Nursing pads are absorbent pads which are used to prevent breastmilk leakages from seeping through bras and other garments. Not every new mother needs them, but they can be very useful, and it is advisable to purchase a package of them in preparation for the days following childbirth.
Breastfeeding mothers sometimes experience leakage of breastmilk between feedings, for a variety of reasons. Leakages can be uncomfortable, as most people don't enjoy wearing wet clothing, and they can also cause discomfort in social settings if the leakage appears on outer garments. Most importantly, wearing wet garments against the breasts and nipples can contribute to inflammation and infection, making it important to take steps to address it.
Nursing pads are highly absorbent, and are usually designed to wick any breastmilk which leaks out into the center of the pad, keeping it away from the nipple without staining the bra or outer garments. The pads can be worn inside a nursing bra, or attached with adhesive tape.
It is important to change nursing pads as soon as they are damp. Just as a wet diaper can cause inflammation on a baby's bottom, wet pads can lead to inflammation of the nipple. If the nipple becomes inflamed, it may interfere with the ability to express breastmilk, and it can make breastfeeding very uncomfortable. It can be a good idea to carry spare pads for changes on the go.
Numerous companies make disposable nursing pads, and it is also possible to purchase reusable pads which are washed between uses. Some women like to wear washable ones at home and disposable ones when they go out so that they do not need to carry soiled pads around with them. It is also possible to make pads with fabrics such as cotton, or to improvise with things like handkerchiefs. However, using sanitary napkins as pads is not recommended because they may not allow air to circulate freely around the nipple.
Many hospitals have samples which they can give to new mothers, including samples of products like nursing pads. Women who don't have pads on hand at the time of delivery might want to ask hospital staff for samples so that they will have pads to get through the first few days after the birth. A lactation consultant can also often provide a woman with samples of nursing pads and other breastfeeding accessories.