One of the things I always think is great about breastfeeding is that it doesn’t require the purchase of lots of equipment. I know there are cushions, covers, special breastfeeding t-shirts etc – but none of those are actually necessary, they are a choice. However, there is one thing that needs to be correct if you are to purchase one, and that’s a nursing bra.
Not everyone wears a bra when they are nursing, it is absolutely personal choice. If you are comfortable then that’s all good. BUT, if you are going to buy a nursing bra you need to buy one that fits properly and is a suitable style. Over the last few years I have seen many women who have run into problems caused by an ill fitting bra. In the first few weeks after your baby is born, your breasts will fluctuate in size as your breasts fill with milk. After the first few weeks your milk supply and your baby will be a bit more in tune and the change in breast size will be less noticeable. Therefore, the first nursing bras you buy need to be a suitable style to deal with this.
There are two main styles really. One has a cup that unclips and leaves the breast free, the other has a cup that unclips to reveal an inner cup that has a hole in it allowing the nipple and areola to be exposed. Both are fine when you have been breastfeeding for a while, but experience has shown me that the second style (with the inner cup) can sometimes be less suitable in the first few months. This is because the edges of the inner cup can put pressure on the breast causing restricted milk flow, blocked ducts and ultimately mastitis. Not all do this as some are softer, less rigid inner cups, but some are very firm and not appropriate. I have heard bra fitters say that the inner cup is required for support during breastfeeding. I do not agree. A well made bra will give support without needing two layers of cup, and when you are actually, physically in the process of feeding your baby, you are unlikely to be doing start jumps or any other physical activity that requires extra support – you will probably be sitting down quietly somewhere!
This type of style (click here) is the type that I would always suggest for a new mother. You can see from the picture that from the top of the breast downwards is uncovered, leaving the breast free and without pressure. The other style looks more like this but you can see in this picture that the piece that stays in place at the top of the breast is soft and stretchy, which may be ok for some women. Some manufacturers use a more rigid piece of fabric here that would potentially cause problems.
A bra provides good support mainly from a wide band, so you will find that the band on a nursing bra is usually wider at the back than a fashion bra, and may well have 3 or even more rows of clips. Wide, adjustable straps will also help to ensure good fitting and comfort.
It is best to get your nursing bra fitted close to the end of your pregnancy – definitely not before 36 weeks, and preferably from 37 weeks onwards. When your bra is fitted you should find that the band around your ribs is a little tighter than you would normally wear. This is because your at this stage of pregnancy your baby is pushing your rib cage up and out. Once your baby is born your rib cage will go back to it’s usual position, making your bra fit less tightly. The cups should feel a little large at the time of fitting, allowing you to easily fit your flat hand in the top of the cup with some room for movement. This allows for the increase in breast size once your baby is born and your breasts are making milk after the first few days.
If you choose to use breastpads at night then you might also need a bra for nighttime. A soft, unstructured bra is best for nighttime. A supportive, day time bra has too many seams and structure for nighttime and you may find that the seams and edges of the bra dig in when you are sleeping causing discomfort or other problems.
It is important that you feel comfortable in your nursing bras. If the person doing your fitting doesn’t seem to understand how breastfeeding works and how a poorly fitting bra can impact breastfeeding, then ask for someone more experienced to help you, or try a different store. It is not ok to wear a bra that is too small – even when you are not breastfeeding. If the store does not stock a decent range of sizes, then go to a different store. Remember – in the old days breasts were bound tightly to stop women producing milk…