Monday, April 1, 2013

Breastfeeding Essential: Breast Pad Tutorial

When I found out I was pregnant with Jadon, a good friend let me borrow her maternity clothes and several baby items that her daughter outgrew. As we went through her large bin together, I came across ten flat, cotton circles and asked my friend what they were. "Breast pads," she replied, assuring me that I would definitely need them at some point. Boy, was she right.

In case you didn't know this, when a baby breast feeds, they actually can "suck" for a few seconds before they actually get any milk. The feeding action prompts a woman's body to "let down" the milk in response to the demand. Depending on the woman and the length of the feeding, there may be several letdowns within one feeding, and in varying amounts. The annoying part of this reflex is that the milk can let down from both breasts, even though the baby is feeding from one. In addition, sometimes other stimuli (baby crying, hours since last feeding, even thinking about baby) can result in a let down. In order to avoid embarrassing wet spots, most nursing mothers wear breast pads. I hardly leave the house without them.  

Now that my friend is expecting again (due in June!), I'm slowly returning her clothes and baby stuff for her to use again. Before I could return her breast pads, I knew I had to make some of my own to replace hers. Now that I know my own body's tendencies, I tried to "upgrade" my breast pads a bit with some features that better suit my needs.

One of the borrowed breast pads...with Jadon buzzing his lips in the background. 
Even though my friend's breast pads had several layers of cotton, I still occasionally leaked through them. I compensated by always packing a spare shirt to wear in the diaper bag (and if I changed, I always said that Jadon had spit up on me...sorry, buddy!). Once they got wet, the cotton fabric would not dry while I was still wearing them. I would still feel wet until I could swap them for new ones. My friend's pads were a little wide for my taste (about four inches in diameter). I didn't like how the extra fabric rippled and bunched up on the sides. I also found that five pairs of pads didn't always last to my next laundry load.

Sewing the three layers together.
I made my breast pads from three layers of fabric. First, I chose microfleece (the light green fabric) to sit against my skin because it has wicking properties. When moisture comes in contact with microfleece, it does not absorb into the fabric, but easily passes through it. I chose a new super-shammy (the orange fabric) as my second fabric because it can absorb a lot of moisture. Cotton, hemp, or other absorbent fabrics could be used in place of the super-shammy. Finally, I chose leftover scrap PUL (polyurethane laminated) fabric as my third fabric because it's waterproof. PUL fabric is often used in making cloth diapers for the same reason.

I started my cutting out all my circles with a 3.5 inch diameter, and stacked the layers appropriately. I sewed a single seam around the perimeter of my layers to hold everything in place.

My new breast pad stash!
Then I used my serger to simultaneously trim and finish the breast pad edge. In the end, the pads measure about three inches in diameter. I made eight pairs of pads in all. I'm very happy with the results. So far, I haven't had any problems with bunching, leaking, or running out of clean pads.

Before you make your pads, you may need to get to know your own body a bit. I feel compelled to say that pads made with PUL fabric are not as breathable as all-cotton pads. Some women are prone to plugged milk ducts, thrush, and tender skin. Since I've never had these problems, and I have a strong letdown, PUL fabric is a good match for me. Women who need a more breathable breast pad can use lanolized wool as a waterproof outer layer. 

Happy sewing (and nursing)!

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