Whenever the subject of breastfeeding comes up, my mom likes to tell about how when I was a baby, every time I cried milk would shoot out of her breasts in response. As horrified as I'd been by the prospect of projectile breastmilk, I tried to prepare for the possibility. (I'm happy to report that as of last Sunday, when I originally started writing this post, it had never happened to me.) What I hadn't prepared for was the constant leaky faucet-like dripping that seems to defy any containment system.
I first learned of the leakage issue when Dooce mentioned it on her site (and re-reading the post now that I have an 8 week-old baby, I realize how true everything she said is); I'd never heard of breast pads before that, or considered why one would need such things. In my 9th month of pregnancy, however, I decided to buy a box of 40 Avent Breast Pads just in case I, like Dooce, leaked at night.
At the time I remember thinking that 40 was a lot—and that "breast pads," while an accurate description, sounded (a) gauche, (b) like "maxi pads", and (c) confusing, given that so many other maternity-related items were also called "breast this" and "breast that". I announced that in our household we would call them "coussinets", which was the French translation on the box.
Fast-forward to my first couple weeks home from the hospital, which included lots of incredibly painful breastfeeding (YES, I CHECKED THE LATCH! sheesh!)... and an enormous amount of leaking. I went through all 40 of those Avent coussinets in no time flat. Luckily I remembered that Morrisa had included a couple boxes of the Medela brand (120 total) in the box of baby clothes she'd sent us, and I sent my mom up to the third floor to get them.
When I saw how thin those Medela coussinets were, I was fairly skeptical. I tried them, though, and found them to be much more absorbent (and comfortable) than the Avent brand (although the word "coussinet" appeared nowhere on the Medela box; thank god we bought the Avent ones first, or we never would have known about the French translation). Unfortunately I didn't really get to take advantage of that extra absorbency because soon after switching to Medela, I read that the pads should be changed as soon as they got damp to prevent chapped nipples. (And boy, did I have chapped nipples!)
After almost three weeks of breastfeeding, my nipples were still so sore that after a nursing session my bra felt like it was made out of fire ant-infested fiberglass insulation. I got some breast shells to give them a break—and to provide some protection from the ill-placed straps of the Baby Bjorn. Note: It's important that you know, in case you didn't follow the link above, that these shells are "vented on the top to provide proper air circulation" and come with "highly absorbent foam inserts protect against leaking." OK? OK.
The first time I put the breast shells on, I thought, "wow, these things really work! My nipples don't hurt nearly as much!" (Never mind the angry red circles that appeared around the nipples; I didn't notice those until I took the shells off, and they didn't actually start to hurt until the circulation returned to that area.) I was thrilled. Yay, breast shells!
I'd had the shells on for about an hour that first time when we decided to take Austen out with us to run some errands. Al got him in the car seat and set him on the floor next to me. I bent over to put on his hat... and promptly spilled like a liter of breast milk through my bra, through my sweater, and onto the floor. (OK, maybe it wasn't an entire liter, but it made a huge puddle.) See? Aren't you glad you knew that the shells were "vented on top to allow major spillage when you bend over" and come with "easily overwhelmed foam inserts that do nothing to prevent leaking"?
I had to learn the hard way that (a) the extra foam inserts weren't included in case you lost the first set, (b) the shells needed to be removed every 30 minutes or so and the foam inserts wrung out, and (c) I shouldn't plan on bending over with the shells on unless I had a couple of the coussinets stuffed in my bra as backup. I eventually decided that the shells weren't worth the trouble and abandoned them.
I am still so leaky, however, that I haven't been able to abandon the coussinets, despite the fact that they, too, sometimes fail me. (Or I fail them; TWICE last week I accidentally put them in backwards, with the adhesive side facing in. OUCH, OUCH, OUCH.) I think I've gone through 5 boxes of 60 Medela coussinets, and I'm halfway through box number 6, despite attempting to conserve (i.e., screw the chapped nipples). I've been advised to try the washable cotton inserts, but I can't help but think that I'd need like 40 pairs in order to keep up with the leakage and the laundry.
Think I'm exaggerating? Last Sunday morning, around 3am, I woke up in that puddle of breast milk Dooce mentioned in her post: the one the coussinets were supposed to prevent. This time it wasn't my fault; I hadn't put one in backwards or upside down, and neither had the adhesive failed, causing it to slide out of position. No, what happened is that I SOAKED THROUGH THE DAMN THING. It was so saturated that it couldn't hold another drop of milk, and again I ended up with a wet bra, a wet t-shirt, and this time, wet sheets.
This weekend saw a repeat of last Sunday—as well as an episode of the dreaded projectile milk—thanks to a combination of Al's soothing and Austen's sleeping that allowed for 6- and 7-hour breaks between feedings. My breasts have obviously not adapted to such a long stretch of disuse. The good news, if there is any, is that I was actually able to collect almost 4 oz. of milk over two nights just by standing over an open Avent bottle, no pumping necessary.