Maternity bras and nursing bras

Getting the right underwear for pregnancy, after the birth and if you’re breastfeeding can be a minefield. Where do you start? And what do you need to know?

Your changing breasts and bras

Obviously, during pregnancy your bump grows. But often your breasts will too. Some women notice their boobs start to get bigger as early as week six of pregnancy, while others say their breasts don’t start to grow until the third trimester (Healthline, 2019). Everyone is different.

It’s worth remembering why your breasts might be expanding. It’s the increased levels of progesterone and your milk ducts growing (Breast Cancer Care, 2011). It's common to go up a cup size or two during pregnancy (Healthline, 2019). Many women notice they are also broader across the back because your rib cage expands to make room for your baby (NHS Start4Life, 2019).

All of this means your old underwear might not fit. Getting something that feels comfortable, supports your breasts and back, and which stretches to accommodate your growing bust is important.

Well-fitting bras can help with breast pain, back and neck pain, and sagging (NHS, 2017). It’s unclear whether bras can help prevent stretchmarks though (NHS, 2017).

Bras: measuring up

Rather than struggling on in your old bras for as long as possible, it’s a good idea to get professionally measured for a bra when you’re pregnant if your bra feels too tight. Depending on how much growth you’ve noticed, you might want to do this in the first trimester.

Some high street shops offer a free measuring service. They can check whether your bra is too tight (Breast Cancer Care, 2017).

Replacing your underwear can seem expensive but try to see it as an important investment. You’ll be doing your back and your breasts a favour by wearing well-fitting underwear.

Bras with wide straps help support the weight of your bust and help distribute it across the shoulders. It can be tempting to adjust straps to hoist up your growing breasts but if they’re leaving marks on your shoulders, generally it means they’re too tight (Breast Cancer Care, 2017).

Also, you can get maternity bras that double up as nursing bras as they have a clip which opens easily for breastfeeding afterwards.

Nursing bras

If you’re intending to breastfeed, nursing bras are a good idea (Healthline, 2019). They have clips on the strap so you can pull them down easily for feeding. It’s worth practising doing this one handed so you’ve got the hang of it before your baby arrives.

You might want to get re-measured close to your due date so you can make sure you have nursing bras that fit as well as possible (Breastcancer Care, 2017). By this stage it might seem like your breasts are growing by the day, so don’t struggle with a bra that’s too tight. You could try to go back regularly as your baby grows because your milk supply might be changing and affecting your size.

Not everyone needs a special feeding bra though, some women go braless or wear a stretchy crop top that can be lifted up. You could also go for a nursing tankini or cami with a drop down top for easy access while breastfeeding.

Sleeping soundly in bras

You might want to think about what will be most comfortable to sleep in, especially if you feel you need some support at night too. Lots of brands now sell specific maternity sleep bras, or you could use a sports bra instead.

Mum of two Melissa says: “I bought lots of fairly inexpensive crop tops to wear under my pyjamas when I was pregnant. They were soft and not too restrictive but still gave me a bit of support at night.

“They were great after the birth of my daughter as well. She had a tongue tie so in the early weeks my nipples were so sore, but these crop tops were very soft and comfortable. I could also stick breast pads inside to help with leaks.

“And it meant I could save my proper nursing bras for the daytime so I wasn’t doing extra washing when I already seemed to be drowning under dirty laundry.”

Up to the wire

You might have heard that underwired bras are bad as they can block milk ducts but that’s not the case (Breast Cancer Care, 2017). You won’t need to ditch your underwired bras while you’re pregnant as long as the wire doesn’t dig in and as long as it still fits. Some women do swear by non-wired bras though for their comfort value.

Style and substance

Maternity and nursing bras don’t need to be frumpy. Modern maternity underwear can be stylish at the same time as comfy so it’s worth shopping around.

With all the changes and discomforts of sore itchy veiny boobs, larger darker areola or leaking nipples, you could treat yourself to a stylish bra. Lots of shops have matching maternity pants to help you feel extra special.

Material gains

Choosing breathable fabrics for bras can be a good idea as some women find they get more sweaty than usual underneath or between their breasts. Natural fibre fabrics like cotton and silk are more breathable than synthetics like polyester so they’ll help keep you cooler (Public Health England and NHS England, 2018). See more tips on how to keep cool when you’re pregnant.

Underneath it all…

However your body is changing, it’s well worth finding underwear that fits your new shape. Being comfortable and well supported can make a difference to how you feel.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Breast Cancer Care. (2011). Your breasts, your health throughout your life. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/cancer/Documents/ybyh_throughout_2011.pdf [Accessed 6th February 2019]

Breast Cancer Care. (2017). Your breasts during and after pregnancy. Available at: https://www.breastcancercare.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/pdf/bcc_148_your_breasts_during_and_after_pregnancy_2017_web.pdf [Accessed 6th February 2019]

Healthline (2019) Breast changes in pregnancy: what to expect. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/pregnant-breast#first-trimester [Accessed 6th February 2019]

NHS Start4Life. (2019) Week 23 – your second trimester. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/pregnancy/week-by-week/2nd-trimester/week-twenty-three/# [Accessed 6th February 2019]

NHS. (2016) Recovery - caesarean section. Available at:   https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/caesarean-section/recovery/ [Accessed 6th February 2019]

NHS (2017) How a well-fitted sports bra can reduce breast pain. Available at:  https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/right-sports-bra-can-reduce-breast-pain/ [Accessed 6th February 2019]

NICE. (2011) Caesarean section. Clinical guideline [CG132]. Available at:   https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg132/chapter/1-guidance [Accessed 6th February 2019]

Public Health England; NHS England. (2018) Beat the heat: staying safe in hot weather. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/731044/2018_Beat_the_Heat_Leaflet.pdf [Accessed 6th February 2019]

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