In our household, the turn to cloth diapering was pretty gradual. We had some difficulties early on, and I focused my efforts elsewhere. But after a few months, I decided to pursue cloth again with a renewed sense of determination. Pockets are working out wonderfully for us, and I’m thrilled with our decision. A new box of disposables certainly never brought forth the same excitement as a package of fluff on my doorstep! The next logical step seemed to be mama cloth, and I have several carefully sewn, swirly colored pads and liners prepped and waiting for whenever I might need them again.
My switch to the other mama cloth, however, was not gradual. When I switched, I switched fast, all because of a startling realization in the middle of the night that hit me like a ton of bricks.
When I decided to breastfeed, I read everything I could get my hands on. I researched products online, and I stocked up on everything I thought I might need. Electric pump, manual pump, nursing bras, nursing pillow, ointments, creams, shields…you name it. During my maternity leave, I never really used any of it. Besides some pain at first, the only issue I really had was oversupply and a bit of an overactive letdown. It doesn’t sound like a problem, but it can be. A too-fast letdown can cause baby to fill up on foremilk and not get enough nutrient-rich hindmilk, but our problem was not that severe. What it did require was lots and lots of breast pads.
Here’s where the problem came in. The longest stretches between nursing sessions were at night, so that was when I was most likely to engorge and/or leak. Of course, I made sure I was wearing maximum absorbency breast pads. When it came time to nurse, I would either roll over and nurse my son back to sleep, if he was in my bed, or I would sit and rock him quietly, in his room, with the light off to keep stimulation to a minimum.
One night, after nursing, I went into the bathroom and flipped on the light. I noticed my breast pads were very wet and knew I needed to change them. When I took the pad away from my one still-heavy breast, I found something strange on my skin. It was the same absorbent gel that had troubled me so much when I found it on my son’s bottom. (Sodium polyacrylate, I think?) It was in my disposable breast pads, and just like with disposable diapers, it had gotten saturated and burst out all over my skin.
So what about the other breast? The one my son had just happily emptied? Surely it was covered with the clingy little balls of squishy gel, too. How many times had this happened? How much of this weird, alien substance had he ingested? I was taking the utmost care in every respect to protect him from toxins and unnatural ingredients, and here I was, essentially feeding him something toxic.
What had I done? Did other moms know about this? I shudder to think how many do not, given that the most likely time for it to happen is in the middle of the night, in the dark, when you’re bleary-eyed and exhausted.
It was careless on my part not to think about the possible consequences when I used the disposable samples and coupons I had been given. I should have known better. But I assure you, I never used another disposable breast pad (even when I was away from my son, because that stuff can't be good for my health, either.)
I encourage all breastfeeding moms—especially new ones who are not yet familiar with the sea of products out there—to also consider using cloth breast pads; cotton, hemp, bamboo, store-bought or WAHM-made, the choices are many. Do it for the environment, do it for your budget, but most of all, do it for your health and the health of your baby.
By Wendy Cray Kaufman