As if childbirth weren’t hard enough, what with the rollercoaster hormones and the pressure to keep a tiny new human alive, around one-third of women report dealing with postpartum incontinence. The reason is simple: your muscles are not only weakened from carrying a baby for nine months, but also from delivering it. This is even true for what might be considered an uneventful pregnancy, according to Parents.com.
And that is why an underwear start-up called Willow launched last year, with disposable, leak-proof undies. These offer the utility of adult diapers without the actual diaper, in theory freeing one-third of new moms from the discomfort and embarrassment of wearing a Depends. To anyone who’s been paying attention to the start-up landscape in recent years, Willow might sound a little like Thinx, the notorious company that jump-started the idea of selling leak-proof underwear for women on their periods. Thinx’s human resources tribulations aside, the company created a ripple: not only are there more companies making period-proof underwear, there’s now Willow, making fully pee-proof undies. Because that’s a compelling promise (and a disastrously risky one if it fails), we decided to put Willow to test.
Many other newfangled underwear brands (Thinx, as well as companies like Knix) make undies that look like regular underwear. Willow does too, sort of, but theirs more resemble dainty, stylish diapers. They come in a single, high-waisted style, not unlike some from Everlane or Baserange. As for the actual material, it’s a bit mysterious: the website refers to “30 percent natural fibers with a patented technology.” After touching and wearing them, I can at least say that they don’t feel quite like regular cotton or polyester, but don’t feel like a papery diaper, either.
Willow works thanks to what feels like a giant Maxi pad sewn into each pair. Because — full disclosure — I am not a postpartum mom with incontinence and was not looking to voluntarily pee my pants, I tested Willow’s absorbent properties with a time-honored TV technique. The average bladder holds almost one cup of urine before the “gotta go” feeling hits, so I emptied one cup of (clear, not blue) water into my test Willows. Not only did it absorb everything without spillover, but the underwear felt dry to the touch within seconds. To stress-test it a little bit, I pressed my arm up against the underwear and even then, there was truly no moisture. For comparison’s sake, I tried the same thing with the Knix underwear, which didn’t pass the dryness test.
When I talked to a few new moms about my Willow test, they were impressed: one woman said her postpartum incontinence has sometimes meant that in the mornings, she’s soaked through to the point that she’s sure she emptied her whole bladder. Another mom, an editor at ParentingPod.com, told me that she only deals with one to three teaspoons of incontinence leakage, for which Willow would surely have her covered.
There’s another reason that women with incontinence might want to try Willow: Each underthing arrives in a diaper-like multi-pack, folded neatly into the shape and size of a small tablet, making them easy to throw into tote bags for the day. For the new moms I spoke with, this came up as a notable design feature. One such woman told me that she has to carry panty liners and feminine wipes throughout the day to deal with her incontinence, and often ends up throwing even her regular underwear into the trash — something you’re actually supposed to do with Willows, anyway.
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