Disposable vs Reusable Nursing Pads – Pros, Cons, And Costs

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What are nursing pads and why would you need them?

Nursing pads, also widely known as breast pads, are essentials for most breastfeeding mums. During the newborn days when milk supply is still being regulated while the baby feeds on demand, it’s common to have engorged breasts due to oversupply.

This can often lead to milk leaking through the bra or an overactive letdown with milk spraying everywhere when the baby is trying to feed. Nursing pads stuck down on the inside of your bra would be your saving grace.

Designed to be highly absorbent, nursing pads keep your bra dry when your boobs are leaking. And in the event of an overactive letdown, instead of scrambling to grab tissues or a towel, you simply pop your bra back on and hold the nursing pad over your breast for a few seconds until the spraying stops.

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What are the pros and cons of disposable and reusable breast pads?

To weight out the pros and cons of disposable and reusable nursing pads, it’s important to assess them based on three factors – materials, costs, and environmental impact.

1. Materials and absorbency

Disposable nursing pads are generally made with the same highly absorbent materials as disposable nappies, which can vary from brand to brand. They will also have a waterproof backing to prevent milk from leaking through.

Reusable breast pads, on the other hand, are made from natural materials like cotton, but organic bamboo nursing pads are becoming increasingly common.

It is a myth that reusable breast pads are more absorbent than disposable ones. Based on my own personal experience – I had overactive letdown with all three babies – I actually found the disposable pads more absorbent.

Disposable ones also feel drier and more comfortable against the skin, whereas reusable ones tend to feel really moist and icky. Even though reusable ones also have a waterproof backing, I found that they leaked through more easily than disposable ones, most likely because the inner layers are LESS absorbent.

Materials summary: Reusable nursing pads use natural materials, but are less absorbent than disposable ones and will leak through more easily if you do not change frequently.

2. Costs and savings

Disposable nursing pads cost as low as 17c per piece, while reusable ones cost 10 times at much at around $1.70 per piece. To calculate the costs and savings, we first need to work out how many breast pads you need, assuming you breastfeed for at least six months.

In the early days of establishing milk supply, you may need to change breast pads more frequently if you’re experiencing engorgement and leakage. If the pads feel damp or have a slight weight, it’s time to change fresh ones.

Generally, though, you’ll change once in the morning, and again at night before you go to bed. If your baby is starting to sleep through the night and misses one or two feeds, you may start leaking overnight and so will need an additional change of breast pads.

For the purpose of calculating costs and savings, let’s assume that you’ll need at least six nursing pads (three pairs) each day.

Cost of disposable nursing pads

6 months = 180 days
180 x 6 = 1080
Total cost = 540 x 17c = $183.60

Cost of reusable nursing pads

Ideally, reusable nursing pads are washed and dried daily. I learnt this the hard way when I let my damp and milk-soaked nursing pads pile up in the laundry basket for a week and found mould growing in some of them.

Assuming you wash them every other day, plus it takes another day to dry, you will need a minimum of 18 pads (9 pairs) to ensure you don’t run out of clean ones when you need them.

Total cost = 18 x $1.70 = $30.60

Cost summary: On average, reusable nursing pads can save you up to $153 for the first six months of breastfeeding. After six months, the savings are less significant as baby increasingly has more solids and your breastmilk supply starts decreasing accordingly.

3. Environmental impact

This is a difficult one to assess because we need to take into consideration the full life cycle of disposable and reusable nursing pads, from the production process of the materials to the end life of the products.

Disposable nursing pads are mostly made from synthetic materials that go through chemical processing and are generally NOT biodegradable, so at first glance they do appear to be harsher on the environment.

However, reusable pads made from cotton or bamboo are not much better either. There is greater awareness now of the negative environmental impact of cotton farming and even though bamboo is a sustainable plant, manufacturing it into a fibre material requires a lot of chemicals that is also harmful to the environment.

On top of that, reusable nursing pads need to be washed frequently, almost daily, if you want to prevent it from going mouldy from the dampness. That means using more water and energy in order to keep reusing it.

Eco summary: Given that nursing pads are a short term essential, the environmental footprint you leave with either disposable or reusable ones is pretty much the same.

What are the best nursing pads to use for breastfeeding?

Based on the above analysis, whether you choose disposable or reusable nursing pads really depends on your lifestyle and what matters most to you.

If you value saving time, choose disposables, because even though it only takes a few minutes to wash reusable nursing pads daily, those minutes really add up if you do it every single day.

However, if you’re on a tight budget and simply cannot afford unnecessary spending, go with reusable pads, as they will still save you close to $200, even with the extra washing you need to do.

NatureBond – The best reusable nursing pads

NatureBond logo
NatureBond reusable organic bamboo nursing pads with gift box and mesh wash bag

NatureBond is an award-winning US baby brand that is relatively unheard of in Australia because their products are only available locally on Amazon Australia.

Their organic bamboo reusable nursing pads are an ‘Amazon’s Choice‘ product – a badge given to highly rated and well-priced items that are available to ship immediately.

Even though it is a fairly new brand in Australia, it has already garnered an impressive 4.5-star rating on its Amazon listing and is already ranked #3 in the nursing pads bestsellers.

The nursing pads are beautifully packaged in a drawer gift box that can also be used as a keepsake or trinket box. It also includes a small laundry bag that can hold a few pairs of nursing pads.

Rite Aid – The best disposable nursing pads

Even though there are more well-known and popular disposable brands like Lansinoh Nursing Pads, I am a big fan of Rite Aid for a few simple reasons:

It is readily available in Woolworths, both online and in-store. It doesn’t happen often, but I have run out of nursing pads a few times. During times of need like this, you’ll be thanking God that you can just run down to Woolies to grab your usual stash.

It is SUPER absorbent. Remember when I said earlier that I found disposables MORE absorbent than reusables? Rite Aid is the brand I was talking about. I have used Rite Aid since my firstborn and only ever tried one other disposable brand that failed me terribly (I genuinely cannot remember the name of that brand but I got it from Woolies too).

It is one of the cheapest disposable nursing pads. At 18c per piece, it is the second most affordable brand I have found to date. The first would be New Beginnings Bamboo Disposable Nursing Pads at just 15c per piece, but I have a strong suspicion that was the other brand I tried and really didn’t like at all.

Tips for choosing nursing pads:

Contoured nursing pads are a double-edged sword

Regardless of disposable or reusable, there are contoured ones designed to fit perfectly along the curve of your breasts, ensuring better absorbency so no leaks get through. However, the contoured shape can result in the pads having a slightly pointy tip exactly where your nipples would be.

Disposable pads are great for longer periods of wearing

Disposables usually have a sticky backing that allows you to stick them down onto your bra so they don’t fall out or move out of place, which almost always happens when you’re feeding or sleeping.

The fact that they are more absorbent than reusable nursing pads make them ideal for overnight use too.

Experiment with different shapes and sizes

You’ll be surprised to see flower-shaped breast pads instead of regular circular ones. And some like the NatureBond Disposable Nursing Pads are 10% larger in surface area than others. It may take some trial and error to find a brand that you feel most comfortable in because everyone’s breasts are different.

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