Similar in appearance but functionally different to a maternity bra, specialist nursing bras allow easy access to your nipples. Like maternity bras, they should be made of a soft fabric (cotton is ideal), with wider shoulder and back straps for greater support.
Another similarity is that they are unlikely to use underwire, which is potentially harmful to your milk ducts if it digs in too much, and could cause blockages and infections. Nursing bras’ unique feature is the ability to expose each nipple individually, which allows you and your baby access to one breast without revealing the other.
It’s advisable to be fitted for your first nursing bra during the final month of pregnancy, so that it’s ready to be packed in your hospital bag. However, don’t splash out at this stage and buy only one or two bras at most. Although your breasts will be the same size immediately after giving birth, after a couple of days your milk will come in and it is highly likely your breasts will increase to a size and shape you’ve never experienced before! So it’s wise to budget for also having to buy a larger bra or two, and realise that the size of your bust is likely to change again as your breast milk production adapts to suit the needs of your growing infant.
Nursing bras offer easy access to your breasts in the form of clips that allow the cups to drop down, zips which open around the cup or cups which crossover or close at the front. It’s really just personal preference which style you go for. Again, look out for styles that have soft but supportive fabrics and follow the bra fitting tips listed in our article How to choose a maternity bra.
When buying a nursing bra, it should be fitted on the loosest hook so you can tighten it after the baby is born and your bump disappears. Remember that as your milk comes in, your breasts will feel fuller and larger so it’s best to buy a cup size or two bigger than you are wearing before giving birth. If you visit a reputable maternity, lingerie or department store for a professional fitting, they should be able to best advise you on sizing. Remember to leave enough room for your breast pads too.
There was a time when maternity bras were ugly and functional but, luckily for us, most underwear manufacturers have moved with the times and offer a good range of pregnancy and nursing bras which are not only practical but also fit well and look great too. Some could even be called ‘sexy’ and come with matching knickers too! Shop around and when you find something you like, buy several – it’s always best to have a bra to wear, a bra in the wash and a spare, just in case…
Several clever bra manufacturers are now offering flexi-fit nursing bras that stretch over a range of bra sizes and allow the bra to grow with your body. This may well be a good option if you can find a comfortable style.
Finally, not putting too fine a point on it, but even with the assistance of breast pads, nursing breasts leak and breast milk itself can stain. So while that pristine white bra might look appealing over your bump in the fitting room two weeks before you give birth, it’s not going to seem quite so pretty one month in with telltale yellow stains in the centre of each cup. With that in mind, you might want to veer towards darker colours – but then it’s a personal choice.
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