How (and When) to choose a great-fitting maternity and nursing bra

At the recent ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas, Whitney and I got to test out a bunch of cool new products for babies and parents. One of the most informative and fun things we did was to attend a tutorial session put on by the lovely women of Cake Maternity Lingerie, about how to measure yourself and choose a well-fitting maternity or nursing bra that will work throughout the different stages of pregnancy and infancy. We wanted to share what we learned since it was super helpful and informative!

Whitney seemed surprised that I didn’t know the fundamentals of calculating your bra size using band and bust measurements. For those of you out there who are similarly lacking in this particular knowledge, here is the basic idea in 2 simple steps. (And since I am in the U.S., I’m going to explain it in inches.)

1) Measure and calculate your band size: While wearing a non-padded bra, use a flexible measuring tape to measure tightly and evenly around the bottom band of the bra, directly under your breasts. If the number is even, add 4. If the number is odd, add 5. This is your band measurement. Example: I measured around my bottom band and got 30 inches. Adding 4 tells me I should be looking for bras that are size 34.

2) Measure and calculate your cup size: Wrap the measuring tape around your breasts at the fullest part (which should be nipple level.) Don’t do it too tightly or you will squash your breasts; do it just loosely enough to get an accurate measurements. Now, take that number and subtract the calculated band size to get your cup size. Each inch in difference is a cup size; e.g. 1 inch difference is an A cup, 2 inch difference is a B cup, and so forth. Example: I measured my breasts at the fullest part and got 37 inches. 37 minus 34 equals 3, which means I should look for a C cup.

Keep these other tips in mind for getting the best look, fit, and feel from your bras:

Whether you are choosing a “regular” bra or a maternity/nursing bra:

  • Remember that measurements are just a starting point – and your actual bra band and cup size may vary from those measurements.
  • When trying or putting on bras, don’t just stand up straight and clasp the bra on top of your breasts. Instead, lean over a bit and scoop the breasts into the cup with your hand to make sure there is no leakage on the bottom or sides.
  • If possible, try to visit a boutique or shop that can help you with measurement and fitting – they are the experts.

The bra-fitting experts at Cake led us through the ins and outs of choosing the right bra for all stages of pregnancy and nursing. Here is what they had to say, with their recommendations broken down into 5 stages of pregnancy and nursing:

Stage 1: 1-3 months pregnant
Most women experience rapid breast growth. For this period, a non-wired, stretchy bra that grows with your bust works best.

Stage 2: 3-7 months pregnant
Breast growth slows down, but the ribcage starts to expand. Try a bra with multiple hooks and eyes in the band so you can adjust the size, and be sure the bra is supportive enough.

Stage 3: 8-9 months pregnant
Your cup size at this stage will probably be about the same as your cup size 4+ weeks post-partum, so this is a great time to buy a bra that will take you through the whole way! Buy a nursing bra that is 1 size smaller than your measured size in the band, and that fits on the very last set of hooks, as your ribcage will shrink after you give birth. (Example: since I measured a size 34C, I would buy this bra as a size 32C during this stage and wear it on the loosest band setting for now. Once I am in Stage 5, it should fit well on one of the tighter band settings.)

Stage 4: 0-4 weeks post-partum
Your breasts will be all over the place as they figure out how to regulate your milk supply. Your bra needs are similar to Stage 1; you need something stretchy, comfortable, and non-wired that can grow and shrink as you need it. (From personal experience, I would say this stage is really hard to predict – as you might have a lot of nipple pain, chafing, etc. so who knows what kind of bra you will want, or even if you’ll want one at all?)

Stage 5: 5+ weeks post-partum
-By now, your milk supply should have probably stabilized overall (although there will be, of course, fluctuations throughout the day.) This is when you can go back to those bras you bought for Stage 3.

Since I am entering the 8-9 month stage (Stage 3) right now, I thought it would be a great time to get some new bras that I can wear for the next few months and then again at the 5+ weeks post-partum stage (Stage 5.) Armed with this wealth of new-found knowledge, I measured myself and hit a maternity boutique to buy some new bras to take me from the home stretch of pregnancy through the upcoming months of nursing.

My favorite maternity and nursing bras so far:

Cake Maternity Fig Mousse Plunge Contour Nursing Bra: This bra is cute and very comfortable. It has 6 sets of hooks on the band for great fit, which is especially important as the size of your rib cage changes from late pregnancy to birth, recovery, and nursing. It has a modest amount of padding to smooth any lines. Note for those of you who are large-busted: some styles of Cake bras go up to 42M!

Bravado by Medela Body Silk Seamless Nursing Bra: This bra is not the cutest piece of lingerie, but with no wire and a silky soft fabric, it is super smooth and comfy, and looks great under a t-shirt. It has removable pads for nipple coverage. These run in sizes S-XL so you can use their online size chart to see what size might work for you, but it’s probably best to find a place to go and try them on. Already know you love it? Amazon sells a two-pack.

Nourish Beli Bea Nursing and Pumping Bra: The other Whitney covered this bra in great depth in a previous post, but all I can say is: GENIUS. Tell me again why it took so long for someone to make a bra that works for both nursing AND hands-free pumping? These also run in sizes S-XL, and may not work well for larger-busted women as they don’t provide enough support – but when we spoke to the Beli Bea founder and owner, she assured us she is working on it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *