Buying a nursing bra that suits your needs can be difficult. Find tips on when to buy one, how to choose the right nursing bra size, type, fabrics, and more.
It is not always easy to choose the right nursing bra! Does this dialogue sound familiar:
“All my expensive nursing bras are suddenly too big!” a desperate breastfeeding friend explained.
“When did you buy them?”
“Well, I read somewhere that a good time to buy them is during the last few weeks of pregnancy, so that’s what I did. I wanted to be prepared.”
To avoid mistakes like this, go through our guide below to make sure you choose the best bra (or bras) possible for your needs.
9 Tips to Choose the Right Nursing Bra
In this article:
What’s a nursing bra?
Nursing bras are simply bras designed with cups that open. Actually, there do exist bras claiming to be nursing bras, but they don’t have cups that open. I think that is very weird! I mean, in addition to the extra support, it is the opening you really need!
When it is time to breastfeed, you simply open the flap on the cup so that your baby can nurse while the rest of the bra stays in place. Very convenient!
When to buy
I read in so many places that you should plan ahead and buy your nursing bras during the weeks before giving birth. I think that is such poor advice!
First of all, if you haven’t done it before, you don’t even know if breastfeeding will work out for you and your baby. Of course, with the right support, most moms can breastfeed successfully, but still.
Another reason to wait until after giving birth is that you really don’t know what will happen to your breasts when milk production starts. Some new moms get really huge breasts, and others notice only a minor change.
Third, not even right after giving birth is a good time to buy nursing bras. You should wait until after engorgement. This means probably some ten days or so after giving birth. By then, breastfeeding has been established, and you will know the size of your new bust and be more able to know your own needs.
If you really think you need to buy a nursing bra early, buy a cheap one that you can throw away if it turns out to be the wrong size.
Easy to handle
I’ve made the mistake several times of buying a cheap nursing bra that was hopeless to open and particularly close with one hand. Before buying a nursing bra, you have to try the fastener.
Just imagine breastfeeding in public and realizing that you’ll have to put your (sleeping) baby down and expose your breast to be able to refasten the flap. I promise you that you will only do that once!
Ideally, you bring your baby and make sure that you can handle your bra easily with your infant in your arms.
In general, high-quality brands have good fasteners.
How to know if it fits
Nursing bras should fit comfortably. A bra that is too big won’t give you the support you need, and one too small may leave you with plugged milk ducts and the risk of getting mastitis. Plus, it is uncomfortable, of course.
To know that you’ve got the right size, check that your bra fits well when you fasten it on the second row of hooks. This way, you can tighten the bra later if it becomes worn out, losing some elasticity. Or, of course, you can loosen it if you get a bit bigger.
The cups should simply fit, but make sure they are not too small since you might want to use nursing pads occasionally (or always if your breasts tend to leak a lot).
If it is possible, have someone trained in fitting bras help you the first time you buy a new brand. But if that is not possible or convenient (e.g., if you want to buy one online), it is entirely possible to do it yourself.
Measure around your rib cage just under your arms, below your breasts, with a measuring tape. Keep the tape snug but not tight. Stretch your back. If the measurement is uneven, round it up to the next even number. This is your band size.
Next, while wearing a good-fitting, unpadded bra, measure around the fullest part of your bust (usually at the level of the nipples). The tape measure should be straight, parallel to the floor, and flat across your back. This is the diameter of your chest plus the breast. The difference in the band and bust sizes determines your cup size.
Look in the table below to determine your cup size.
|0″-1/2″ (1.3 cm)||AA|
|1/2″- 1″ (2.6 cm)||A|
|2″ (5.1 cm)||B|
|3″ (7.6 cm)||C|
|4″ (10.2 cm)||D|
|5″ (12.7 cm)||DD or E|
|6″ (15.2 cm)||DDD or F|
|7″ (17.8 cm)||G|
For a nursing bra, if you are just in between two cup sizes, choose the bigger one to make room for nursing pads (if you need them). While these are standard bra sizes, make sure you check for guidelines at the specific retailer if you decide to buy your bra online.
To choose the right nursing bra, remember that the cups should be made of a breathable fabric to avoid moisture that could lead to, for example, thrush. This is usually 100 percent cotton, although some of the newer synthetics, such as microfiber, allow the skin to breathe. Don’t buy a bra with a plastic lining, even if it is cheap.
It is also nice if the cup fabric is somewhat elastic to allow for breast fullness as well as nursing pads.
While fine lingerie often needs to be hand-washed, buying a few bras that can be washed in a washing machine is also great. Remember to use a garment bag to make your bra last a bit longer. This is especially important when laundering underwire bras (which you shouldn’t buy anyway, see below…).
The bra should support the breast from beneath, even when the cup is open. Very important! This makes feeding more comfortable and reclosing the bra much less of a struggle.
For good support, it is also good if the bra has a band with at least three stations in the back with at least three hooks at each station. This added size adjustment ensures a better, more comfortable fit as the body changes and better overall support.
Also, the bra should be of the right size, of course.
I know that a general recommendation is to have three nursing bras – one to wear, one to wash, and one for sleeping.
For me, this has not been enough. I advise having two white, two black, and one extra super-soft and comfortable for sleeping.
And if you can afford it – yet another one, really nice for special occasions. :-) I think being able to put on really nice underwear when dressing up for a party or dinner, despite being an exhausted, breastfeeding new mom, is great!
Avoid bras that open completely at the front for feeding. You’ll have a hard time wrestling your breasts back into place when you’re done nursing.
Avoid so-called nursing bras that don’t have flaps that open. What’s the point, really?!
Avoid underwired nursing bras for daily (or nightly) wear. Underwires, if not properly fit, can obstruct the milk ducts and put you at risk of getting mastitis. This has to do with the breast’s milk-producing tissue extending back to your rib cage and into your armpit. (You can read about mastitis and what to do about it here.)
If you need underwires to get good enough support, be very careful with the fitting, and invest some money into a high-quality bra.
As many women think their bust looks better in an underwired bra, consider buying one for festive occasions only, and use the soft, “boring” ones on a daily basis.
Buying a nursing bra online is entirely possible and can be very convenient (and cheaper). I wouldn’t recommend you buy your very first bra online, though. Ideally, you should have some help from an expert to find the right bra the first time. Also, it’s good to be able to check if the fastener is easily handled for the particular brand you are considering buying.
But as soon as you have found your size, go ahead and shop from home! Just make sure that the company you buy from has good return policies and easily accessible customer service.
Phew, did you have any idea that there were so many things to think about to buy the best nursing bra for your needs?! Well, now you know all about it!
If you have any additional tips on how to choose the right nursing bra, please share them below! :-)
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians who assist in reviewing and writing articles.