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Lingerie Expert Center
Bra Fitting: Nursing and Maternity Bras
- Your special time requires special lingerie.
During and after pregnancy, your breasts undergo numerous changes. They are enlarging and becoming heavier and more sensitive. For late pregnancy and after delivery, choosing a bra that provides proper support can help you feel more comfortable and less fatigued.
- Maternity Bra vs. Nursing BraThough these terms are often used interchangeably, a maternity bra is very different from a nursing bra. A maternity bra (or pre-natal bra), worn during your pregnancy, is designed to be stretchy and extra-supportive to accommodate your growing breasts. Maternity bras are also worn after pregnancy by women who do not breastfeed.
A nursing bra (or feeding bra) is worn after pregnancy when breastfeeding. The cups are designed to drop down from a clip on the straps, thus exposing your breasts for nursing. Nursing bras are usually seamless and have an all-around breast support system for comfort and added support.
- Why can't I wear regular bras throughout my pregnancy?
During pregnancy, each breast becomes 10 to 18 ounces heavier due to increased fluid and mammary gland growth. This puts the surrounding skin and tissue under considerable strain, and without proper bra support, your breasts could become deformed and you may experience significant tension in the neck and shoulders. Most normal bras simply aren't designed with these issues in mind.
- How much is my breast size going to change during my pregnancy?
There is no standard answer to how much your breast size will change, but most women can expect to increase at least one band size and about three cup sizes. Some women change in size drastically and require several different bra sizes throughout their pregnancy, other women change very little until the baby arrives and milk production begins. The best way to estimate is to ask your mother what her breasts did during her pregnancy. Immediately after the birth, you can expect a surge in your breast size as they begin to fill with milk. After two weeks of nursing, your breasts should re-stabilize to a cup size close to what they were during your pregnancy.
- How many maternity or nursing bras do I need?
It is recommended that you have at least three maternity bras, and later at least three nursing bras, so that you can wear a fresh one every day. One to wear, one to launder, and one as a spare.
- What is the best way to put on a maternity or nursing bra?
Any one of the three techniques we recommend in our Lingerie FAQ section will work for your maternity and nursing bras, but you must take extra care in making sure your breasts are placed correctly into the bra. Your body should be bent over while doing this to allow the breasts to fill into the cups naturally.
- When is the right time to buy a nursing bra?
Three weeks before your due date, measure yourself as described here. Your size will have stabilized at this point and should remain about the same as you begin breastfeeding. You may consider going up one cup size from your maternity bra to allow for any growth after milk comes in.
- Should my nursing bra be soft cup or underwire?
If properly fitted, an underwire bra should not cause problems, though you may find a soft cup more comfortable in your first month of breastfeeding. An improperly fitted underwire bra can place pressure on breast tissue, leading to infection and other complications. It is not recommended to sleep in an underwire bra, so be sure to have a soft cup that you can sleep in. It is necessary to sleep in a bra during the time you are breastfeeding to keep breast pads in place during the night.
- What features should I look for in a nursing bra?
There are a few key features to look for in a good nursing bra:
- Easy, convenient access to your breasts. Many nursing bras have one-handed clasps that allow you to open them with one hand while you hold your baby in your other arm.
- Cups lined in cotton or other breathable fabrics for comfort and quick drying. Synthetic materials can trap moisture against your skin and lead to discomfort. Cups should also have good stretch to avoid any restriction.
- A double-layer back band with at least a four-hook closure and very little stretch. This will give you good support and adjustability. Opposite to a maternity bra, your nursing bra should fit comfortably on the last (loosest) hook as you begin nursing and move to the first (tightest) hook as your band size decreases over time.
- Wide, cushioned straps with little-to-no stretch for comfort and support.
- When is the right time to buy a maternity bra?
The right time is as soon as your breasts begin to swell and your existing bras are no longer comfortable, usually around the fourth month. Maternity bras made to fit comfortably on the first (tightest) hook early in your pregnancy and adjust to the final (loosest) hook by your last trimester. It is not unusual to need a whole new size bra towards the end; most women increase at least one band size and about three cup sizes.
- How do I measure for a maternity bra?
Once you feel you are ready for a maternity bra, identify your most comfortable regular bra and measure yourself as described in our Measuring for the proper bra fit section.
- Should my maternity bra be soft cup or underwire?
As with nursing bras, a properly fitted underwire nursing bra should not cause problems during pregnancy and can actually make you feel more supported and secure than a soft cup (wireless) bra. You may find that soft cups are more comfortable when sleeping, and when your breasts are at their fullest, usually during the last months of pregnancy.
- What features should I look for in a maternity bra?
Keeping in mind that you will be wearing it for several months during and after your pregnancy, these are the key things to look for in a good maternity bra:
- Wide shoulder straps and taller side panels to provide comfort and extra support for growing breast tissue. Straps should also have minimal stretch and some cushioning.
- Three or more back closures to offer the most flexibility in fit.
- Cups large enough to give you adequate coverage with no spillage of breast tissue, and made of stretchy material to allow for growth and comfort.
- Regarding fit, the band should lie under the breasts and flat against the rib cage, not creeping up on the breast tissue. Prolonged pressure on the breast tissue could lead to a plugged duct and ultimately mastitis or infection.
- For women who get hot easily or will be pregnant during the summer, look for bras made of cotton or wicking microfiber.