You found out you’re pregnant! Huzzah! And just like that, all of your bras have started to feel a little bit snug. Then really snug. And then they don’t fit at all, help! Why? It’s because your boobs have been stealthily getting bigger, and you may not have even realized it. In our experience, bras are almost always the first thing to spur the realization that most of your current wardrobe options are now hilariously insufficient. What’s up with that? It’s pretty much what happens when your hormones go haywire around the time you’re getting your period (which mercifully won’t be happening for some time now, hooray!) except it lasts for your whole pregnancy and escalates the entire time, culminating over 9+ months in the hugest boobs you could have ever imagined yourself having, and that’s even before your milk comes in. At which point they will get even bigger.
All of this to say, not to worry, this is totally normal. But you’ll probably need to start finding some new bras stat and we are here to help.
Short on time? Of course you are. Here are the big takeaways when it comes to finding the right nursing bras and maternity bras for your bosoms.
( . ) ( . ) Measure twice, shop once. Things change, boobs get bigger, and guessing one’s bra size is always going to be a losing proposition. Measuring is super easy and will give you the best shot at landing on the perfect fit ASAP.
( . ) ( . ) Boobs are unpredictable. Bra sizing is not an exact science, but you can avoid a great many bra fit frustrations by trying a few different sizes and styles to see what works best for your breast(s). Don’t put all your proverbial eggs in one basket, er, shopping cart.
( . ) ( . ) Timing is everything. Shop whenever your current bras are uncomfortable. Just keep in mind that your body is doing some crazy things and depending on when you shop and how much your bust size inches upward, the same bra may not work for both pregnancy and nursing. Ideally you’ll shop for nursing bras in the 3rd trimester (36 weeks is the most optimal timing) and find some super stretchy and flexible bras that can work for both.
( . ) ( . ) The softest and stretchiest bra is usually the one. If any one bra is going to do it, these are the bras that have the flexibility you can count on to take you through pregnancy and nursing and then onward into regular life. Don’t waste your time with things that are not the pinnacle of comfort.
( . ) ( . ) Your magic number. You may discover you actually need 3 different types of bras to cover all of your bases (lounging at home, sleeping, heading out, pumping, etc.), but finding those 3 perfect bras can make pregnancy and nursing so much smoother and more enjoyable.
Ok, ready? Let’s dive in.
Comfort rules the day, but comfortable things that work well and make you feel good rule the week/month/year/decade/century/etc.
To not feel alienated or intimidated by an entirely new-to-you range of products.
To be comfortably supported and confident in your ability to free the nipple as needed in no time flat.
To genuinely enjoy your new intimates as much as if not more than you enjoyed all previous intimates you’ve worn to date.
Shopping for bras is personal. Because all bodies and bosoms are unique and growing at different rates, it’s impossible to predict how big your boobs will get, even from one pregnancy to the next. The way of the boob is mysterious and the fit of the bra is unique to the materials and construction, so! We always caution against buying just one bra in one size and hoping that it will miraculously work perfectly for you. It might! But why not hedge your bets? That is why we strongly, fervently, wholeheartedly recommend trying out multiple sizes and styles to find your dream bra. And when you do find something you love, that holy grail of most comfortable and cute bras, go ahead and grab a few so you’re never stuck cursing your laundry pile. Even better if you can snag a sweet discount for purchasing multiples.
Myth: You can’t wear an underwire during pregnancy or nursing.
Truth: There is no legit scientific evidence we have seen to suggest that underwires should be avoided for maternity and nursing. In our experience, underwires are just less comfortable and offer less flexibility when it comes to fit, which is why we prefer to avoid them.
Myth: You can’t shop for nursing bras until after the baby comes.
Truth: You can shop for nursing bras anytime. Just keep in mind that a lot can change after giving birth (like your ribcage getting a little smaller and your chest getting a little bigger, for example. More on that below!).
Myth: Soft cup bras are not supportive for fuller chests.
Truth: Soft cup bras can totally work for larger bosoms! You’ll just need a more snug bust fit for added support and a fabric that feels flexible but secure.
Truth: Your cup size can fluctuate depending on the time of day. Which is bananas.
Myth: A maternity bra has to be nursing-friendly.
Truth: Maternity bras do not have to have to be nursing-friendly (unless you are a pregnant and nursing mama!). But it’s definitely a nice-to-have feature if you can find something that works for both.
What Is My Body Up To?
Your body is doing a lot of crazy things during pregnancy in order to house a human. Organs are literally being pushed aside, your ribcage may be expanding, your boobs, belly, butt, thighs (and various other bodily zones) are getting bigger and rounder. By around week 36 you’ll typically be maxed out on belly and boob growth for pregnancy, but your ribcage may still be wider than usual. After you give birth, when your milk comes in, your ribcage will slowly start to contract again but your breasts will likely expand even more for those first few weeks until your milk supply becomes more regulated. This is all to say that it can be tricky shopping early for nursing bras, so keep these stages in mind while shopping, and consider allowing for more room in the band or cup, depending on when you are shopping.
What Size Nursing Bra To Buy
You must, must, must measure. Even if you’ve never worn a “sized” bra in your life, we are here to tell you that your time has come. Getting an accurate picture of your bra size will spare you a lot of poorly-fitting bra grief and a great many online returns down the line. So let us begin.
Step 1 Measure Your Underbust
This is the zone right below the boob. Using a soft measuring tape, wrap the tape only around your ribcage just under your breasts, making sure it’s not wrapped over any of the soft tissue of your breasts. It should be snug but not suffocating you. Make a note of this measurement in inches, and round any fractions up to the next whole number. Great, now you’ve got your band size.
Step 2 Measure The Fullest Part of Your Chest
The measuring tape will go around your back and across your boobs where they are the fullest. This is usually right over your nipples. Try to make sure the tape is sitting level from back to front (aka not dipping down or riding up in the back). Make sure you are not squishing your boobs at all with the measuring tape, let them breathe, and round up any fractions to the next whole number. Boom. This is your bust measurement.
Step 3 Do Some Simple Math (on your phone calculator, of course!)
Bust Measurement - (minus) Band Measurement = (equals) Numerical Cup Size
Round up to a whole number, and you’ve got your Cup Size. Once you have your Cup Size number, you can convert it to the letter equivalent as below.
1 = A | 2 = B | 3 = C | 4 = D | 5 = DD/E | 6 = DDD/F | 7 = DDDD/G | and so forth
Here’s an example. For a band size measuring 29.5” (round up to 30”) and a bust measurement of 34.25” (round up to 35”) your numerical cup size is 5 which equates to a 30DD.
We have said it before and we’ll say it again, even if you measure, don’t rely solely on a single measurement at one moment in time. Your size may go up or down depending on where you are in your pregnancy-to-nursing timeline. Try a few different sizes above and below your measured size. Bra shopping is not an exact science, and finding the perfect bra is a secret alchemy of having an accurate measurement and loving how a bra fits and feels to you personally.
If you ever have any questions on bra sizing or fit, give us a shout. We love to talk about boobs.
And Now It’s Time For the Breakdown
When to buy nursing bras
The answer here is simple and a little bit tricky. You should shop whenever your regular bras no longer fit or become uncomfortable. Uncomfortable bras are friend to no pregnant person and should not be tolerated. A maternity bra is really just any bra that fits your pregnant bosoms, so you can size up in your old stand-by’s or seek out something designed specifically for pregnant and nursing people. But if you’d also like to be able to use the same bra for nursing, then you may want to either wait until the 36 week mark to start shopping or shop earlier and just make sure that your maternity bras are flexible, stretchy and have some room to grow comfortably. If you can’t wait until 36 weeks then waiting for the start of the 3rd trimester may also work. Don’t forget to keep in mind that your ribcage may be a bit larger during pregnancy than it is postpartum. Bodies! They are nuts.
Maternity Bra, Nursing Bra or All of the Above?
Good question. Great question, actually. The bras that you wear during pregnancy don’t have to be nursing friendly (unless you also happen to be nursing), but it’s definitely a potential time and money-saver if they are. You’ll just want to keep in mind that there are no real guarantees that the bra size you’re wearing early in pregnancy will also work in the early days of nursing when your chest is at its fullest. We like to use the phrase “max boob” for the moment when your milk comes in after giving birth for good reason. In any case, your best bet is to find bra options that will stretch and grow with you as much as possible. One bra may not have the capacity to span 4 cup sizes if you go from an A to a DD, but the right one may be able to span 2 or 3.
To get the most bang for your buck, here’s what to look out for:
- Soft and stretchy fabrics.
- Bands with lots of give.
- Adjustable straps.
- Cups with some shirring to accommodate a range of sizes (nb: shirring is when fabric is sewn gathered at the seam to create more room for expansion).
- Overall comfort. You’ll be wearing these A LOT.
Finding the Right Style and Fit
To Underwire or Not to Underwire
For optimal comfort throughout pregnancy and nursing, we always recommend a soft cup bra. Underwires provide the support and structure that many women may prefer in general, but they don’t offer much in the way of flexibility at this stage. That said, we subscribe to the you-do-you school of whatever works best, but for the purposes of this guide we will focus on underwire-free styles.
Here’s a rundown of the different styles so you can review and decide which one or ones will meet your needs. Some women prefer to have a few different types of bra depending on what’s happening in their day, other women like to stick with one style for all of the things. We will leave that up to you.
Bras That Clip Down
Clip-down nursing bras have a drop cup style that lets you quickly and easily access one or both breasts for nursing. These are great for the early days when you and your little one are still getting to know each other and learning the ropes of breastfeeding. It can be nice to have your full breast exposed to keep things nice and straightforward for bb and because nursing boobs are usually super sore. Sometimes anything digging into them, even just fabric from your bra, feels uncomfortable. This style also tends to work best for larger chests because they tend to offer a bit more structure and support.
Bras That Pull Aside
This can be a bralette, with or without a hook and eye closure, but the idea is that the fabric is stretchy enough to pull aside for nursing access. It really doesn’t need to be a maternity or nursing-specific bra, but those designs do tend to take into account the other key details that make a bra particularly well-suited for this stage (softness, stretchiness, overall comfort). This can be a great option for wearing through pregnancy and a bit later on once you get the hang of nursing. In our opinion, there’s no reason why a pull-aside bra shouldn’t look just like a bra you’d normally wear. But it should be a lot more comfortable.
Sleep bras typically work for both pregnancy and nursing. They are pull-on style with front panels that cross over to pull aside for nursing. They are designed to be user-friendly for even the drowsiest and most delirious of new moms to nurse a tiny babe in the black of night, several times a night. If your other nursing gear is comfortable enough to sleep in, then by all means, skip this section. But if you are not exactly sleeping comfortably in your current bras, then a sleep bra might be the solution for you. The right bra should be super soft, super stretchy to accommodate sore and fluctuating nursing bosoms, and have minimal seams and tags to keep things nice and cozy.
If you were never much of a bra person, or simply prefer an all-in-one solution, a nursing tank might be your jam. These are cami tank tops with a built-in shelf bra and cups that you can unclip to drop down. They function just like a clip-down bra but provide coverage for your abdomen so you don’t have to worry about covering it up if that makes you uncomfortable. These can be worn on their own or under your regular clothes. Look for silhouettes that feel normal to you, adjustable straps, fabrics that are very soft and shelf bras that don’t feel too tight.
Pumping Bras and Pumping Tanks
If you are currently pumping breast milk, or if you think you might be, hello and welcome to a strange new category of intimates that you never dreamed existed: pumping bras and pumping tank tops. Of course they are designed to contain your lactating boobs, yes, but they also hold something called flanges! That connect to your breast pump! In the olden days (a mere year or two ago), pumping bras were almost exclusively a medieval-looking chest plate that you would have to change your clothes and velcro yourself into multiple times a day for every pumping session. Nowadays we live in futureworld and the pumping bra can also stealthily function as a regular bra or tank you wear under your clothes, so you do not need to switch bras just to pump. We’re big fans of the new way with no need to remove your shirt a few times every day (particularly if you’re working in an office with other humans), but there are many different options to suit different boob sizes and your pumping needs. If you’re using a wearable pump, you may be able to make a simple tank bra work for you. Pumping is lots and lots and lots of work, so you will want to find some pieces that hold everything in place securely and comfortably whether you pump mostly at home, at work, on the go, etc. Having the right pumping bras, tanks and other pumping accessories is essential.
Just thought we’d mention this here because it’s something that can get lost when there are so many other very important things going on. It’s a good thing to keep in mind that while you’re breastfeeding, you’ll want to be wearing clothes that allow quick and easy nursing access. Nursing tank tops are great, so are button-up shirts or loose tops so baby can slide underneath. It will become your uniform for a little while, so you can start thinking about how breastfeeding will fit into your wardrobe moving forward.
A word on boobs. A part of you that was once intimate has suddenly become a communal thing, shared by a brand new little being and oftentimes lots of strangers, too (commenting on your pregnant body or the fact that you’re feeding your baby somewhere out in the world, screw those people, btw). It can definitely be strange at first and takes some (or a lot of) getting used to. Acknowledge that your feelings about your body may change along with your bust size, and that’s ok. Give yourself the time you need and continue to make space for yourself and your evolving feelings about your evolving body. Lots of love to you.