Using Cloth Pads for Postpartum Care
Hey y’all! Liz here. Working at Party in My Pants over the years, I’ve been asked many times- “Can these pads be used for postpartum bleeding”? The answer is, of course, YES! Our pads can be used for any type of bleeding or discharge, and our larger sizes, such as the Queen Pad or Super Overnight Pad, have super absorbent powers that can stand up to even the heaviest few days of postpartum bleeding and immediate recovery.
But when people asked how many pads they would need, or any more details on what to expect, I could only guess- not having had any children yet! So when I became pregnant, I realized I would finally be able to get first hand experience using our pads in this unique way! I couldn’t wait to share what I learned with all of our customers- present and future- who are interested in using our pads after giving birth- and even during pregnancy (it’s true!).
First of all, if anyone is on the fence about whether or not to use cloth for postpartum bleeding, the answer is- just do it! In my experience, I would have gone through SO MANY packages of disposables, and spent SO MUCH money on icky period products that didn’t even feel good. I needed a lot of pads and wore them for about a month straight after giving birth, so the sheer amount of disposable pads I would have gone through would have been huge- and expensive!
By using cloth pads and being able to wash the same ones over and over (and they’re SO easy to just throw in the washing machine with any other laundry you’re already doing anyway!) I saved money, felt more comfortable, and diverted so much waste from the trash. And of course, the pads I used for postpartum bleeding will continue to serve me for many years to come, using them for regular monthly periods and for any future pregnancy too.
Let’s start with the comfort factor, because this is a HUGE one! It’s honestly something I’ve taken for granted over the years- I’ve used cloth pads for a long time, and I’ve long forgotten the gross, uncomfortable feeling of plastic-y disposables. But in the immediate few weeks after giving birth (which was NOT an easy time for the ol’ crotch area) I came to appreciate them all over again! I couldn’t imagine putting scratchy, itchy, sweaty, plastic-y disposables anywhere near my vagina after everything it had been through!
My birth experience was very positive, but still- I gave birth to a 9-lb 1-oz baby after 4 hours of pushing- AND it was my first! So, you could say I was a *bit* sore, and I had a small tear in my perineum as well. So, in my immediate postpartum recovery period, I re-discovered the comfort of cloth, and fell in love with it all over again!
First of all, what is postpartum bleeding? Well, basically everything that supported a baby’s growth in the womb for nine months needs to come out! This can look mostly like blood, but it also contains tissue and mucous. Thanks to high levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy, the endometrium (the wall of the uterus) built a thick layer of blood, placental tissue, endometrial lining, and mucus. So after the baby is born and the placenta is delivered, there is still quite a bit that needs to be cleared out of the uterus (regardless of whether you delivered your baby vaginally or via C-section). But unlike the baby and placenta, which come out whole and all at once, this residual tissue is gradually sloughed off over a time period ranging between four to six weeks.
Postpartum blood is called “lochia”, and more can come out if you exert yourself more with physical activity (of course, you want to be taking it easy during that time period anyway!). There are actually three types of lochia- lochia rubra, lochia serosa, and lochia alba.
Lochia rubra is dark red in color- it generally lasts for the first 3 or 4 days and can include clots. This first stage of postpartum bleeding can also be accompanied by uterine cramping, which is the uterus clamping down and starting to shrink back to it’s normal size (this process will take about 6 weeks but the initial cramping will generally just happen for the first few days after birth). The cramping can normally be felt when the baby latches on for breastfeeding, as this causes a release of hormones that will signal the uterus to shrink.
Lochia serosa is more pinkish brown in color and last for the 4-10 days after birth.
Lochia alba is supposedly whitish yellow, although I never noticed those colors! It generally lasts until the end of the first postpartum month. Lochia tends to have a different smell than menstrual blood- I found it to have more of a yeasty smell.
Let’s talk about fabric! My cloth pad collection contains every type of fabric that Party in My Pants offers- classic cotton, fuzzy flannel, organic cotton, organic flannel, and even double-gauze (a unique loose-weave blend that is only occasionally available!). For postpartum, I found myself mostly reaching towards the flannel pads, for just that extra little touch of fuzzy softness (Tip: they are especially soft when dried in a dryer- flannel pads dried on a clothesline can feel more stiff, and don’t feel as fuzzy as they could).
So- what sizes did I use those most? Well, I’ll start my answer by saying that I have a HUGE pad collection from working at Party in My Pants for 6 years (and snatching up any super-cute fabric that I just couldn’t live without!), so I have lots of pads in almost every size! So I was able to try out different sizes for postpartum bleeding at my leisure, whereas most people will buy some with postpartum bleeding specifically in mind, or work with any cloth pad sizes they may already have in their collection. That being said, I’ll tell you what I used to give you an idea of what sizes felt the most useful.
Immediately after giving birth (well, once I was all cleaned up and had cuddled with my new baby for awhile!), I put on an organic flannel Queen Pad. In fact, I had packed a few of these in my birth bag, so they were all there and ready to go along with everything else I thought I would need. Bleeding was heaviest for the first two days, so I exclusively wore Queen Pads, mostly in flannel, for the beginning.
Wearing pads that were lighter in color allowed me to monitor my blood flow and blood color better- to make sure that I was bleeding in a healthy way, and not too much. I had been told that there could be large clots, but I didn’t seem to have any. If I had, I probably would have removed the clots from the fabric before putting them in the washing machine, as they don’t dissolve well in water and can cause some color transfer to anything else that may be in the same washing machine load (otherwise, cloth pads are just fine to go right in the laundry with other items- no need to soak or rinse!).
After a couple of days with Queen Pads, my bleeding tapered off quite a bit, and it felt more like a typical menstrual period-ish amount. However, I still needed more absorbency because I was using an herbal perineum wash after using the toilet (sort of like using a bidet), as I was advised to avoid toilet paper for at least two weeks. I kept a bottle of peri wash in a squeeze bottle near the toilet, and used that for cleansing. The pads then helped soak up that extra moisture when I put it back on (rather than wiping the peri wash off with toilet paper…which would defeat the whole purpose!).
Using a peri wash can help dilute the burning effect of urine after peeing, especially if you have a tear. And if you make an herbal wash, it can also aid comfort and healing. I received an herbal perineum blend from my birth center, and after that ran out, I made my own! I ended up avoiding toilet paper for about a month, because I had a lot of soreness and discomfort. Other people will feel fine using toilet paper after about a week or so.
For the herbal perineum wash, I just made a simple tea with skin-loving herbs such as rose petals, lavender, comfrey, St. John’s Wort, and red clover. I used an empty dish soap bottle as my peri bottle, but you can buy bottles specifically for this purpose that have an angled nozzle for better aim.
After Queen Pads, I moved on to using other sizes that were a bit smaller but still on the more-absorbent end, such as Overnight Pads or Large Pads. I didn’t use Super Pads (the more absorbent twin of the Large Pad), as they are thicker, and I wanted to flexibility of thinner sizes. I was spending most of my time sitting in an armchair during my initial recovery period (LOTS of breastfeeding, of course!), so I also wanted sizes that had extra length to cover any blood that would flow more to the backside.
After about a week with those sizes, I moved on to using mostly Medium Pads, Jetty Pads, and sometimes Luxe Liners. Postpartum bleeding is much more irregular than the steadiness of a menstrual period, so sometimes there would be much more blood than I thought, other times just a drip. Ultimately, I think I reached for Jetty Pads the most often after the heavier bleeding had subsided, because Jetty Pads are great for everyday wear- I ended up wearing pads constantly for about a month! Jetty Pads are quite thin but still have a medium-level absorbency, and their unique shape offers longer coverage in the front. This shape can actually keep the fabric from sliding around, and I found that it reduced any possible chafing on my inner thighs. With the longer coverage in the front, it also helped to catch any pee/herbal wash dribbles after going to the bathroom.
So, how did I wash them? Luckily, this was easy with a washing machine in my home! I was already doing laundry every day, because we were using cloth diapers for our newborn. We ended up having to run those through the wash every day anyway, because of the number of newborn-sized diapers we had.
For our cloth diapers, we washed them by running them through two cycles in the washing machine. We would do the first cycle with just the cloth diapers, to get most of the soil out first (breastfed newborn poop is water-soluble so any solids just wash away). Then, the diapers were clean enough after their first wash for us to add any clothing or household laundry to the second wash, and we washed everything together on a normal cycle. This meant that I could just throw any of my used cloth pads in with the second cloth diaper wash, so none of them ever sat for more than a day.
After they were out of the wash, I put them in the dryer with everything else and ran it as normal. Normally I like to air-dry my pads on the line because it preserves the longevity of the fabrics, but it was February in northern Wisconsin, and things just don’t dry well on the clothesline, even inside! And I learned that when you have a newborn… you want to just finish the little things quickly! But once summer comes around again, I’m excited to dry both my pads and cloth diapers on the clothesline, and natural sunlight can help remove stains on fabric (make sure fabric is damp before you put them in the sun, otherwise it won’t be as effective).
Having to do laundry everyday because of cloth diapers (and being able to throw random stuff into the second wash cycle) was really helpful because I also didn’t realize how much dirty laundry I would create by leaking breastmilk all over everything!
So… what if you don’t have a washing machine at home? Well, the easiest solution would be to just get more cloth pads so you don’t have to worry about running to the laundromat just to wash pads, or hand-washing them when you’re busy with other things! If you have a greater number of pads in your collection, then you can still just add them to the regular laundry loads you would be doing anyway, however often that is.
That being said, it is also totally possible to hand-wash if you can find the time! You may want to pre-soak your pads in cool water for about 10 minutes. Then wash your pads by hand with a gentle soap, getting them sudsy and then rinsing and squeezing them repeatedly until the water runs clear. Don’t use anything harsh to scrub the pad’s surface as that can damage the fibers.
Besides postpartum bleeding, cloth pads can actually be really useful during pregnancy as well. Daily discharge increases quite a bit during pregnancy due to increased levels of estrogen and progesterone, and this can lead to more frequent feelings of stickiness and wetness! I found myself occasionally wearing a Luxe Liner or Jetty Pad during this time, and I know other people that have worn liners everyday because of the excess discharge.
So, what else did I find useful to heal my hard-working crotch after birth? Well, I had a small perineum tear, so I needed a little extra soothing sensation down there. I took some aloe vera gel (you can buy this in a bottle or make some yourself if you have an aloe plant in your house, just scoop out the insides and blend it up!), rubbed it on a cloth pad, and wore that for awhile. This provided some soothing, cooling comfort and moisture to my tired vadge!
On that note, many people also like to make “padsicles” for cooling relief after giving birth, or if they have discomfort for any other reason. You can even prep a bunch during pregnancy, so they’re ready whenever you need them! To do this, simply mix alcohol-free witch hazel and aloe vera gel together (you can also add a few drops of lavender essential oil!) and brush it onto the pads in your desired amount. Then, package each pad individually in its own plastic baggie, and store them in the freezer for use after birth! People recommend having 15-20 padsicles on hand after birth, in case you need them!
Alternately, I really enjoyed sitting on an electric heating pad in my favorite armchair while breastfeeding. Not cloth pad related… but so comforting I just had to include that tip!
For people who don’t yet have a cloth pad collection, how many should they buy for postpartum? Again, this will depend if you have a washing machine at your disposal, and if you don’t, you will need to get more (unless you have someone doing laundry for you everyday!). Assuming you have a washing machine, I would suggest getting six Queen Pads, so you can wear them and change them as often as your need for the first few days of heavier bleeding.
After that, I would suggest getting eight Overnight and/or Large Pad (a mix of these would be good) to get you through the next few weeks. Then, about six Jetty or Luxe Liners will be helpful to wear for as long as you need.
At this point, I am about 7 weeks postpartum, I definitely still spot blood a bit everyday, but have stopped wearing pads at this point. It may seem like a lot of pads to stock up on, but of course you can use them for many years after, once your menstrual cycle returns, and for any subsequent pregnancies as well.
Of course, I can’t write a blog post about my postpartum experience without mentioning Honeysuckles! Honeysuckles are reusable fabric breastfeeding pads that soak up any leaking breastmilk! First of all, I had NO IDEA how leaky my boobs would be, especially in that first week or so. My milk came in just 2 days after birth, so suddenly breastmilk was just… everywhere.
Honeysuckles have an organic cotton/hemp fleece layer that goes against the skin to absorb leaks, a leakproof nylon layer buried in the middle, and a decorative outer cotton layer- just for fun (of course, no one sees this except you, as it’s in your bra… so it’s fun to get crazy patterns!). These leaky boob shields allowed me to walk around without dripping breastmilk down the inside of my shirt, and feeling cold and damp- ick! They especially helped me feel more confident about going out, especially in the beginning- it’s already hard to find a comfortable outfit in the immediate postpartum period, without having to worry about leaking through your shirt right away!
So, that has been my postpartum experience with cloth pads and Honeysuckles! I no longer need to wear a pad everyday for postpartum bleeding, but I am so glad I always have my cloth pad collection ready-to-go at home, because I don’t know when my menstrual cycle will return! It could realistically be anyway this year, so I’m happy that I have the supplies for it, because I’m sure it will be a surprise! And, as a breastfeeding mom that’s just starting to go out more after the initial postpartum period, I’m sure Honeysuckles will continue to prove their worth for many months to come!