The Ultimate Guide to Maternity & Nursing Bras
A significant number of women are wearing the wrong bra size. Some estimations has this at 80%. Whatever that number, it’s significant! This percentage is increased for nursing women. The same one bra will not suit all of your breast feeding stages. We’re working on it but for now, we’re here to make this selection easier so that nursing is easier and your life is easier. Voila.
A lot of women are wearing the wrong sized maternity and nursing bra for the different stages of their pregnancy and breast feeding life. The breast and body change dramatically (the most they will ever change in such a relatively short amount of time) throughout this period. Whether you feed for 6 weeks or 3 years, the change is similar for your breasts.
What bra to wear at each stage:
We’ve identified different stages of breast development throughout your pregnancy and breastfeeding, this has been translated this into an easy reference below:
Stage 1: 0-3 months pregnant
Breasts are tender and beginning to increase in size, volume and weight, possibly dramatically. Increase in size can be up to 3 cups and the change can be painful for some women. Your underband will not usually change at this stage as your baby is very low in your belly, and small.
Stage 2: 3-8 months pregnant
Breasts will continue to grow but the rate may be slower. The ribcage may also start to expand, meaning your band size may increase. A supportive and comfortable bra is recommended with cotton lining that will allow your body to breath and not irritate your skin. Any well designed nursing bra will be fine for you at this stage from flexible wires to soft cup bras with 6 hooks and eyes for greater support and extension.
Stage 3: 8-9 months pregnant
Not much growth typically occurs at this late stage compared with the other 8 initial months. Your ribcage will be at its widest so if you are buying a bra, buy the band size smaller (and cup size bigger) as you ribcage will dramatically reduce after you’ve had your baby.
Bonus information: Your breast size at this stage, will most likely be your nursing cup size in stage 5.
Purchase a minimum of 3 supportive nursing bras at this point so that you’re well covered for times when washing may build up.
Related: When to buy nursing bras
Stage 4: 0-4 weeks post pregnancy / breastfeeding
Breast will be at their maximum size, weight and tenderness due to the milk production required. Your seamless bra will also come in handy here from your first 3 months of pregnancy.
When your milk first comes in, this can sometimes and usually be a very painful experience.
Your breasts will produce the substance in accordance with what is the right formula for your baby. At first, this is colostrum. This is very thick, rich nutrient packed liquid to feed your baby for the first time. This will help their stomach and digestive system get ready for milk and activate their first bowel movement. This liquid is to replace the function of the placenta, then your milk is to nourish your baby from then on. The liquid will become thinner over the next few days as your baby’s stomach can handle the quantity. Your body will always produce a similar substance to the colostrum when you produce milk, this is call ‘hind milk’. Much like the cream on jersey cow milk, it’s richer and creamier and fattier. This is call hind milk because it’s always the last to come out after your milk each feed. Hence the reason why the 10 minute on and swap routine has been discontinued advice. Babies need the hind milk to grow and feel full and sleep.
On about day 3, sometimes earlier, your milk will come in. This is when your breasts first dramatically increase in size because of the introduction of the milk supply. It’s recommended that you wear a seamless bra during this entire stage to be prepared for the onset of daily fluctuations that can occur (sometimes 3 cups sizes increase and decrease x 8 times a day). Your breasts can be very large, uncomfortable and hard to touch with a bumpy and knotty appearance. When your milk comes in for the first time – be ready for some very serious let-down pain. It’s not just your breasts and nipples that can be sore either. When you breastfeed, your milk supply is ‘let-down’ this can be painful for some women. This is a pins and needles rushing feeling in your breasts. You may also feel pains within your lower abdomen when you breastfeed as hormones kick in and tighten your uterus. Another good reason to breastfeed.
Your nipples are adapting to their new role and some tenderness is normal. If it is painful to feed or you are experiencing cracking nipples, try expressing some milk after each feed onto your nipple and allowing to air dry before re-dressing. Another solution is lanolin but make sure you remove this before babies next feed.
- The top priority for bras should be your breast health, not fashion.
- Go for something seamless and stretchy to allow for not only stretch, but support and recovery.
- Be prepared, you should have at least 3 prior to giving birth.
- These come in sizes XS – XXL so if you’re guessing your size, add a couple of cups and work out the best style for your bra size.
- Wear them 24 hours a day. Not only for support and comfort but to keep your breast pads in place. Especially at the high leak stage.
- Stay away from underwires at all stages of your breast feeding.
- Stay away from flexi-wires during this stage.
Early on a lot of women will experience leakage. Invest in some good quality washable nursing pads and change them at regular intervals. This will help to avoid embarrassing milk leakage and will give you peace of mind for all day and night protection and help with avoiding bacterial infections.
Stage 5: 4 + weeks post pregnancy / breastfeeding.
Your breasts will feel less tender as your body learns to regulate your milk supply depending on your baby’s routine and feeding. Your nipples will master the knack of being suckled and become less sensitive. At this stage, as long as you are fitted correctly to ensure your bra is not tight in the cup or wire at any stage during the day, a flexible wired nursing bra or contour bra or any style of nursing bra is ok from here on. Your bra size will be more stable from here until your baby starts on solids (as a very general guide), but this can be different for all moms and all siblings. This size will usually change throughout the day. Choose a well designed nursing bra with a superior fit to allow for these daily fluctuations. Some moms are smaller in the evening to the beginning of the day after a night of not-feeding. Once again, this depends on the individual and their routines.
Encourage and support your breast feeding and purchase bras that are similar to what you used to wear. This could be lacey, contour, plunge, seamless, racer back etc. There is nearly every type of bra out there in nursing bra styles to empower moms. Stage 5 breasts are usually larger than your pre-pregnancy breast, even after they have ‘settled down’. Choose a supportive bra to cope with their new size and avoid possible ligament damage.
Although the first few weeks of breast feeding are the highest risk of developing blocked ducts or mastitis, this can happen at any time if a feed is missed or you are over pumping. Always keep an eye out for the signs and symptoms so you can act quickly.
- When you think your breasts have settled, it is a good time to buy more bras if you need them.
- If you want to wear an underwire or flexi-wire bra you could get fitted now to ensure you are wearing the correct size to avoid any restrictions.
- Make sure your band size is smaller than your stage 3 and stage 4 bras to ensure you are well supported.
To wire or not to wire:
There have been many reports positive and negative about the wear of wires when pregnant or breast feeding. As long as the wire is firstly a flexible wire so it will flex with you. Secondly, the wire is not at any stage during the day pressing on your breast tissue and is actually sitting on your chest wall/ribcage – then there is reduced risk of developing mastitis.
Mastitis is more prevalent in the initial stages of breast feeding when you fluctuation are at their highest, or if you are at any stage not able to feed or release you milk. Blocked ducts can occur and this can lead to mastitis. Make sure the style of bra you wear is not too tight or restrictive anywhere and there is ample room and stretch to allow for your fluctuations. This is the same for clothing – so, no corsets ladies. Restrictive bras and clothing are not the only thing that can cause a blockage so make sure you understand about blockages and how to keep the milk flowing to avoid them. After week 4 of nursing, you’re ready to be properly fitted for those pretty and more functional nursing bras to add to your seamless assortment.
Blocked ducts warning signs:
- Spot or patch redness
- Local inflammation
- Lump or lumps
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s best to go immediately back into your seamless bra and act to keep things flowing. Warm showers and massaging with pressure towards the nipple are good ways to get things flowing. Express or feed your baby from the problem side.
If you have any flu like symptoms, these are a sign that your blocked duct has progressed to mastitis. Consult your doctor or lactation consultant immediately.
Stage 6: Continuing breast feeding with solids, and weaning
As you continue breast feeding or the feeds become less when solids are introduced, you will most likely see continued changes in your breast size. Often your breasts will be a smaller size, this is often due to weight loss and the introduction of solid foods to your baby’s diet. This will mean less milk production and sometimes a smaller size. If you feel at any time that your bra is not fitting you, either too big or too small. It’s best to be re-fitted so that you are properly supported or not being restricted.
- New bras may be required if your stage 5 bras are too big for you. It’s best for your breasts to be properly supported.
- If you packed away your bras from stage 2, these may fit you now in stage 6. This will only be relevant if you were wearing nursing bras and not just maternity bras. They will need to have the feeding clips.
Many women do not breastfeed because they fear their breasts will sag by breastfeeding. The changes that occur in your breasts from pregnancy will occur whether you breastfeed or not. Your breast will change throughout pregnancy and your milk will still come in and they will fluctuate during this process. If your breasts are not supported properly during these times, then this is most likely when the dreaded sag will occur. Other factors that contribute to sagging are weight gain and loss, having larger breast and the unstoppable process of aging.
Some women find that their breasts get smaller when they stop breast feeding. If you are going back to your pre-pregnancy bras, make sure the elastics are still strong and they still fit you. For some women, they find that they need to buy all new bras, not only because they are a different size, but because their bras have not been used for over 18 months, and they have deteriorated.
The final painful experience when breastfeeding is sometimes when you stop breastfeeding. The weaning process can also lead to engorgement, so it’s best to be prepared and wear your seamless bra again through this stage. After you are finished breastfeeding and the weaning stage, some women leak for a certain period, so add some breast pads to your dressing routine until your milk has dried up.
- It is most likely that your nursing bras will not fit you
- Don’t be surprised if your pre-pregnancy bras don’t fit you anymore, or have deteriorated from time left unworn.
- You may justify your new bras as a thanks to your breasts for the amazing job that they have done
Types of nursing bras
There are many bras out there for your nursing stage to cater for nearly every purpose whether it be for your a contour t shirt bra, breathable and supportive sports bra, pretty lace black bra, plunge bra, seamless comfy bra etc. To help you choose and decipher which bra is best for you and your needs, we’ve listed the key points below for your easy reference.
Seamless nursing bra
- Easy Sizing S, M, L etc
- Choose a style that caters for your cup size – previously only for the smaller cup, now ingeniously designed with support for the larger busted woman too
- Fashionable colours and several designer elements
- Level 1 support usually, choose your style depending on the level of support you desire.
- Made with unique, silky-soft yarn for ultra comfort
- Wider sides and back than normal bras for added support
- If a good brand, the cups for can be moulded for capacity and shape
- Drop down cups for feeding
- No itchy garment tags
- Adjustable hooks & eyes for fitting preference
- Great elastic stretch & memory
- Easy to care for
- Great to sleep in and 24 hour wear
- Easy Sizing S, M, L etc
- Choose a style that caters for your cup size – previously only for the smaller cup, now ingeniously designed with support for the larger busted woman too
- Can have strap adjustments with semi bra fitting feel
- Will have feeding system whether this be pull up and pull down, or drop down cups for feeding.
- Can have moulded cups for better capacity
- A well designed tank will have a bra-type system layer usually with under-bust support
- Will look like an outerwear garment
- Great for weekends and sleeping in
- Usually a level 1-2 for support (if you need more support, team with your favourite nursing bra
- Easy Sizing S, M, L etc
- Choose a style that caters for your bra size
- Crop styling with no strap adjustment or hooks and eyes
- Well designed ones will have a narrow set back or racer back for all night placement
- Usually with no seams on cups
- Stretchy to allow for overnight fluctuations
- Pull aside cups for feeding to avoid the midnight clip fumble
- Usually made from natural breathable yarns
- Specially designed for sleeping, feeding and keeping breast pads in place
- Usually a level 1-2 for support (depending on the level of support you require, you could wear this all day too)
Underwires and flexi-wires
The controversial topic continues. Previously women have been advised against wearing any wires at all with the myth that wires, even flexible wires, cause blocked ducts and lead to mastitis. The cause of blocked ducts and mastitis is largely due to engorgement and restrictive bras and garments but the wires usually get the blame. Many women who have had mastitis have not been wearing a wired bra, but a restrictive one. The pressure of engorgement and ill-fitting bra is usually pushing on the duct that this no where near where the wire sits anyhow.
A flexible wire is exactly that, a flexible wire. It can be made from a flexible metal or low gauge metal to allow for the flexibility or can be made from plastic too. With the development of these wires, they can offer similar shape and support as your usual wired bras but without the high rigidity.
Expert nursing bra brands have not only designed soft cup bras without any wires, up to very large sizes with ingenious support and highly technical fabric. This contends another myth that a wire is needed for support. The wearing of a wire is a personal preference and unique to each woman. Breastfeeding is so widely accepted and is beneficially recommended with some women nursing for over 2 years. With a high choice of nursing bras and styles, with or without wires, this empowers them to wear what they want and it can encourage them to feed for longer.
Here’s a few points on what to look out for in a good nursing flexible wired bra:
- Make sure you are confident about your size when purchasing a flexible wired bra.
- Wire should be flexible enough to twist and to flex outwards
- A-frame sling or side sling for nursing
- Top cup with ample stretch to allow for growth
- Double layer or strong back band for support
- Easy drop down cups for feeding
- 6 hook and eye extension for ribcage expansion
- Comfortable straps with adjustment to allow for better fit
When fitting a nursing wired bra, the wire must sit on the chest wall and at no point at all be pushing or sitting on the breast tissue. If you are not sure, go up a size. A better option is to be professionally fitted. As your breasts change so much over the stages of your nursing, the size of your wired bra is most likely to change a number of times. It’s a good idea to check often the position of your wire and make sure your band is fitting firmly on your diaphragm.
Due to the dramatic changes that occur in your breasts in the first 3 months of your pregnancy and the first 4 weeks of nursing, a stretchier bra is recommended during these times. That is why during these stages, the more structured underwire and flexible wired bras are not recommended. It’s also recommended when breastfeeding not to sleep in your flexible wired bras as it’s when you’re sleeping and in different positions, the wired could press into your breast.
Using a normal bra for nursing
There is no reason why your normal bra cannot be worn for nursing. Generally, this would have to a stretchy one that you don’t mind stretching to pop your boob out. Any stretchy crop bra could work for this purpose. Normal bras are usually not made with nursing breasts in mind, so if you’re looking to care for your breasts, it’s recommended to go with one that the expert brands have designed. It’s recommended to avoid hard wires all together so if you’re going to give your normal bras a go, don’t wear the wired ones. Nursing wired bras are specially designed to flex and move with your body to avoid and restriction and pressure. The better designed ones also use a wider set wire just to make sure that it will not sit anywhere near the breast tissue.
What to look for in a good nursing bra
- Stretchy top cup:
Make sure you choose one where you can easily clip and un-clip the feeding clip. It’s a personal preference and you will be an expert un-clipper in no time. It’s all just personal preference.
Choose a bra with your preference.
A-Frame Sling: This is a layer on the top of your breast and the side of your breast.
Side Sling: A layer of on the side of your breast to join the feeding clip
Strap Sling: A thin piece of elastic so you don’t lose your strap when feeding
Some moms prefer the a-frame sling as added modesty for when feeding. Others prefer the side sling.
Some brands have added another function of support for the side sling or A-frame sling, so it adds lift and direction for your shape.
- Longer hook and eye:
This is to suit for your expanding and contracting side of your ribcage throughout your pregnancy and nursing.
- Stretchy top cup:
All good maternity and nursing bras will have a stretchy top cup to allow for the milk comings and goings and the fluctuations of your breast size
- Adjustable shoulder straps:
Straps should be adjustable so they can be changed depending on your height and the fit of your bra. The front strap on some nursing bras is more rigid and has less stretch to provide better support and fit. Look for a bra with comfortable strap and a shorter stretch so they don’t dig in as much. The width of the strap will change depending on your size in the style.
- Cotton lining:
Against your breast it’s best to have a breathable fabric as you’re nursing to ensure maximum comfort. You are recommended to wear a bra of some sort for 24 hours the day, it’s best for this to be breathable and as natural as possible against your skin. Studies have also stated that cotton is less likely to interfere with your bodies scent, so your baby can more easily recognise you and also connect with you.
A summary of the different types of cups that you may come across in nursing bras. Everyone has different tastes and styles, so choose what is right for you.
These are cups that have been gone through a process call moulding. This is a heated metal shape such as bullet or teardrop pressed at a certain heat for a certain amount of time depending on the fabrics being used, the colours of those fabrics and the desired end shape.
This process allows the curve to form in fabric that would otherwise need a seam to achieve the form, giving the wearer a seamfree look.
Moulded cups can be made from a variety of different materials from sueded cotton to sheer polyester. There is a new breathable material out called ‘spacer’ that can offer a similar feel to foam but without the bulkiness.
Most t-shirt bras have foam contour cups. These are cups using foam as the moulding material. These cups were previously quite rigid but now is that foam is also becoming technically advanced, there are many stretch contour cups on the market. The foam is covered on both sides with a covering layer and usually is covered again on the outer layer for design. These like moulded bras are seamfree look and with the added advantage of nipple discretion so they are perfect for wearing modestly under t-shirts. Spacer can also be considered a contour cup depending on its thickness.
This is the standard bra cup made from usually 2 or 3, sometimes 4 or 5, uncommonly 6 or 7 pieces to form the shape of the curve for the breast. Sometimes the lower cup can be reinforced for and stability and more upward lift. Depending on what the cups are made from will indicate if they will be stretchy or not. For a superior fit, the seamed cup is usually preferred by larger busted women. Most seamed bras have been superseded by the moulded variety for the simple reason that the seams show through clothing made from thin or fitted fabrics.
Best time to buy nursing bras
It’s recommended to be properly fitted for your nursing bra after you breasts have settled down. If you purchase your nursing bras at approx 8 months, usually you will be the same size for after your milk has regulated. If you are wearing a maternity / nursing bra at this stage, you’ll be covered for your nursing until you can be professionally fitted.
How many bras will I need
This is completely up to you, your personal preference, your wardrobe, your washing routine and your partner. A few things to keep in mind:
- Essentially 3 is a good starting point. one in the wash, one to wear and one in the drawer (or most likely on the line)
- Nursing women usually like to wear something to bed also. Gone are the days when you are actually sleeping (not much support needed) when you go to bed. You get out of bed, walk around, feed your baby, burp and jiggle your baby. A bit more support is needed. Overnight is when a lot of the expansion occurs in your breasts, so it’s best to have something supporting them at this stage to ensure comfort. Night bras are also good for keeping breast pads in place. Some moms don’t mind sleeping with a soggy sheets. It’s all personal preference.
- What styles: If you previously wore tshirts and t-shirt bras, then you wouldn’t go to a lace plunge half cup nursing bra. Keep your underwear familiar so that you can go about your day as per usual. Basically, whatever you used to wear, keep on wearing.
- You may be washing them more than what you wash your previous bras. Nursing bras can get milky, sweaty (yes, nursing moms sweat more) and pulled at more than normal bras. When your normal bra could go 3 days without a wash, you’ll find that washing your nursing bra once a day is the minimum. Purchase a high quality bras that can withstand all these rigours, continuous washing and general wear and tear.
- If you’re planning on being at home or are focused on being comfortable. You may prefer to stick with your seamless bras and a few feeding camisoles and then sort out the nicer ones with better shape and support once baby has settled into a routine.
- If you’re not sure what styles are available, you could experiment with some new options and styles. There’s many nursing bras out there to suit all different styles, fit and function. If you’re too busy to go shopping, then try online also.
Getting a good fit
The same basic rules that apply to normal bras, apply to nursing bras but with a few added points to make you are following:
Because of the risk of the blocked milk ducts, you will need to be more careful that the bra isn’t too tight or too small. Well designed maternity bras will have already thought of this, and will usually not be rigid with plenty of ample stretch in the right places. All you have to do it wear the correct size.
When fitting a maternity bra: There are 4 main points to remember.
- Underband should be parallel to the floor and firm.
If it is too big, it will not support. It will not pull the flexible wires apart like it should, so make sure this is nice and firm.
- Cups: Wires or the cups should have the breast fully encompassed and not be sitting anywhere on or near the breast tissue. If unsure, go up a cup size.
- Top cup should be fitted but with enough stretch and room for expansion. Check this by running 2 fingers along the top cup edge.
- Straps: Should be firm and holding the weight of your bust.
It’s a tricky situation when you have been a 32D all your life and when nursing have jumped to a 32G. Yes, this is normal. Sometimes the sheer weight of your breast can cause a blocked duct so it’s best to have a properly fitted, supporting bra during these stages.
For many women, comfort becomes a priority over the fashion aspect of things throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. Make comfort a priority when choosing a bra, as you have a lot going on, you should rely on your bra to not be one that will support and comfort you with great function for it’s purpose.
When you are nursing, wearing a properly fitting bra is more important than ever. You’ll want to be comfortable and you need to be supported. Good nursing brands will know that comfort and support are a priority which is why they use the superior elastic, cotton lined cups, supportive lower cups and stretchy top cups to ensure that you’re not thinking about your bra, and can focus on your breastfeeding.
Whether you are buying your bras in a boutique, maternity shop or department stores, there should always be staff to help you. These can help you to fit your bras and ascertain your size, or they can help you decide for a certain style or design depending on your requirements.
Once you know your size for your particular stage, you can search for nursing bras in line or through catalogues.
When buying a bra, the 4 main points of fitting also apply to the workmanship
Underband – Cups – Top cup – Straps.
- The Underband: – this should be firm in fitting. Look out for a bra that is strong but also comfortable in the underband. Double backed bras usually last longer. The majority of your support comes from the underband. The more that comes from the underband, the less work the straps and cups need to do.
- The Cups – these should have a level of support in the lower section either with semi rigid or rigid strengthening below the nipple to ensure you are getting the best support when nursing.
- Top Cup Stretch: Make sure your bra has some stretch in the upper cup region or across the top cup edge. This is to ensure that you are properly supported just after a feed and also just before.
- Straps: Bras with very stretchy straps are not always the best to go for. Even though these feel the most comfortable when on a hanger, they are more likely to dig in and not offer the support required. A strap that doesn’t stretch very much or with a fully rigid front strap is the best option for your support. If you’re buying a seamless product, this is less important.
Getting the right fit can be difficult with any bra, and that is even when you know your size. The best way to know if a bra is suitable is to try it on. If there aren’t many maternity options near you, or you want the benefits of purchasing a bra from an expert nursing brand, buying online might be better suited for you. Make sure the online store has a good return policy if the fit or style doesn’t work for you. Learn how to buy maternity and nursing bras online. If you are unsure what you are about to purchase, you can always research the styles by customer reviews and other searches on the internet. This can take as much time as going to the shops but at least you will be well educated on your decision. Likewise, you can buy a bra in store and then repurchase on line to ensure more quality time is spent with your baby.
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