Do reusable nursing pads actually work?

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I’m due to have my first baby a month from now, and I’m trying to get all the essentials together. The more I think about nursing pads, the more I wonder about why they are disposable.

Since they are only catching milk, can’t they just be washed and reused? Am I missing something here?

Any advice on whether it’s a good idea to buy the reusable pads that are available online? Does anyone recommend particular brands? — Kristyna

Ariel had this to say:

Based on my own experience: I bought some adorable flannel nursing pads before my son was born … and once my milk came in, I immediately realized why some people use disposables: my leakage was so intense that the washable nursing pads simply could not keep up. The only way I could keep a shirt dry for more than an hour or two was using disposable pads that were super-absorbent thanks to being more like maxi-pads than nursing pads.

Totally depends on your body, really … I will just say that for me, my adorable, eco-friendly nursing pads simply didn’t work.

In my experience, disposable nursing pads were the only ones that could absorb the sheer volume of breast milk that leaked — do you know of a more eco-friendly alternative that’s just as effective?

Comments on Do reusable nursing pads actually work?

  1. I found the washable nursing pads weren’t absorbent enough during that week my milk came in. My solution was just to wear them anyway and get milk everywhere, ’cause, meh, I was at home and I could just wash stuff I milk-splooged.

    Now that my milk supply has adjusted and settled down, my washable nursing pads work fine, although, yes, I still sometimes leak through.

    For going out? LILYPADZ! They are silicone stickies that prevent your milk from leaking in the first place. Recommended!

    • The best reusable nursing pads to try are ones made of hemp. They’re twice as absorbent as traditional cotton and can easily contain milk leakage. The important thing to remember is changing frequently, cloth or disposable is the most sanitary choice to avoid bacteria growth and changing any pad frequently decreases your chance of infection.

    • I had the same experience – when my milk first came in, no nursing pads would have been enough. After few weeks, however, I had no problems with leaks unless I didn’t change them frequently enough, or occasionally if I didn’t pump on schedule and my milk let down.

      I don’t remember the brand I used – Knickernappies, I think; they weren’t hemp, but they were v. absorbent and had stay-dry fleece on top. I also used handmade ones with flannel and a Zorb core that I bought on etsy.

  2. I’m only 6 weeks potpartum but thus far only the disposables have worked with my bountiful supply! I’ve tried two types of reusables and the organic bamboo ones worked better than the Medela ones, but still soaked through in about 2 hrs. Lilypadz leaked, too. Hopefully I can use them in a few months… Til then it’s the Lansinoh disposies for me.

  3. I was a big time leaker, and I used reusable pads pretty successfully. I had lanolized (spelling?) wool ones, and the usual cotton kind. If I was expecting to have a lot of leaking (you get to the point where you know when to expect such things), I would put the wool against my skin and the cotton on the outside. The wool was a life-saver because I had a lot of bleeding nursing each of my babies (oh you don’t want to hear about bleeding nipples? Sorry…) The wool was the only nursing pad that didn’t get glued to my nipples with dried blood, and the only thing that hurts worse than bleeding nipples is ripping a blood-pasted type deal off of bleeding nipples. No amount of lanolin kept the disposables from getting glued to me. Mind you, wool breast pads must be washed in a special lanolin soap, but one bottle of that soap can easily last through the average nursing period.

    • I second the wool suggestion. They draw out infection, are naturally anti-bacterial, and don’t stink so you can actually reuse them a few times before throwing them in the wash.

  4. In my experience no(but according to my midwife my milk supply was more abundant than most women for some reason), But I think a key thing that isn’t always mentioned is that when you wash and dry them you don’t want to use fabric softener (same as with towels) Because it can make them lets absorbent.

  5. I have never nursed, but I have heard that some women use really cheap washcloths as nursing pads – they were washable, folded up they were more absorbent that the regular ones, and you could use them once you’re done nursing. Probably wouldn’t work going out in public, but around the house should be ok. Just my $0.02.

  6. I agree that it depends on your body, but for me they (washable pads) were fine once my supply stabilized. At night, in the beginning, I sometimes used a cotton diaper, stuffed in the bra, or the ultra absorbent disposables. Now I am to the point where I don’t use them at all. It was only about 4 months total that I even needed any kind of pads. I know people who have stacks and stacks of the washable kind because need to switch them out all the time and they get a lot of use over the entire span of breast feeding. So… I guess you will just have to find out, but I do think it’s worth getting a few washables anyway.

  7. I’m just three months into nursing and unfortunately the reusable pads have never worked for me. Like most moms I know I have an ‘oversupply’ (my midwife told me that women who start to pump early are more susceptible to oversupply problems). I did find that I could make my disposables go longer if I put cloth ones up against my skin and reinforced them from behind with disposables. And like another comment suggests in the first two months I just used dishcloths at night. Otherwise I’d wake up in a pool of cold breast milk.

  8. wow. I am still nursing my 18 month old, and I can honestly say that the only time I needed any kind of leak protection was in the first month or so of nursing. I never had any major leaking issues, even though my supply was great. The worst time was at night, and I found that if I slept with a good snug nursing bra (kind of like a sports bra), I really rarely leaked. I would recommend whatever you do, don’t spend lots of money on disposable OR on reusable, because you may end up not really needed then or not needing them for long. Good luck, sister!

    • I agree! I nursed for 16 months and I think I leaked once. My sister sent me huge quantities of reusable nursing pads, because they worked for her, and it was a total waste.

      Well, not a total waste. When I got thrush and had to put ointment on my nipples every few hours, I used them to keep my bras clean.

      But I totally agree that these are one of the things NOT to stock up on before you figure out what’s going to work for you.

      • I third this! I DO leak (9 weeks into nursing here) but… I don’t know, it doesn’t really bother me. When I’m home or sleeping, it’s not a big deal (I change my shirt at the end of the day or sooner anyway, thanks to spit up and other fun leaks), and when I’m out in public… this might be gross, but I find that wearing a padded nursing bra works fine to contain any leaks. I also find that wearing layers means that the leaks don’t show on the outside if they happen… vests are our friends!

  9. You can buy PUL lined nursing pads that a more “protective” than the wool lined. For the first several months I would just stuff a prefold cloth diaper in my shirt on the opposite side and wore cloth pads when not nursing. At night I slept topless and kept cloth diapers next to the bed to keep dry.

    • Mine were the PUL-lined flannel…still didn’t work for my milk flow, even after months of nursing. :/

      (And yeah: at night I just used diapers stuffed in my nursing bra. NOTHING but massive cloth diapers in my shirt could keep up with the night leaking.)

  10. I found Medala disposables to be like sandpaper. I’d suggest Lansinoh if you go disposable. I love my organic cotton pads. So soft! I really havent had much of a leakage problem after the first few weeks though.

  11. I’m in the same boat as a lot of the other posters. The reusable ones just weren’t enough to contain the milk flow and, as someone who has an over supply of milk, my supply doesn’t stabilize for several months. I was constantly leaking right through the pads and soaking my bra and shirt. I was also going through them so quickly that I couldn’t keep up laundry wise and had to buy a box of disposables anyway. I found that the disposable pads held a lot more and I didn’t have to change them as often. I only ended up needing to buy one box before my milk supply finally balanced out around the time my daughter turned six months.

  12. I tried a few different types with my first baby and they never worked, but with my second they worked fine during the day. At night I always used the most absorbant disposable I could get since that was the longest period I would go between nursings.

  13. I tried a few types of reusable nursing pads, but the disposable ones were the most successful. I leaked the entire 9 months or so that I nursed, and if I didn’t want to wash all of my shirts and bras every two days, the disposables were my only hope.

    I will echo what others have said, though, that every experience is different, and you may not leak much at all. It’s worth trying the reusables to see if they work, I think.

  14. The reusable ones worked just fine for me– I would say I had a very average sort of milk supply. There are so many different kinds– you can get PUL backed ones. I liked hemp ones, myself. For that first week, I just shoved a cloth prefold in my bra when my milk let down– I wasn’t going out, anyway.

  15. You might not even have leaking anyway. I stopped leaking after about 4 weeks. I’d recommend getting 1 or 2 sets of washable and 1 box of disposables and see what you like. The best advice I ever got about buying baby stuff was “the stores don’t close after the baby is born.”

  16. I was a huge leaker – well past my son’s first birthday & it didn’t stop until I was pregnant with my second. I found the disposable ones to be absorbent, but generally uncomfortable & they often stuck to me. I sewed my own reusable pads with many, many layers of flannel, but they didn’t work well. I purchased reusable pads on Etsy, but they cost a lot & were pretty bulky. I had the best luck with the washable ones I bought at Babies R Us. I don’t remember the brand, but they were inexpensive, comfortable, absorbent, & not bulky. I had to change pretty often, but I found that to be true with the disposable ones too.

  17. I only went through one box of disposable over a year of nursing (and I vastly preferred the Johnson & Johnson disposable — they fit my boob so comfortably, didn’t itch, and had a sticky tab on the back to keep them in place!). I kept a pair of reusables in my purse in a little case I made, in case my milk dropped in while I was out-and-about. They worked well for emergencies for me, after my production settled down and got pretty predictable, but I too preferred the disposables for significant leakage early on.

    I’ve also been reduced to stuffing a paper towel in there if I’m caught unaware. But it’s not the end of the world.

    If you’re at home, cotton diapers are the BEST. (I imagine I could have cut one down and whipstitched the edge to make my own reusable pads, but I didn’t need pads that often.)

  18. I started out all disposable because of how much milk I had when my kid was a newborn. Then I switched to reusables overnight and disposables during the day when I was still leaking some. Now that I’m 8 months into nursing, I use the reusable ones at night and nothing during the day. I think I stopped needing to buy more disposables at around 4 months post-partum?

  19. I actually stuffed my nursing tank with Gerber cloth diapers (or, rather, burp rags marketed as cloth diapers) because my son also pulled off and it was incredibly handy to have the burp rag right there to mop up the inevitable mess. Plus it helped cover me up while he was nursing. ^^ They worked GREAT and I’d only use like 2 maybe 3 a day.

  20. Lily Padz worked great for me! I was able to get about 6-8 weeks out of a pair before the sticky just wore out and I needed a new pair. I never leaked much but the Lily Padz put a bit of pressure on the nipples to actually prevent leaks. The night before my board exam I forgot to wear them and I slept apart from the baby to actually get some sleep and found myself leaking all over. So they really do work. I just washed mine with hot water and soap and let them dry while I showered and brushed my teeth each night. I highly recommend them.

  21. I used Bravado Moisture Wick cloth pads and just changed them frequently. For me they were WAY more comfortable than disposable, which felt awful in the early days. The Bravados are very thick, which was fine with me because I gave birth in the winter when I could hide them pretty easily… I really appreciated the plushness of them for comfort.

  22. I got such cute reusable pads. Unfortunatley, I was a big time, long time leaker. I ended up using medela and lanisoh disposable pads. I found some “natural” biodegradable pads in a little hippie store once, but they didn’t have the plastic on the outside and I leaked through faster than the reusable.
    Also, I don’t have a washer readily available so it was next to impossible to stay in clean pads. Also, little pieces of flannel fluff would get stuck to my nipples. :/
    At night I used MAXI pads.

  23. I only leaked the first couple weeks, so I didn’t even use the entire box of disposable pads the hospital gave me! I bought some reusable ones but hardly ever used them. I found a sports-type cotton bra went a long way. At night I put a cotton diaper in my bra 🙂

  24. I used the flannel ones from “Udder Covers,” and they were great for me. The Lansinoh disposables were itchy and leaky (not ideal… that was a memorable day for both my students and myself).
    I advise washing them several times before the initial use, and then always with the same soap that you’d use on cloth diapers (whether or not you choose to use cloth:) ) as the pads will not absorb well if full of soap build-up. See the following chart for suggestions:
    Really, as everyone else said, it’s really up to you and your boobs. Try what sounds good to you, use what works. Don’t fret.

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