A Natal Guide to your Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Bra

braAs we all know, our bodies go through a lot of change during pregnancy, and among the many changes that mums-­to-­be experience are fluctuations to the size and shape of their breasts and rib cage, which is why it’s important to know what to do and what to expect when shopping for maternity bras, and later on, if you need one, for breastfeeding bras.

Why the fit matters

Breasts are supported by ligaments, rather than muscles, and as such they are susceptible to hormonal changes, which is why breasts can become really sensitive even at the very early stages of your pregnancy. As the size and shape of your breasts fluctuates throughout your pregnancy, it’s really important that you wear a bra that supports you and fits you well.

Getting measured

There is no hard and fast rule about when or how many times you should try and get measured for a maternity bra, but you should always ensure that you try a different model, size or fit as soon as you feel uncomfortable or that your breasts are unsupported. There is no need for you to get fitted in a store at all, if you don’t feel comfortable to; plenty of information is now available online on how to measure yourself and how to check that your bra fits you well, so you can always get the tape measure out at home (ask for a little help from your partner or a friend if needs be) and buy your bras online, which you can always return if they don’t fit.

If you do want to go into store, however, most department stores or specialist lingerie and maternity shops offer free­ of ­charge professional measuring and fitting services ­ if you’re in doubt as to where you can find one in your area, why don’t you get in touch with one of your local Natal teachers, who could point you to the right direction?

Some retailers even offer a free telephone fitting advice, which is brilliant for busy mums­-to-­be who don’t have the flexibility of going to the high street but welcome a little professional advice.

Checking if your bra fits you well

Here are a few simple steps that you can follow to check that your bra fits you just fine:

1. It should feel comfortable! If you’re wearing an underwired bra, the wires at the front should sit flat against your rib cage and not dig in, rub or poke out.

2. The band around the body should feel firm but comfortable and sit horizontally without riding up on the back. Some manufacturers and retailers will recommend that you try and extend the life of your maternity bra by wearing it on the tightest hook first and then loosen it up when your cage grows.

3. Your breasts should be enclosed in the cups – no overflow or bulging at the top or sides of the cups.

Soft cup vs underwired

Many expectant mums will have been told that a soft cup bra is necessary during pregnancy, but this isn’t entirely true. If you’re used to wearing an underwired bra and enjoy the support that it offers, you can continue to use it, as long as it fits and support you well – the style of bra is entirely your choice. If, however, you start to find, at any stage of your pregnancy, that an underwired bra no longer fits your breasts well, you need to ensure that you switch to a different one, and trying a soft cup one or just a different style or size of underwired bra could be some of your options.

One of the pros of a soft cup bra is that, being softer and ‘restrictions­free’, it allows for more space for your breasts to grow. In other words, there is a higher chance that it will fit you for longer as it can accommodate certain changes to your breasts. Also, when your bump grows in size towards the end of your pregnancy, there are fewer chances that a soft cup bra will rub on your bump and give you discomfort. If it does feel uncomfortable, it may be that the underband of the bra is too thick, so you may need to try and play with the size of the bra or the model, and get one with a smaller / thinner underband.

Of course it goes without saying that a soft cup bra may feel less supportive, especially if you’re used to the underwired models. For added support you can consider 4 hooks fastenings, broad sides and back and increasing the coverage of the bra.

Women sometimes report that pregnancy bras can be a little ‘boring’ and ‘unflattering’, but no one stops you from shopping around and buying from different places – if you’re prepared to have a good look around you’ll definitely find colour, lace and different patterns and materials without having to compromise on good fit and comfort.

The breastfeeding bra ­ when to get measured

Once again, there is no hard and fast rule about when you should measure yourself or get fitted for a nursing or breastfeeding bra, although a lot of websites and literature will recommend going at around 38 wee ks of pregnancy. In reality, you should do this as close to the end of your pregnancy as possible, but as most of us don’t know when their babies are going to come, this is in practice difficult to predict!

Whether you are measuring yourself or going for a fitting, it is important to understand that at this point only an educated guess can be made about the bra size you will actually need when your milk comes in, as no one can really predict how much your breasts will increase in size. Ideally, you should allow up to 1 or 2 cup sizes for increase in size when the milk comes in and to fit breast pads into your bra.

Towards the end of your pregnancy, it’s not only your breasts that get bigger, but your bump changes too; it can change in size, shape and position, generally becoming lower as it ‘drops’ (when the baby starts to engage in the pelvic area), and this can cause your bust measurements to change too, so try not to buy too many bras of the same size or model.

The debate around soft cup and underwired bras becomes a little clearer when it comes to the breastfeeding bra, as the advice here is to wear soft cups rather than wired ones. This is because when nursing the size and shape of your breasts can considerably vary even within the same day (depending on when your milk comes in and when your baby feeds), and an underwired bra isn’t really made to accommodate such fluctuation. A nursing bra may feel too small before a feed and too big after a feed, so remember that the ‘right’ size for you should be one that fits you when your breasts are at their fullest. This is when your bra should feel most supportive and comfortable (i.e. not dig in, not feel too tight, with no bulging from the cups etc).

Another reason to prefer non­wired to underwired bras when breastfeeding is to do with the fact that the wires could end up digging into breast tissue ­ this isn’t just uncomfortable, but it can actually damage your breast tissue and increase the risk of blocking milk ducts. A non­wired bra would offer more flexibility and eliminate these issues.

For added practicality, look out for nursing bras that have cups that you can open and close with one hand – you’ll need that when one arm is busy supporting your baby!

One for the night?

You may be told or read that when you’re breastfeeding you also need to buy bras for sleeping because your breasts may leak milk during the night. Again, this is entirely up to you – your breasts may not leak after all, and if you feel like you do need to wear a bra so you can wear nursing pads during the night, you could always try wearing your ‘day’ nursing bra in the night and see how it feels first, before making an additional purchase.

When you stop breastfeeding…

…it’s impossible to really say what size your breasts will settle into. Sometimes breasts go back to their original size; other times they settle into a bigger or smaller size. Like you can sometimes carry some ‘baby weight’, it’s possible to carry this around the breast area too, so once again, don’t stock up on too many bras of the same size or model as you may find that changes are still happening to your body for a while.

And that’s it from us! What tips can YOU share with expectant and new mums?

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