It's still wise, however, to purchase at least one package of nursing pads until you know what your needs will be. That way, if leaking should occur when the milk "comes in" you'll have something ready to go and already clean and softened with washing (if you choose reusable pads). As breastfeeding becomes established you can purchase more pads if needed.
Washable or Disposable
Usually this is only a matter of what you find more convenient. And there may be times when you prefer a disposable pad over a washable one, such as when you're traveling, or out and about with baby. Washable pads tend to be less expensive in the long run than disposable, but you'll need to keep up with the washing of them so that you always have a clean, dry pad available. Wearing wet pads for any length of time is not recommended as this makes nipple conditions such as yeast more common.
When washing reusable pads, be sure to avoid liquid fabric softener as it can impede the pad's absorbency. Fabric softeners sheets, however, can be used in the dryer to soften the pads without any problem.
Features to Look for in a Nursing Pad
If choosing washable/reusable pads, look for those that are made of cotton, preferably 100% cotton. This will ensure adequate airflow to the nipples and breasts. Some pads may have a lace overlay. This is usually fine as long as the rest of the pad is all cotton.
If choosing a disposable pad, look for those that are either 100% cotton or all paper. Lansinoh has recently come out with a disposable pad that has a breathable plastic lining. Other pads with plastic linings may not allow for good airflow. Pads with unbreathable plastic linings may actually impede healing of traumatized nipples or make nipple infections more likely.
Several manufacturers offer a variety of pads with multiple layers or added absorbency. If you're not satisfied with the pad you're using, don't be afraid to explore other brands.
Usually the larger the pad the more discreet it will be under your clothing. Pads with a pink color to them also tend to be less noticeable under light-colored clothing.
Some disposable pads may have an adhesive backing making it easier for them to stay "put".
Ideas for "Homemade" Nursing Pads
Some moms do quite well with cloth diapers cut up or a man's handkerchief folded up. Sanitary napkins, normally used during menstruation, are not recommended to absorb breastmilk leakage because they prevent good airflow.
How Often to Change Your Pads
Pads should be changed or discarded as soon as they become damp. Doing so lessens the risk of nipple infection. If you are being treated for nipple or breast yeast, you'll need to be even more deliberate about changing wet pads and laundering them so as to kill the yeast.