During pregnancy, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are released. These prompt your milk ducts to mature and grow in order to produce milk to nourish your baby. Breast changes are usually one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. Milk production can begin as early as 16 weeks, and I wasn’t expecting to find my milk leaking that early!
You may not notice that your boobs are already functioning as a dairy, unless you happen to squeeze a nipple. Or you may just out of nowhere discover your breasts are leaking. If you weren’t aware of the possibility, this may take you by surprise, as it’s rarely at a convenient time!
Producing milk while pregnant is perfectly normal, and the amounts created are usually tiny, but if you are concerned that the milk may leak through your clothes, you may want to invest in some protection.
Similarly, you might find after having your baby that the randomest things can set flow in motion. Sometimes this can happen without you even being aware! So what options are there, if you actually don’t want your milkshake to bring all the boys to the yard?
Disposable vs Washable
At least one of the Bounty packs you’re likely to receive when pregnant will contain disposable pads. This is no accident. Many women are unwittingly herded down the disposable route without realising that there are other options!
Disposable pads are very thin and flimsy. This means they’re discreet, but they have a habit of folding or rolling, especially during the night. Often, the sticky tab, intended to adhere it to the bra cup to keep it in position, ends up stuck anywhere but!
On the plus side, they are very small, often come individually wrapped, and can therefore easily be popped into a handbag, or even a large purse.
Washable nipple pads made from cotton or bamboo fabric usually come in packs of 6 or so. They often come with a little mesh laundry bag for keeping them safe in the washing machine. You just pop them in with your regular washing. One of the beauties of reusables is that a single set will last you through multiple pregnancies.
The main advantage of washable pads over disposable, aside from their cost effectiveness and sustainability, is that they tend to be more substantial than disposable pads. This means that they don’t roll up or move around much while you’re wearing them.
They’re only marginally bigger than a disposable pad, though, so could still be carried in a handbag easily.
Washable pads also tend to be more absorbent. In reality, the quantity of milk lost during pregnancy isn’t usually that large, so washables don’t offer a massive benefit over disposables at this point, however, if you invest in washables during pregnancy, you will then have them for use while breastfeeding, at which point the greater absorbency might be welcome while you wait for your supply to establish and settle down.
Reusable Silicone Pads
There is a third breast pad option which is even less well known – reusable silicone breast pads.
These are more expensive than the fabric version, but are equally long lasting. They’re quicker to wash, dry and reuse, and offer a different solution to the problem.
These work by a bump inside the pad indenting the nipple just slightly into the breast. This prevents any milk from escaping. It’s a useful tip when feeding; if the baby suddenly unlatches and you start gushing – just lightly push your nipple inwards and the flow will stop!
This means that if worn correctly, no milk is being released. Therefore there is no potential for them to get saturated and leak, which can definitely be a problem with pads, particularly overnight.
The outer surface is smooth to the touch, and the inner surface has a rubbery, almost sticky feel. This helps them to adhere to the breast; they tend to stay attached even once the bra is removed. I’m not sure I’d trust them enough to go bra-less, though!
All breast pads are one-size, which usually raises a red flag when you’re plus-size. Obviously this wasn’t an issue with the disposable or washable pads – they’re just circles. But even with the more shaped/fitted silicone pads and Big Birtha’s GG cups it was no problem! Obviously everyone’s boobs are individual, though.
Silicone pads tend to be more expensive than the absorbent options, but if cared for properly they should see you through all your pregnancies. Because they do not need to hold any fluid they are thinner than both washable and disposable pads and very discreet. Like disposables however, this thinness made them liable to rolling up, so if you’re a nighttime fidget, you might want to reserve them for daytime use.
After wearing, you simply wash them under warm water, and leave them to dry naturally. They usually come with some sort of case to contain them. This makes them a little bulkier to carry (they’d be wrecked in no time if you just chucked them loose in your bag) but not prohibitively so.
Sadly, I don’t seem to be able to find a UK stockist of these any more (2023). Boots and Mothercare used to stock them, but have stopped. I have seen some on Vinted, though!
So, like a boy scout – just be prepared!
Whatever option you choose, leaky boobs need pose no problem, if you know of the potential and plan accordingly!