How to Use Breast Pads Properly – Tips for Reusables and Disposables
Last Updated July 22, 2017
Are you a pregnant or nursing mom? If so, you’ve likely experienced milk leakage from your breasts. Unexpected leakage or let-down is a common occurrence that has the potential to be downright embarrassing if you’re not prepared with the proper breast pad.
But with the glut of options on the market, how do you know which one is right for you - and how do you make sure you’re using it properly to prevent embarrassing leaks through your clothing?
We’ll help you sort through the differences between reusable pads and disposable options, and give you the low-down on how to use them correctly for optimal leakage protection.
Breast pads, also known as “nursing pads,” are absorbent, removable liners that sit between a woman’s nipples and her bra. They act as a shield to protect clothing from milk leakage, preventing embarrassing wet spots and potential stains.
Why Do I Need Breast Pads?
In the final weeks of pregnancy and the early days of nursing, your body is preparing and perfecting the process of making sufficient milk to feed your baby. Before your body (and your baby) have settled into a solid feeding schedule, your breasts will release milk at unexpected times and without warning (source).
Even after your body’s milk production has regulated and the let-downs subside, leaks and surprises can still occur for the duration of the time you nurse. This is because let-downs are triggered by more than just a physical need - emotional situations can trigger them as well. Simply hearing a baby cry or feeling nostalgic for a snuggle can trigger a spray of milk.
Breast pads are useful because they absorb the released milk, preventing it from leaking through your shirt and causing embarrassing damp circles around your nipples.
Also, because breastmilk contains a fair amount of fat to help nourish your baby, it can cause grease stains on your clothes. Breast pads not only keep your leaks from being visible to the world, but they also protect your clothing so that they don’t get stained.
Are There Any Risks Associated With Breast Pads?
It is natural to be concerned about hygiene and other risks when thinking about something being directly next to your nipple, which is then used to feed your baby. The good news is that, used properly, breast pads are safe and hygienic.
There are some things to keep in mind, however.
The biggest potential risk to be aware of when using breast pads is bacteria growth. Bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments, so breast pads have the potential to be a breeding ground - if you don’t change them frequently.
When using breast pads, change them whenever they get damp so that moisture is not held directly against the nipple which can foster the growth of candida and other infections.
When bacteria enter the nipple, they not only can cause illness or infection, but they also have the potential to cause clogged milk ducts. Clogged milk ducts that are not resolved can result in mastitis, a serious infection of the milk duct in the breast (source).
One bacteria that is particularly bothersome to nursing mothers is candida, which causes the common ailment called thrush. Thrush is a yeast infection in a baby’s mouth; it can also transfer to a mother’s nipple and cause a painful yeast infection of the nipple/breast (source). Studies have shown that more yeast infections occur in women who use nursing pads due to the increased warmth and moisture (source).
If you choose to use reusable breast pads and end up with thrush or yeast, be aware that the yeast can live within the fabric of your breast pad through the regular washing process. You will need to take some extra steps to ensure that the yeast are killed to prevent the possibility of recurrence.
Finally, breast pads also have the potential to irritate the skin of the nipple for some women. This is uncomfortable, but not serious. Nipple creams may be used in conjunction with breast pads to prevent irritation.
What Options Do I Have When It Comes to Breast Pads?
There are many different options when it comes to breast pads. You can choose the one that best fits your lifestyle.
Disposable breast pads are single-use absorbent pads that are relatively thin and discreet beneath clothing. Some come individually wrapped in plastic to ensure they are sanitary.
Benefits of disposable breast pads:
Easy to use
Contain adhesive to stay in place
Many are plastic-lined to prevent leaks
Thin & discreet
Drawbacks of disposable breast pads:
Plastic backing may increase moisture retention
Regular, recurring expense while nursing
Reusable breast pads are machine washable and can be used over and over. They are made of a number of different material options which affect comfort and absorbency.
Benefits of reusable breast pads:
Drawbacks of reusable breast pads:
Thicker; more noticeable beneath clothing
Higher up-front cost
Regular cleaning required
Need 10-12 pairs to rotate between cleanings
How to Use Disposable Breast Pads
1. Prepare Your Nipple
Because keeping a bacteria-free environment is of utmost importance when using breast pads, make sure your nipple is dry before applying a clean one. If your nipples are irritated, apply nipple cream prior to applying your breast pad.
2. Remove Pad From Packaging and Peel Off Adhesive Backing
Making sure your hands are clean in order to maintain the hygienic state of the clean breast pads, remove them from their packaging and carefully remove the adhesive backing, if your brand includes adhesive.
3. Position Nipple in the Center of the Pad
To maximize the absorbency of your breast pad and avoid leaks, make sure your nipple is centered on the pad.
4. Press Adhesive Against Bra
Bring your bra up into place toward your breast. When it is close enough to judge where the pad should sit in the cup in order to be centered on the nipple, press the adhesive side of the pad into the cup of the bra. When you position your bra fully into place, re-adjust the pad if it is not in the proper position.
5. Replace When Pad Gets Wet
When your pad becomes moist due to milk leakage, remove it promptly and throw it away to reduce your chance of infection or irritation. Replace your breast pad with a new, clean one.
6. Wet Nipple If Breast Pad Gets Stuck
If your breast pad becomes stuck to your nipple when you remove it, gently apply a little moisture and it should release gently. Avoid simply pulling it as this could be very uncomfortable, especially if your nipples are cracked or irritated.
How to Use Reusable Breast Pads
1. Make Sure Your Breast Pad is Completely Dry
Because reusable breast pads are designed to hold moisture, sometimes it can be difficult to make sure they are completely dry before using them. But because bacteria can grow in moist environments, make sure the breast pad you select is completely dry.
2. Prepare Your Nipple
Just as with disposable breast pads, make sure your nipple is dry before applying a clean pad. If your nipples are irritated, apply nipple cream prior to applying your breast pad.
3. Secure Pad in the Cup of the Bra
Position your breast pad in the cup of your bra; because it lacks adhesive like many disposable options you need to just make sure it is securely wedged between your breast and your bra. Ideally, it will be centered on your nipple.
4. Make Adjustments if Necessary
If you need, adjust your breast pad as much as you are able. Reusable breast pads tend to be thicker than disposable; if they are visible through your clothes and you prefer to be more discreet, choosing a padded or thicker bra will help keep them hidden.
5. Replace When Pad Gets Wet
When your breast pad gets wet, remove it. If you are away from home, place it in a small wet bag or ziploc bag. When you return home, remove them from the bag so they do not sit in the moist environment any longer than they need to.
6. Replace Wash Your Breast Pad
Consult your manufacturer’s washing instructions and clean according to their guidelines. If you no longer have the packaging they came in, look for their website and instructions online. Because reusable breast pads can be made from a number of different materials - cotton, bamboo, wool, and other fabrics - the washing method will vary among manufacturers. Some recommend hand-washing, others recommend hot water, while still others specify cold-water washing only.
The same goes for drying and whether your breast pads were manufactured to withstand machine drying or line-drying.
Regardless of your washing method, avoid all fabric softeners - whether the liquid variety in the washer or dryer sheets in the dryer. Fabric softener can impact absorbency.
7. Disinfect Any Yeast Bacteria (If You Have Thrush or Yeast)
If you or your baby has thrush, you’ll need to do some extra cleaning as yeast can live in the fabric of your breast pads and survive the washing process. You can do this by:
Using disposable breast pads for a period of 2-4 weeks while setting your washed, dried reusable breast pads aside to allow the yeast to die off without chemicals.
Washing your breast pads in the washing machine with 1 cup of vinegar
Washing your breast pads in the washing machine along with a combination of ¼ cup bleach, 20 drops of tea tree oil, and 20 drops of grapefruit seed extract (NOT grapeseed extract)
Setting your breast pads in the sunlight
The Bottom Line
While things are a bit different depending on whether you use disposable or reusable nursing pads, some of the basics are the same. In summary, you need to do the following:
Make sure your nipple is dry and apply cream if necessary.
Position the center of the breast pad over the nipple.
Secure the breast pad in place in the cup of the bra.
Adjust the pad if necessary.
Replace immediately when damp to avoid bacteria growth and infection.
Milk leakage from the breasts is a reality for most moms at some point, and breast pads are a great way to prevent embarrassment, stains and to keep the milk spots at bay.
Whether reusable or disposable, the most important thing is to replace them regularly to avoid irritation and potential infection. Do you know a mom who’s about to embark on a nursing journey? Share this with her!