can prevent embarrassing leaks through their bras and clothing.
However, you get more than nursing pads in this pack. You also get a beautiful organza bag (helpful to keep pads together in your underwear drawer), a laundry bag so nothing gets lost in the wash, and a breastfeeding e-book full of invaluable information on breastfeeding.
Get this pack as a gift and make a mom’s baby shower!
- The complete kit comes with nursing pads, two separate bags, and an e-book.
- Organic bamboo material is absorbent and comfortable.
- 100 percent leak-proof outer lining.
- The nursing pads may be visible through a bra and shirt, depending on the thickness.
7. Medela Disposable Nursing Bra Pads
This brand uses double adhesive tape to make sure you aren’t playing a game of “find the nursing pad” every time you reach into your bra. Women who’ve had problems with shifting nursing pads in the past may appreciate how well these stay in place.
Individually wrapped to keep them clean in your purse, these pads are made from cotton, nylon and a polymer that is great at absorption. The absorbent material helps maintain dryness, keeping moms comfortable and confident they won’t be springing a leak in public.
- This brand is less expensive than some other disposable pads.
- These hold a lot of milk for their size.
- Contoured fit for women with bigger breasts.
- Slightly visible through clothes because of the crease in the pad.
- The individual packets are hard to open because the perforations don’t allow for easy tearing.
Honorable Mention: Silicone LilyPadz – These nursing pads can work very well when your baby starts sleeping longer overnight, and are also good for certain clothes where you don’t want the pads (or nipples) to show. They’re not easy to pull on and off for frequent nursing, and a little hard to keep clean, but they are a really nice option to have.
Tips for Using Nursing Pads
Here are some tips for how to use using pads.
- Make sure your nipple is clean and dry.
- Add a thin dab of nipple cream, if you’re using it.
- If it’s disposable, peel off the backing and position it against your breast so that your nipple is dead center.
- Now bring your bra close to your breast and press your pad-covered breast into the bra cup. This may take some practice to get the positioning right!
- If it’s reusable, place it in the cup of the bra first and then position it comfortably. A thicker, padded bra might help conceal the bulk of a reusable.
You’ll know it’s time to remove a pad when it’s no longer keeping you dry. Remember, moisture against your breast can increase your chances for infections like thrush, so once a pad is no longer absorbent, get rid of it.
For a disposable, carefully peel the pad off, fold it up, and throw it away with your normal household waste. For a reusable, place the wet pad in a small Ziploc bag to be laundered ASAP, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Again, make sure your nipple is clean and dry before putting on a new pad.
If you do happen to get thrush, you’ll want to switch to disposables or find a thorough way to disinfect your reusables, so you don’t spread the infection. When laundering, it’s advisable to skip the softener or anti-static sheets and go for a sensitive detergent if possible.
Lastly, if your nursing pad gets stuck when you try to remove it, don’t pull. Being too rough with a sensitive nipple can cause cracking or rawness. Instead, a little warm water should dissolve any crustiness and release your nipple.
Nursing Pad FAQs
When Should I Start Wearing Nursing Pads?
Some women do have an issue with leaking a little bit of colostrum, which is antibody-rich milk, in late pregnancy (1). But it’s generally not enough to worry about using breast pads. Most women, however, don’t have any problems with leaking breast milk until after their baby is born.
Best to be Prepared
Leaky breasts are going to be the least of your worries while you’re in the hospital, but when you finally are allowed to start wearing normal clothes again, you don’t want to have to worry about leaking through and possibly staining your outfit.
How Often Should I Change Nursing Pads?
You don’t want to be cheap and conserve your pads by leaving them in as long as humanly possible. The nasty truth: if you leave them in too long, you run the risk of smelling bad. And you don’t want people to think your new perfume is “Eau de Sour Milk.”
Twice or More
If you find you’re leaking more, keep in mind that although it’s tempting to save money by not changing nursing pads as frequently, it’s a good idea to keep your nipples dry by changing them as soon as the pads get wet.
How Long Are Nursing Pads Needed?
As you probably already know, breastfeeding is all about supply and demand. But when you first start, your body may take a little while to adjust to your baby’s feeding schedule.
Give it a few Weeks
However, this is only a general guide. Unfortunately, some of us are heavier leakers than others, and a few women do go on to need nursing pads even until they wean. The breast not being nursed from during a feed usually leaks during letdown, this is especially helpful to have a nursing pad for.
How Many Nursing Pads Do I Need?
Going on the “twice or more” rule above, you may find yourself needing upwards of around 60 pads per month. It may be a good idea to get a variety of shapes, sizes and absorbencies when you begin so that you can be comfortable in a range of situations.
Can Nursing Pads Cause Thrush?
Sadly, yes. If you’re a heavy leaker and often find yourself wearing a wet nursing pad close to your skin, you may be giving the thrush fungus an unfair advantage. Keeping yourself as dry and clean as possible will cut down on thrush risk, but once you develop symptoms, it may be time to switch out reusable pads for more hygienic disposables.
If you’re fond of your reusables, however, commit to treating them as you would cloth diapers: they need minimal detergent, hot water and something to disinfect them, like white vinegar or a few drops of tea tree oil. Using softener on reusable pads can hinder absorption, making it more likely that leaks pool up against your skin.
Can I Wear Nursing Pads All Day?
If you leak only minimally, you may be able to get away with changing your nursing pad just once a day. However, it’s almost always in your best interest to change them before they start to soak through or cause irritation. Changing a minimum of twice a day is recommended.
Can You Reuse Disposable Nursing Pads?
No. Doing so will increase your chances for infection and worse, probably give you that musty old-milk smell. Don’t do it!
How Do You Clean Reusable Nursing Pads?
Reusables need some care and attention to keep them hygienic. Most products come with full laundering instructions which you should follow. Store wet pads in a Ziploc bag until you can wash them, but don’t leave it too long, or else you could encourage bacterial growth.
Generally, nursing pads can be thrown in the machine along with the rest of your laundry, but some brands come with their own mesh laundry bags, which can also be helpful to hold onto the used pads. Use the same detergent you normally do, but if you’re extra sensitive in the nipple area, you might like to switch to a laundry soap for delicate skin temporarily.
Many pads can be tumble dried, but you could also air-dry them flat to keep their shape. Avoid using dryer sheets and skip the fabric softener, as this will weaken the pad’s ability to absorb leaks.
If you need to disinfect your nursing pads, add a cup of ordinary white vinegar to the washing machine along with 20 drops of tea tree oil, a natural disinfectant. Drying in bright sunlight will also help kill off any bacteria.