If you plan on nursing your new baby, you’ll soon find that nursing pads are a necessity. Leaks are inevitable, especially those first months as your flow is the strongest, and even before you give birth you can have some colostrum leaks already. Did you know your milk can start flowing as soon as you hear your baby cry? How amazing is our body! So nursing pads are a must-have. Store bought pads do fine, but as with any disposable product, it’s much more sustainable to create your own reusable pads. Better for the environment, for your wallet and for your tender skin! They’re a fun, quick project to sew, and the perfect scrap buster. In this tutorial we’ll tell you all about what materials you need, how to sew them and we have a free template for you!
What you need
- Outer layer fabric: the best option would be something waterproof or water repellent, and breathable at the same time. Normal waterproof fabric closes off your skin and can cause clogged ducts and mastitis. Your pads really need to be breathable! PUL (polyurethane laminate, also used for cloth diapers) works best, and comes in a breathable variation too. If you’re not sure, just ask the supplier. You can also use fleece, or wool. This part will not touch your skin, so it’s ok if it’s not the softest. If you can’t find this, use a tightly woven cotton in a fun print.
- Absorbent fabric: toweling, old flannel shirts, anything that absorbs moisture. Choose natural fabrics such as cotton or bamboo. Key here is that it has no stretch, as this makes the sewing much more difficult.
- Regular sewing machine or serger
- Walking foot (optional)
- Scissors, or rotary cutter and cutting mat
- Free Pad Template
Printing & Cutting
For fabric sources, try Diaper Sewing Supplies, Wazoodle Fabrics, Natures’ Fabrics, or EU shop Sewforkids for PUL and absorbent fabrics. All three PUL fabrics shown in this tutorial come from the Sewforkids shop. Start with pre-washing your fabric. This will prevent shrinking and will make the fabric more absorbent. All fabrics mentions above can be washed at warm (40°C) and tumble dried, but check the suppliers instructions to be sure. PUL or other 100% synthetic fabric does not necessarily need to be pre-washed.
Print your template. Check if it has the right dimensions and cut it out. If you’re planning on sewing lots of pads (they make great gifts too!), transfer the pattern to a piece of cardboard. You’ll find that you’ll gradually slice off bits of paper when you use it a lot, and cardboard prevents this.
For every set of pads, you’ll need to cut out two outer layers, and 2-4 absorbent layers, depending on your fabric. For toweling two layers are sufficient, but for thinner fabrics like flannel you’ll need 3-4 layers. Cutting is easiest with two layers at the same time, using a cutting mat and rotary cutter.
You’ll notice that the pad template has a curved dart drawn in. If you like, you can use that to make the pad conical. The conical shape will make the pad less bulky and fit your breast better, but it’s also an extra step and depends on your preference and materials used. PUL tends to want to stay flat, while natural outer fabrics such as wool will shape around your breast more easily. Note that when you sew the dart in PUL, the needle will make holes that might leak through. A washing should diminish that as the stitching will expand and fill up the holes, but it’s still a risk.
If you want to make your pads conical, you’ll have to start with sewing darts in all the pad layers. You can do this with a straight stitch on your regular machine, or on your serger. I recommend your regular machine, as the serger threads will add more bulk.
Batch preparing and sewing is the most efficient way to go here. Lay all your circles on a flat surface and stack them. If you’ve sewn in darts, stagger the darts so they are not all in the same place. Start with the absorbent layers, right side down, then the outer layer on top, right side up. Because you’re sewing so many layers together in a circle, they will have a tendency to shift while sewing. Especially toweling since the loops rub against each other while handling the pads.
While keeping them flat on the table so they stay nicely aligned, put in three pins along the edge. Put them in close to the edge, and parallel so you don’t poke holes in the center of the pads and create holes in the PUL. Put them in at three sides, the fourth side is where you’ll start sewing.
On a regular machine, use a wide zig-zag with a narrow stitch length. Use a 60/8 or 70/9 universal needle, or a stretch needle. Stitch close to the edge, letting the edge of the zig zag fall just on or over the edge. To prevent the layers from shifting, reduce your presser foot pressure or use a walking foot. If you still find the upper layer shifting (especially with smooth fabric like PUL), just pause and lift your presser foot to allow the PUL to shift back in place. Continue along the edge until you complete the circle, and backstitch. And that’s it, you’ve made your first pad! Don’t worry if it’s a bit wonky, sewing a circle is not as easy as it seems but every following pad will get better. You’ll need a bunch anyway, so you’ll have lots of opportunity to practice!
On a serger, use the four-thread stitch to secure the edges. Reduce your presser foot pressure if you have that option. Dial the differential feed up, so if it is usually at 1.0 then go up one or two steps. Now the presser foot will not push the upper layer out so much. Even so, I have found it necessary to pause and lift the presser foot to allow the top layer to shift back in place a few times. Especially when using PUL, as it is a bit slippery. Just go slowly and check that all the layers are still aligned before feeding it through. The pattern template does not have a seam allowance, so pull up the knife or use it as a guide for your fabric. Since you’re sewing a curve, the fabric will stay mostly out of the way of the knife anyway. Continue along the edge until you complete the circle. Use a blunt tapestry needle to secure the thread tail in the stitches. And that’s it, you’ve made your first pad! Don’t worry if it’s a bit wonky, sewing a circle is not as easy as it seems but every following pad will get better. You’ll need a bunch anyway, so you’ll have lots of opportunity to practice!
Have you sewn your own pads? What are your favorite fabrics to use? Please share in the comments!