The Scoop on Nursing Bras

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Many of the moms I see while completing my clinical hours have questions on nursing bras. They've read articles, heard from mom friends, and even asked their healthcare providers, but they're still confused. It seems like there's some misunderstanding about when to buy them and when to get measured. Here are some of the questions I get asked most frequently about nursing bras:

I need to buy a nursing bra during pregnancy, right? My breasts are increasing in size.

You can buy a nursing bra when pregnant, but a maternity bra may be a better idea. It's like a regular bra, but can do a better job of accommodating your growing breasts during pregnancy. Maternity bras typically have wider straps, soft cotton linings, and extra hooks and eyes on the band. Many are free of underwire for added comfort. If you don't want to purchase a maternity bra, consider buying a larger cup size of your favorite pre-pregnancy bra to wear during pregnancy.

Okay, but when do I buy my nursing bra? I was told to get measured during my third trimester.

Well you've got a couple of choices. You can get yourself measured late in your third trimester (think 34 weeks or later) and buy a nursing bra based on that. This means there's a chance the bra won't fit once your milk volume increases after birth. If you decide to buy a nursing bra while pregnant, don't spend a lot of money on the bra and don't buy a bunch of them - you may never wear them more than a few times postpartum!

Wait a minute, I'm confused. I still don't know when to buy my nursing bra. Help!

I would wait to buy your nursing bras until after baby has arrived. Here's why: your milk volume will increase anywhere from Day 3 to Day 5; think going up a cup size from where they were during your last days of pregnancy! A few weeks after birth, your body regulates your milk supply and your breast size goes down a little. They no longer feel gigantic and they've settled into the size they'll stay at for the next several months. This is a good time to buy a nursing bra or three. 

But what the heck do I wear for the first few weeks postpartum??

The first several weeks postpartum are like one giant 24/7 all you can eat buffet for your baby. You'll want something comfortable with easy access to the buffet. I lived in nursing tanks. They were comfortable, cute, and kept my back and belly covered when nursing. I could wear a t-shirt over them when heading out to a doctor's appointment, or lounge in just the tank at home. Despite not having an underwire, I found them to be surprisingly supportive! If you don't want a nursing tank, consider a nursing sleep bra. While they have minimal support, they are soft and easy to open when you've got a hangry newborn on your hands. Both nursing tanks and sleep bras are sized S-M-L-XL, which makes them easy to buy.

Nursing my 8 month old. Photo by  Valerie Cannon Photography

Nursing my 8 month old. Photo by Valerie Cannon Photography

Can I wear underwire bras?

For women like me with larger breasts, an underwire is everything! I typically don't wear underwire bras until my kiddos are a few months old and when I do, I make sure the fit is impeccable. An ill-fitting underwire bra can lead to plugged ducts or other issues. Truthfully: any ill-fitting bra or tank can cause issues, but underwires can really press into milk-making tissue and cause some difficulties. Some women are more sensitive to this than others. So yes, you can wear underwire bras, but I would make sure that it fits you really well.

How do I know what size I am?

Go get fitted, silly! I recommend contacting a specialty bra or lingerie shop, breastfeeding boutique, or department store like Dillard's or Nordstrom. It's no Secret that I do not recommend a large chain store as they tend to push the limited sizes they have in store. Ask your mom friends for brands that they like as a starting point. Remember that fit and comfort is everything, so their faves may not be your faves. If you're an online shopper like me, be sure that your merchant has a solid return policy, in case the bra isn't the right one.

What's a pumping bra? Do I need one?

Most pumping bras aren't actually bras. They're more like bustiers which fit around the outside of your nursing bra or tank. They hold your breast pump flanges and bottles in place when pumping, leaving your hands free for breast compressions or Facebook. If you're going back to work or will be separated from your baby regularly, it may be a good idea to invest in a quality hands free pumping bra. There are now some all-in-one pumping and nursing bras on the market.

What brands are your favorites?

For the immediate postpartum period, I lived in these cotton nursing tanks from Target. In fact, I wore them throughout my time breastfeeding. Full disclosure: I still wear them to bed even though I'm no longer breastfeeding. These cotton sleep tanks were also very comfortable for lounging and sleeping. These are the nursing sleep bras I preferred when pregnant. 

For day to day wear, I loved You Lingerie's bras and wore them exclusively during both of my breastfeeding relationships. Their Chloe bra is a favorite - it's one of my favorite pieces of lingerie and has made an appearance under a lace top. I also love the Rumi bra for a wireless option. Who says nursing bras can't look beautiful? 

When I went back to work, I was so grateful for my PumpEase Hands Free Pumping Bra. Despite using it 15+ times a week, it held up beautifully and was so reliable. I appreciated the extra hooks and eyes for a great fit. Rumina makes a wonderful all-in-one nursing and pumping bra.

Honorable mentions: I haven't tried these personally, but have heard good things from others about them. Elomi and Goddess make nursing bras with a wide range of sizes for plus sized mamas, while Lane Bryant carries a plus sized nursing tank. Cake Lingerie and Hot Milk Lingerie makes beautiful functional nursing and maternity bra, nighties, and chemises. Simple Wishes pumping bras are very easy to use for pumping mamas.

Have any questions about nursing bras? Leave them in the comments.


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