How To Choose A Nursing Bra And Other Postpartum Gear

It goes without saying: Your body changes when you're pregnant. There's your growing belly, of course. But let's also talk about that bosom. For many women, pregnancy will bring cleavage like you've never seen before; and milk production after giving birth will translate into cup sizes deep into the alphabet.

And as your body changes with every week, month, and trimester—and even more postpartum—finding the appropriate undergarments will be as big a challenge as finding flattering yet comfortable maternity jeans. Luckily, nursing bras are specifically designed for this time in your life. If you're breastfeeding, comfort, support, and convenience are all keys to finding the right bra for those postpartum months and during nursing. Never fear, style doesn't have to take a backseat: High-end lingerie brands like Cosabella have gotten into the business of outfitting breastfeeding moms. And Rosie Pope (from Pregnant in Heels) also makes a line of lacey nursing bras.

So where do you begin? Many women start shopping for nursing bras during their pregnancy, mostly in search of something comfortable and available in larger cup sizes as their bodies change. Every woman is different, and while some may still be able to wear bras with underwires well into their pregnancy, many others opt for elastic bands and soft, lightly padded cups for maximum comfort.

Shopping for Bras and Underwear During Pregnancy

If you are looking for comfortable bras during pregnancy, one great option is a transitional undergarment called a comfort bra. This bra usually comes in small, medium, large, XL, and beyond; is seamless and stretchy; and has enough ease to fit a variety of sizes as your body continues to change. Bravado Design's Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra is a popular choice of these bras. The bonus is that you can continue to wear it after your baby arrives.

Experts suggest using your measurements when you are eight months pregnant—these bras should fit relatively well after baby. But it's hard to anticipate what will feel best until after you've established nursing. (Your cup size can fluctuate—they don't call it "engorgement" for nothing.) For that reason, if it's possible, you should reassess your stock a month after baby is born.

When you're pregnant, it's not just about new bras, though. You may also want to purchase maternity underwear. Your old underwear may fit, but if you're looking for more comfort, consider maternity hipster-style underwear, such as ones from Rosie Pope Maternity. Those are soft and low-riding to allow room for your growing belly. Another comfortable style are boyshorts (which are like guys' boxer briefs). With their fuller cut, boy shorts offer more coverage and comfort.

Finding the Best Nursing Bras After Birth

When you are ready to get sized for a fitted nursing bra, you can measure yourself in the comfort of your own home. To determine the band size, place a tape measure above your chest, just under the armpits. For cup size, measure around the fullest part of your chest, then subtract the first measurement from this measurement. The difference between the two determines the cup size. If it's 1", the cup size is A; 2" is B; 3" is C; 4" is D; 5" is DD or E; 6" is DDD or F; 7" is G and so on. (Manufacturers typically offer up to an M cup size.)

As your body will inevitably change, it's important to look for bras that have multiple hooks on the band to give you an extra inch or more of give either way.

Beyond comfort, convenience is a major consideration. After all, you'll be nursing throughout the day and at night. Many feature nursing straps: These bras have clasps that attach the strap to the cup. You simply undo the clasp to release the cup, allowing you to breastfeed and provide maximum skin-to-skin contact. There are also pull-aside cups, which are usually made of soft fabric and overlap at the cleavage, allowing you to simply slip out your breast for nursing.

In these two categories, there are a multitude of bras from which to choose. And beyond that, here are even more choices and styles that nursing moms have embraced.

Sleep Bras: These soft, comfortable bras are perfect for middle-of-the-night feedings. The emphasis is on comfort, not so much support, while you sleep, so you wouldn't likely wear these bras when you leave the house.

Sports Bras: Resembling traditional sports bras, these pullover undergarments are usually made of soft cotton with an elastic band under the bust.

Nursing Tanks: Offering more coverage for your body, this is an alternative to wearing a nursing bra under a shirt on warm days or when you may need to nurse outside your home. Many moms find one-piece tanks to be the most convenient option. Ripe Maternity also sells nursing tops with long sleeves for cooler weather. For those looking for more coverage during nursing, check out nursing covers from brands like Bebe Au Lait, which offers both low-key scarves and apron-style covers.

Underwire Bras: Yes, you can have maximum structure and support in your undergarments even when you're nursing and/or pumping. For women who are back at work or enjoying a night out, this option is a good one when you're once again wearing non-maternity clothes. Brands like Rosie Pope Maternity and Leading Lady offer molded, padded and lace models. Underwire is best for moms who have established breastfeeding and know exactly how much support they need.

Nursing Items for Working Moms

If you are pumping at work, wardrobe choices—both bras and clothes—are of the utmost importance. Look for nursing bras that will give you support and a smooth line under your clothes. Clothes that provide easy access to pumping (think button-down blouses) will make the process a little more convenient and efficient.

Here are a few other considerations and accessories related to nursing bras.

  1. With breastfeeding comes some leakage. This happens when your breasts are too full or when you have sudden letdown. Luckily you can buy nursing pads to line your nursing bra. They will absorb any leakage (and prevent your bra and shirt from getting stained).
  2. There are bustiers on the market that can be worn for hands-free pumping. These bras allow you to secure the breast pump flanges and bottles in place so that you don't have to hold them while pumping. Hands-free pumping means you can multi-task while you pump.
  3. As with your regular bras, you will want to wash your nursing bras with care. But because these bras will inevitably come in contact with breast milk, they will need frequent laundering. Double check the washing instructions and make sure you follow proper care, but safe to say you can stock up on baby-friendly detergents, such as Dapple or Dreft, which avoid using harsh chemicals.

Now that you're ready to choose your nursing bras, let's take a look at some other gear that can help you on your postpartum journey.

  1. How to select the best nursing slings
  2. How to select the best nursing pillows
  3. How to select the best belly bands