Preventing the Leak 101

Leaking breastmilk is one of the more embarrassing nursing pitfalls.  Some women leak milk their entire nursing journey and others leak only when their babes are newborns.  A lucky few don’t leak at all but in talking to other moms, these women seem to be in the minority.  I can tell you from personal experience that it is mortifying to be out in public and look down to find your shirt soaked through with milk and if it’s warm, you might have the sour milk smell to boot.  Did I mention that breastmilk can also feel sticky? During the newborn stage letdowns can unexpectedly occur at any time triggered by a multitude of unexpected stimuli – another baby crying, thinking of your baby, an advertisement on TV, a picture of a baby – the list could go on. Luckily, there are a few ways to prevent, or at least minimize, the odds of leaking milk everywhere (Although I’d still recommend packing an extra shirt for you into your diaper bag for good measure).

Your first line of defense against milk leaks is the nursing pad.  Yes, milk can be stopped by applying pressure to the nipple but in the beginning days of a nursing journey, it’s unlikely that the pressure of a bra alone will be enough to deter your breasts from leaking.  Nursing pads combat the leak by absorbing the leaking milk before it escapes your bra and in doing so keeps you dry.  Nursing pads are, in effect, like diapers for your boobs – haha – and just like diapers, they come in both disposable and cloth reusable options.

Cloth nursing pads come in a variety of brands, colors, materials, shapes, and even sizes.  Perhaps most notably, Bamboobies brand nursing pads are heart-shaped. When I tried them I wanted to love the small pink hearts but I found that the shape just didn’t allow for the coverage that I needed and the material itself wasn’t as absorbent as I had hoped.  I also tried two off-brand versions from Amazon.  One set was round with a seam making them a bit conical shaped and the other was simply a smaller round circle with a terry cloth material on one side.  Overall I found that I liked the smallest version best and they felt the most absorbent.  Before you start shopping on Amazon it’s important to mention that reusable nursing pads do have a couple of downsides.  The first downside to cloth pads is that regardless of which brand that I used, I found that they were overall more noticeable in unpadded bras than their disposable sisters.  If I choose an unpadded bra with a thin shirt, you can see two flat pancake shapes where my boobs are – not the most flattering look.  The other downside to cloth pads is that while they absorb the leaking milk, they do not “wick” it away from the skin as well as disposable pads.  The result means that depending on how much you leak, not only might you feel “wet” but you might also run a higher risk for developing thrush – a type of yeast infection that can develop on your nipples in a warm, moist environment.   If you choose the cloth option and are leaking a lot, please make sure to change them often.

Disposable pads also have pros and cons.  On the plus side, I find that they are more discrete under clothing and I like that the sticky backing keeps them from sliding around or falling out while I play with my kids.  That said, some brands have “glue” that is so sticky that it doesn’t come off well and in effect can ruin your bras/clothing.  Disposables also come in different thicknesses and each brand is a bit different.  They generally have a gel core which, like a baby’s diaper, absorbs liquid and wick it away from the skin which helps to prevent thrush and keeps your boobs happy – although I’ll admit that the material is not as soft or gentle as cloth.

Another option that can be especially handy in the beginning stages of nursing (where leaking tends to be the greatest) is to use breast milk catchers or “milkies.”  These plastic shells fit over your breasts inside your bra and collect any milk that drips so that you can actually save it and use it for baby later.  Depending on how much you leak, some moms can use this as a replacement for a pumping session – amazing! Another option is to use a Haakaa pump WHILE in the act of nursing to collect milk that drips from the opposite breast.  This little device is amazing and many moms swear by it.  I used it with my second son and was able to build a sizable freezer stash with very little effort!  Major win!

Choosing a breast pad or milk collection cup can be a trial and error process.  My best suggestion is to buy a few different brands/styles of whichever type that you choose and to try them before buying multiple boxes/sets.  My personal favorite is the Lansinoh disposable pad in the beginning of my nursing journey and small round cloth ones towards the end.  I tried breast collection shells but did not love them and used the Haakaa extensively with my second son.  What works for me, however, may not be what works best for you.  Take advantage of samples that come with various baby products and once you find something you like run with it.  Here’s to dry shirts! Haha 😉 Nurse on mamas!

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