Do reusable nursing pads actually work?

Updated Oct 12 2015
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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?

  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.

  25. I never had an oversupply problem, and only leaked a moderate amount before I stopped needing to use pads at all around 4-6 months. That said, I used both reusable and disposables during that period, and this is what I found: the reusable cotton ones were soft and way more comfortable in the first month when I still had sore nipples. However, they were super visible through any but the heaviest nursing bra and thick button-down shirt. In the beginning the most comfortable nursing bra for me was made out of thin cotton. The reusables got bunched up and lumpy so I was constantly readjusting them, and you could see them from outside the bra and my summer tops. The disposables worked much better for modesty, and were better at laying flat (no edge poking through a thin bra) and staying put from the adhesive.

    So, from a non-oversupply perspective: the reusables were better for the first month, when you're mostly staying at home. The disposables were better for later on, and going out of the house.

    But, as many others have commented, you have to just try out and see what works for you.

  26. Bamboobies are sweet and worth EVERY PENNY! The overnight ones are the real deal and held up to my heavy initial leakage 🙂

    • I also agree with Bamboobies (I'm wearing them right now). With my first baby, I only used organic cotton or hemp pads. I would always double up and even then I frequently leaked through my shirts. This time with my second, I ordered some Bamboobies and they are so much better. Even though they are superthin, they protect as much as two of the other pads I was using and the waterproof layer stopped 95% of the leaks. I only leaked if I went too long between feedings. Bamboobies also don't stick to sore, cracked nipples, which is a huge plus. My supply has pretty much regulated now at 4 months and the Bamboobies are perfect even for overnight.

  27. Just a quick note to say whatever you buy, don't buy too many! I bought a jumbo pack of disposable ones and never used any of them (not a single one) in the past 8 months of breastfeeding. I'm just not a leaker, I guess. Fortunately, I was able to pass the box along to a friend who could use them, but I wish I had bought just a few while pregnant. Oh well.

  28. I would play the wait and see game. I thought that I would be a big leaker, but it turns out I wasn't either day or night. I had a lot of supply, oversupply too, and never experienced that issue. I have a box of disposable nursing pads that I used only one or two pads from when my milk first came in cause I thought I was going to have an issue…but never did!

  29. I was basically home for the first six weeks, which is when my leaking was crazy-pants anyway. I'd just stuff a cloth diaper in my shirt. I still leak, ten months in, but for most of that time, I've been using reusable cloth nursing pads. Love 'em! Try a bunch of stuff and see what sticks.

  30. I am using these: and I'm really happy with them! Baby is almost 8 weeks old and my supply has evened out. I did leak through them a few times in the beginning, but they work well now. At night, I use a regular washcloth on the breast that is not being used to catch random drips. I did need to switch to disposables for a while because I got a yeast infection on my nipples (possibly from antibiotics administered during labor) and I had to bleach the reusables and put them on the shelf until it cleared up. Baby got a yeast infection on his butt so he was in disposable diapers for a while too.

  31. I have never had a problem with the reusable pads! I did start out with disposable though and definately recommend the lansinoh ones.

  32. I started with organic cotton washable pads but I found the wetness on my skin uncomfortable, so I switched to disposables. I constantly struggled to keep my milk supply up but even with low supply, the washable ones were uncomfortable.

    I tried half a dozen types of disposable pads and the Lansinoh were my favourite by far, despite the fact that they do come with too much packaging. I also liked the Johnson & Johnson ones.

    Lansinoh diaper wipes were my favourite for my daughter too. We used wet baby washcloths at home but I always had disposable wipes in the diaper bag for when we were out.

  33. I tried both organic cotton and wool reusables and they both worked fine. I never tried disposables. The thing I am surprised that no one has mentioned, is that it's like menstrual pads or tampons in that if your flow is heavy, you can either switch them out more often, or use thicker pads. In the beginning, I had to switch my pads out frequently. Then less and less often over time. At night, I slept with an absorbent cloth under me. It was pretty leaky at night for a week or two, when my baby started sleeping longer, but then my body adjusted.

  34. I would wait and see. I had to use disposables for the first little bit, although there at the end the washables worked really well, and baby wash cloths too, in a pinch. Or write to companies, and the might send you samples to try of disposables, so you have them if you need them. Eventually, you will be able to use the washables consistently, so go ahead and get those if you want.

  35. My thought was if I wasn't going to put those chemicals on my baby's bottom (disposable pads have SAP in them) why would I put them where she put her mouth?
    I used the Knickernappies pads and because they have PUL on one side I didn't leak *through* them like I did flannel ones. Every once in a while I would leak around them from the sheer force of the milk though and I think that would have happened with the disposibles too.

  36. I've nursed two kids. The first few weeks both times, I used a mix of disposable and reusable pads, sometimes choosing disposables if I knew I was going to be in public for a while, because disposables do work a little better. But after two weeks or so, the reusable pads were enough (just change them often so they don't saturate too quickly). One other thing I did prefer about disposable pads was that they were wider and thinner, so they didn't show through t-shirts. Kid 1 nursed 2.5 years and Kid 2 is still at it at 2 years. After the first few months, pads aren't needed; your body reaches an equilibrium.

  37. I'm just adding to the chorus now, but I found the reusable pads never worked for me either. I had a stash, but went straight from needing the coverage of disposables to not leaking at all sometime around the 5th month, so they didn't even come in handy once my supply leveled out.

    • Again, there are several kinds of re-usables out there. It's knowing and finding the right ones. . . maybe a pair with PUL in them would work better for leaks. . . works for cloth diapers!
      I don't know. I am sort of an eco-snot. I am trying to use EVERYTHING I can re-usable. It can really save money. It's not just "eco friendly".

      • I don't use another disposable item in my house, save for toilet paper – not even paper towels. Nursing pads were the only thing, and believe me I tried several different varieties before succumbing to the disposable pad. I literally leaked right through every single one before I had a chance to notice they were getting wet.

  38. Disposables pads were so very, very scratchy and uncomfortable, I couldn't stand to torture my already wrecked nipples just to keep my shirt dry. I just dealt with the leaks. For the most part, my reusable pads handled it pretty well, but there were definitely some soaking wet days. I had the bamboo from Babies r Us, super soft. The real shame is that after we developed a wicked case of thrush, our midwife had us toss all the reusable pads. I'd definitely recommend regular boilings to keep them microbe free.
    Oh, and Lily Pads felt like I was ripping a band-aid off every time I took them off.

  39. I found that the reusable pads were sufficient to keep up with my leakage if I remembered to change them. The problem I had was they would stick to my nipples which kind of hurt when I went to peal them off and start nursing, even though I was using nipple ointment religiously. I had a real barracuda for a nursling, though. Though we have since settled into our nursing relationship and my nipples have healed, I still prefer the disposable ones as the synthetic material they are covered in does not stick to my skin at all. Lansinoh are my favorite. I found the Medela brand to be too thin.

    • Yes, this could be the case. . . but that depends on what they are made out of. Some are made with a velour side that is EXTRA soft and does not stick. . . at least to my nipples.
      At night, I actually just use a cloth diaper and tri-fold it and shove it in a bra. . . it works best. You don't have to have it perfectly in your bra then.

  40. Just to let you know, I might not worry too much about it until it actually starts happening. In 7 months of breastfeeding I have leaked maybe 6 times? My body just seems to adapt quickly and not over-produce.

  41. Koko Bebe makes some of the best nursing pads I have EVER used. Yes, they are reusable. And YES, they are AWESOME. I love them. I have tried many different reusable nursing pads made from some ladies on ETSY and by far KOKE BEBE is the best! Affordable too.
    I always felt like I was wearing a diaper on my chest when I used disposable nursing pads – I immediately switched to re-usable with my first born. What is the point in using disposables when you can just hand wash them at night and use them the next day? or have a bit of a supply and throw them in the wash with everything else?

  42. GERBER NUK REUSABLES!! It took until my second baby to figure it out – they have one porous-yet-leak-proof side, so you sandwich them cotton sides together: one against the breast, one against the bra, and (if necessary) additional flannel layers in between.

  43. You know, always neglected to put in the nursing pads and ended up wadding up toilet paper when I was out. Lol. But I have heard that you can use those cups people use to pull out inverted nipples to catch breast milk that leaks, and if you dump it often enough and get it in the fridge, you can actually save it like pumped milk! I've never actually tried it, but I've heard it several times, including during my doula training workshop.

  44. PUL-backed fleecy or wool ones work best for me, but honestly you should wait until your milk comes in fully to know what you would prefer (maybe have a few basic pairs or a few different types eg: wool, PUL-Backed-Cotton and some HEAVY DUTY ones just for trying…)
    At home I cut up cheap $2 sanitary pads because the disposables are ridiculously expensive – I save them for going out – and I have a TRUCKLOAD of milk! So the PUL were best for me. I love using my reusables though, they feel much nicer than paper/sanitary pad style disposables… 🙂

  45. I didn't like the cloth ones at all since they were too lumpy under my bras, would never stay put, and always left my boobs feeling damp. I'm not big on disposable things, but I only used them for a couple weeks and leaking hasn't been an issue since.

  46. I have an abundant milk supply, far too much for my son, who chokes on it every time. However, I rarely leak. I've only used cotton or wool breast pads, and they've worked great. I can see how hemp would be the best (we use hemp diapers for the super absorbency).

  47. Do you think the reusables would work better if they were washed several times before using? I know that cloth diapers get more absorbent. I hate disposable things so I'm hoping this works.

  48. I ended up buying 2 huge boxes of disposable nursing pads and have never once leaked (and I exclusively breastfed every 2 hours around the clock). They're just sitting in the hallway closet until I think of some other use for them. I wouldn't spend a ton of money, I'm mad that I spent even $40 on the ones I have.

  49. Be sure to prep your reusables by washing them several times in a cloth-friendly detergent (no bleach or fabric softener) to make sure they are absorbent. If you use fabric softener, liquid in the soap or dryer sheets that will coat the fabric and make the nursing pads less absorbent!

  50. It's totally a whatever works for you kind of thing, but I really hated the disposable ones. They were just too scratchy for my sensitive skin. So I ended up buying a bunch of cloth reusables and had much better luck with them. But then again, I wasn't leaking milk in massive quantities either.

  51. I tried for months and always had leakage with the reusable pads. After about 6 months – they were ok, but by then, I didn't really need them anymore.

    The only ones that really worked for me were the ones that contained gel made by Chicco. As they absorbed, the gel expanded. I'm not sure if they are available in the U.S., I bought them in Italy.

  52. I was really leaky… and, 6.5 months into nursing, I still leak. The first 12 weeks were the worst, and I never used disposables. I just stuffed 3-4 reusables into my shirt at night (though the diaper sounds like a brilliant idea! for next time…), and used 2-3 during the day. I just bought a bunch of the cheaper reusables (Avent/Medela). Also, I made sure to use a nursing camisole underneath my shirt – I would pull up my shirt to nurse, and any leakage would only occur on the cami that would then be covered up by the clean shirt after I nursed. I have a bunch of Undercover Mama nursing camis – they attach onto the bra, and I really love them (I still wear them under everything).

    Later, I won a pair of Epibi nursing pads at a raffle, and they are pretty nice (very thin!). I'm not sure how well they work when the leaking is the worst (with your newborn), as I didn't get them until my son was 3 months old.

    I do find that now that the leaking has improved, one pair of reusables (Avent and Medela are the ones I own) inside of a padded nursing bra seems to work well enough. I also still use the nursing camisoles underneath my shirt, so if I drip at least it's on a cami that is underneath another shirt.

    I can't speak enough to padded nursing bras – they cover up the bulk of the nursing pads, and also absorb some of the milk as well.

    Good luck!

  53. BAMBOOBIES!!! They are AMAZING!! They have daytime and night time nursing pads. They work wonders and are super soft and comfy. I had thrush so bad that my nipples bled and these were so soft on my super sore nipples. They are available online and I can't say enough good things about them!

  54. Wool! I got a set of Medela cotton pads that showed through my clothes and slipped around. Then I got a larger, awesome pair of Danish Wool breast pads and they are the only ones I ever used again.

    The disposable ones have the same stuff in them as diapers to make them absorbent – I've heard stories of that stuff leaking onto the breast itself and ending up in the baby's mouth.

  55. I used lansinoh brand nursing pads w/ my first daughter and was QUITE the leaky lady. I've never used reusable but will be for sure with this next one. I'll let everyone know how it works for me! lol

  56. I couldn't handle the feeling of disposable ones, they felt crinkly to me so even though the reusable ones are thicker and show through my shirt more, I didn't care. I just threw them in the laundry with my baby's clothes.
    I was never a super heavy leaker, but the first few weeks back at work I had to change them half way through the day because they were starting to feel wet.
    I cant imagine using anything else now, but it is my normal. The other thing cloth breast pads are good for is putting in the bassinet with baby the night after wearing them. They smell like mama and helps soothe to sleep. I couldn't do that with disposables.

  57. My step-mother is a doctor and a breastfeeding consultant. When I was pregnant I was totally prepared by her many stories of leaking breasts and wearing a bra to sleep in to be covered in milk 24/7. I bought a ton of re-usable nursing pads (LaLecheLeague brand), and waited for my little baby to come out. My daughter latched like a pro the first try, and my milk came in right on schedule. I went from a 32B cup to a 32J. I had a LOT of milk, but no leaking. None. All those re-usable pads. I never used them once. Now my daughter is 16 months, still breastfeeding, and still no leaking. All those breast pads were given away to a friend. I never needed them.

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