Maternity & Nursing Bras Pt 2: Nursing Bras
After nine months of backaches, morning sickness, swelling, indigestion, bizarre cravings, hormone-induced crying fits, upped libido, balance issues, crazy sleep positions, excessive peeing, and boob fluctuation, your baby’s finally here. You did it!
That means it’s time to decide whether breastfeeding is right for you. If so, you’ll need a couple of reliable nursing bras. Where should you begin? For starters, you have to know when to start looking for a nursing bra. Making the leap too early can result in a bad fit that will do more harm than good. In our last post, we talked about how to find the right transitional bra for the latter part of your pregnancy. You should stick with your transitional bra for 2-4 weeks after delivery to give your breasts time to stabilize, and then you should get fitted for a supportive nursing bra.
“For the first few weeks after delivery, your breasts are going to fluctuate. Your body is learning to regulate how much milk it needs to produce to feed the baby,” says Stephanie, a BOB fitting specialist. “The first time you really feel like leaving the house, getting clothes on, and being a person again instead of just newborn's mom with no sleep, that’s about the right time to get fitted.”
Even if it’s not your first rodeo, you should never assume that what worked for your first pregnancy will continue to work for your second or third. Being fitted is imperative to breast health, and you don’t want to risk mastitis with a clumsy fit.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
You’ll be breastfeeding for at least six months, if not a good deal longer. Though your individual bras certainly won’t last that long (even with impeccable care, nursing bras don’t generally last more than six months), you’ll want to find a bra style you can commit to. Before you buy a nursing bra, there are a few key features you should check out.
Cup Depth: Nursing bras don’t necessarily need to have soft cups, but they do need to offer a little room for fluctuation. Just a pinch of space up toward the top of the cup where the strap attaches will make this bra more comfortable when your breasts fill up between feedings.
Nursing Clasps: Technically speaking, these are what define a nursing bra. Easy-release clasps can typically be undone with just one hand, and they take some of the hassle out of breastfeeding.
You should be able to undo a good nursing clasp with one hand, as demonstrated here in the Elomi 3912.
Support: Good support is crucial in a nursing bra because your breasts will be heavier than usual. You’ll need to find a bra that keeps you lifted without pressing on your milk ducts, but this part can be tricky because of the possible adverse effects of underwire on nursing breasts. If you want an underwire nursing bra, there are a few things you should consider.
THE WIRE DEBATE
Most doctors recommend non-wire nursing bras. We're not doctors (and you should always consult with a doctor if you're having medical issues), but we do know bras. There are underwire options out there. However, it’s imperative to make sure the underwire fits correctly in order to avoid causing problems with your milk ducts.
We gave a crash-course on milk ducts in our last post, but here’s a quick refresher for good measure. Milk ducts are the straw-like channels interwoven among the fatty tissues and glands that make up your breasts. Women have 15-20 per breast, and during pregnancy and nursing, hormones cause them to grow in size and number. Full-scale milk production kicks in somewhere between 48-96 hours after delivery, by which point these ducts have become very sensitive.
Herein lies the problem with underwire. Stiff wires (or even stiff fabrics) can press against your breast tissue and irritate or even clog these ducts, which leads to all sorts of problems. However, many women want and even need underwire nursing bras, especially if they have large breasts to begin with.
It’s not impossible to find a good underwire nursing bra, but it’s crucial to find one that fits correctly. As always, your underwire should follow the natural curve of your breast—sitting under, not against, your breast tissue. If you were to trace the underwire, it should point up toward the center of your armpit or beyond. If you wear anything positioned more forward than that, you run a serious risk of irritating your milk ducts.
The Freya Pure in a 34 FF (left) and a 32HH (right). The fit on the left is too small, and the underwire presses into the side tissue. The fit on the right is correct.
In order to minimize the pressure placed on milk ducts, most nursing bra manufacturers use flex wire in lieu of regular underwire. This flexible material is more forgiving, but still supportive, and reduces the risk of mastitis.
But wait, what exactly is mastitis, and why do I keep talking about it? Mastitis is an extremely painful inflammation of the mammary glands that happens when your ducts get clogged or bacteria enters the breast. It comes with local symptoms like swelling, redness, and warmth, but can also manifest in full-body symptoms like chills, fever, fatigue, and a general feeling of ickyness. Women with mastitis may also experience nipple discharge and pus. “It’s like the flu a hundred times over,” says Stephanie, a fit specialist with more than a decade under her belt. “You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. I couldn’t get out of bed. Everything hurt.”
The Elomi #3912 in a 38DD (left) and a 34FF (right).
The fit on the left is too small, especially on our model's wide roots. The underwire on the right reaches past the breast root for a better fit.[/caption] You can continue to breastfeed after you’ve contracted mastitis—in fact, nursing drastically quickens the healing time. However, doing so is very, very painful. Prevention is always better than treatment. For that reason, it’s especially important for women with larger busts to pay special attention to breast health while they’re nursing. And on that note…
FORM V. FUNCTION
A lot of women walk into our store looking for nursing bras that are also sexy. They want the fit they’re used to, round and plump with lift and cleavage. Where are all the cute nursing bras? Why does nursing a baby mean boring, frumpy underwear? Where are the plunge styles? Where’s the lace? I get it. Being a mom shouldn’t (and doesn’t) mean giving up your sexuality. But there’s a reason nursing bras are not primarily designed to look good. Appearance is—and should be—secondary to breast health, because what’s good for your breasts is good for your baby.
For those of you who are desperately seeking the nursing bra version of your favorite sexy pushup, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is cleavage—at least of the amplified variety—is pretty much a no-go. If you’ve read our Cleavage 101 blog, you know we recommend two types of bra for great cleavage: the plunge and the balconette.
Unfortunately, both styles can create major problems for nursing moms. Plunge and balconette bras rely heavily on side support to create that nice rounded shape, but this extra pressure on the sides of the breasts can lead to clogged milk ducts and mastitis.
“Ladies come in all the time asking for plunge nursing bras because they’re used to wearing plunges,” says Stephanie. “They want the looks they’re used to wearing. They want to get low-cut bras that won’t show over their scoop necks or V-necks, sexy bras for the bedroom, that sort of thing.
But nine times out of ten, these looks aren’t really available, at least not for larger busts.” Stephanie’s advice is to get creative with your look. “Instead of relying on the plunge bra, opt for a tank top or camisole when you’re wearing lower necklines. Your breast health should always be the priority when you’re nursing.”
The Bravado "Allure" is a nursing bra with sexy lace accents.
The good news is there are some very pretty nursing bras out there if you only know where to look. Bravado’s “Allure” and “Sublime” are cute, lacy options for smaller busts, and Belabumbum has several fashion styles as well (see the “Lena,” the “Lotus,” and the “Tallulah”). Anita makes the very sexy “Fleur,” and a few other choices that are subtle but stylish nonetheless. The “Sophie” by Panache is a good non-wire option, and it makes an excellent transitional bra too.
And then there’s Cake. Hands down, Cake is your best bet for size-specific nursing bras that won’t make you feel frumpy. They offer a variety of sizes and styles from the simple to the steamy, even throwing in some sporty styles for ladies trying to lose that extra baby weight. Some of our favorites are the “Honeycomb Macaroon,” the “Caramel Licorice,” and the new “Crème Brulee” line. Yes, they all look as scrumptious as they sound.
The Creme Brulee by Cake is cute, coquettish, and comfortable.
There are a few things you should take away from this blog. First, breast health should always be the priority. If you find a style you think is pretty, you better make sure it fits correctly before you fork over your money—otherwise, you could end up in a sticky (and painful) situation. Second, gorgeous nursing bras do exist. They’re out there, I promise. All it takes is a little research and some help from your friends at Breakout Bras. For our full array of nursing bras, sleepwear, swimwear, and maternity accessories, check out our breastfeeding store at breakoutbras.com.