Nursing bras look like regular bras, but the cups open or lower when you pull them aside, or unsnap, unzip, or unhook the closure. It’s convenient, but not essential, that you be able to open the cup for nursing quickly and simply with one hand. You might be holding your hungry baby with the other. If you can close it one-handed, too, that’s even better.
Whichever style you choose, proper fit is the key to comfort. Besides being uncomfortable, a bra that fits poorly may put pressure on your milk ducts, which can cause them to get plugged and lead to inflammation in the breast.
Many women buy the wrong-size nursing bra. A common mistake is to buy a larger band size but the same cup size you wear when you’re not pregnant. In fact, some women can stay with their original band size. The rib cage expands during pregnancy, but usually not enough to require a larger band size, although everyone is different. Some women may want to go up a band size for comfort. That’s fine as long as your bra has plenty of adjustment hooks in the back.
Most women will need a larger cup size during pregnancy. Wear what you find most comfortable and supportive–either a larger regular bra, a maternity bra, or a nursing bra that you buy early. Just as with nursing bras, an expert fitter can help you with maternity bras.
Depending on the manufacturer, cup sizes can range from A through D, then DD, DDD, E, F, G, H, and I. Another mistake, experts say, is that women may not invest in good-quality nursing bras since they don’t think they’ll be using them for long. Since this is a time when you most need extra support, it’s worth the investment to get something that will help you and keep you comfortable.
A professional fitting will ensure a comfortable fit and the correct size. Try on bras for size and feel, and practice with nursing pads in place. After you’ve bought one properly fitting bra, you can order more of the same style and size online or from a catalog. Many websites offer competitive deals.
Best for Breasts
Tempted to use your regular bra for nursing instead of a nursing bra? That’s one cost-saving measure you don’t want to make. Regular bras aren’t designed for nursing and may not give you the extra support you need to be comfortable. And lifting your regular bra up over your breast to nurse can put a lot of pressure on breast tissue.
The best nursing bras are comfortable and offer good support but don’t bind breasts in any way that could interfere with milk flow. For optimum support, the band and the straps should be made of nonstretchy fabric. But cups should have some “give” to accommodate your changing breast size at different phases of nursing.
Look for bras that are 100 percent cotton or a blend of cotton and Lycra or other stretchy synthetic. Since the right bra size is important and can help reduce the risk of breast-feeding complications, such as clogged milk ducts, shop at a maternity store or boutique that has an experienced bra fitter.
Talk to the Experts
Every woman’s body changes at different rates during pregnancy and after childbirth, and experts don’t all agree on when you should get fitted for nursing bras.
Pat Marcus, who founded the online company Decent Exposures after she was unable to find a comfortable bra for her larger bust, said some clients go up two cup sizes after they give birth. But in general, she says, women will find that their breasts get bigger when they first become pregnant, then their rib cage size may increase (or not). Once the baby is born, their breasts will increase again when they are ready to nurse, and then possibly decrease after a few weeks.
Marcus, who nursed her four children, tells clients to get at least one good supportive nursing bra late in their pregnancy but before they give birth, since they may not feel like going out to shop once they are home with the baby, and because their breasts might leak. “You should get one that fits your rib cage now and is a cup size bigger than what you think you need,” she says.
Jan Barger, a Chicago-area lactation consultant and registered nurse who breast-fed her three children, recommends not buying more than one nursing bra before your baby arrives because your size could be bigger once your baby is born and your milk comes in.
Barger says women should focus on getting used to nursing. To establish breast-feeding in the beginning, she says, it’s actually best if you don’t have much in the way. You’ll want your baby to figure out how to properly latch on by himself, which is critical. Meanwhile, you’ll be figuring out the most comfortable way to hold him. “For first time moms, in the first few weeks, you practically need to get naked,” she adds.
But since nursing bras are important, especially to avoid leaks and protect your nipples if they become sore during feedings as they adjust to the process, Barger recommends getting something inexpensive and easy to use at first. “Get some very comfortable sports bras for the first week or so, slightly larger than you’re wearing now, that you can pull down easily,” she says. Other experts suggest getting something similar to a sports bra, such as a “bralet,” which looks like a sports bra but has less support built into it, or a nursing “sleep bra.” You can nurse with any of these by simply pulling them; they don’t have hooks, snaps, or Velcro to worry about.
Once you get the hang of nursing and you’re more comfortable, your size will be easier to determine. That’s a great time to get professionally fitted for a nursing bra, Barger says, adding, “go out and get two or three good nursing bras.”
Your goal should be to find a nursing bra that gives you good support and feels comfortable. With a little experimenting and patience, your nursing bra will become something you don’t think about that often, just like your regular bra.
You can also discuss your choices with a lactation consultant. To find a one in your area, contact the hospital or birth center where you’ll deliver, or go to the International Lactation Consultant Association. Nursing mothers can also get support and advice from La Leche League International, a group that encourages breast-feeding through mother-to-mother support and meet-ups across the country.