Nursing Bras 101

By Sarah Niss

A nursing bra is not a maternity bra, although those words are often used interchangeably.

A maternity bra is worn during pregnancy and features extra support and cups that stretch to accommodate growth. A nursing bra, on the other hand, is for the day your little one arrives. Nursing bras offer more support and a special opening in the front for easy, discreet breastfeeding.

There are many varieties out there, but when it comes to nursing bras, comfort is key. Here’s what to keep in mind when shopping for a nursing bra:

The Fit

More than 75 percent of American women are not wearing the correct bra size, according to industry estimates. But for breastfeeding women, a correct fit is crucial to helping alleviate the pain of sore breasts and a tired back.

Buy a nursing bra during the last month of pregnancy, when breasts are nearing their full size. Bras should be bought to fit on the last hook so that as the breasts decrease in size, the bra will still fit.

Visiting a maternity store for a professional fitting is your best strategy when shopping for nursing bras. Certainly, you can look online for a bra size calculator that requires you to measure around your ribcage just below the bust and around the fullest part of your bust. But an actual faitting session with a professional ensures that you’re getting the most comfortable fit.

The Style

Once you know your bra size, you can begin hunting for the best bra for you. While shopping, keep ease of use in mind; choose the bra that is most convenient for your style of breastfeeding. Some women prefer nursing bras that close in the back (but have the special opening in the cup) – thus, the entire breast is not exposed while breastfeeding. Another bra type opens in the front and is easy to open, but is too indiscreet for some mothers. Yet another has a button on the shoulder strap that allows the cup to come down, exposing the breast. No matter which style you choose, your nursing bra should never have an underwire. The wire can press into the breast and clog milk ducts, causing infection and severe pain for mother and baby.

The Quality

Most women choose a cotton bra because it’s breathable. It’s wise to buy three nursing bras: one to wear, one to wash and one just in case. Even when cost is a factor, at least one high-quality nursing bra is worth the splurge. Many women will wear their new bra 24 hours a day, so comfort and quality is paramount.

Look for brands like Bravado, Medela and Playtex, which offer many bras that meet the need for support and the desire for style and beauty. There are many options available, and choosing a nursing bra is all about personal preferences.

Sarah Niss is a freelance writer.