Maternity and nursing bras

Nursing bra
A nursing bra. Photo source: Triumph

Most of the time the terms ‘maternity bra’ and ‘nursing bra’ mean the same thing and are used interchangeably. Strictly speaking a maternity bra is for while you are pregnant and has the features you need for comfort and support during that time. A nursing bra will have some way to easily access your breasts for breastfeeding, normally this is done with drop down cups that have clips. Many of the features you would want from a bra while pregnant and while nursing cross over, so a lot of the time all those features are are combined into the same bra. This means they will work equally well for whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding and you can hopefully save on needing to buy as many bras. This is why the terms have generally come to mean the same thing.

Maternity bras (for during pregnancy)

During pregnancy your ribcage will expand as well as your cup size increasing. Using a bra extender can give you some extra room early on if any of the bras you have are still fitting in the cups. At some point during pregnancy you will outgrow your bras and need to get something larger. You will need more support and often breasts can become tender, so comfort will be the number one factor for deciding on a bra. You don’t have to get a specially designed maternity bra, a soft cup bra (no underwire) with wide straps can work just as well.


The key things to look for in a maternity bra are:

  • Room to grow, flexible/stretchy cups allow your breasts to grow and change shape. Make sure you have enough rows of loops on the back fastening that you can let it out a few times.
  • Comfort is key, look for wide padded shoulder straps. Soft cups are a good idea as your shape will change and an underwire that felt fine when you bought it could quickly become painful.
  • Pregnancy can cause nipple tenderness so avoid seams that run over the nipple as these can rub and become painful.
  • Often women find they overheat during pregnancy, breathable fabric like cotton can help with this.

Nursing bras (for when you are breastfeeding)

As with a maternity bra for during pregnancy, comfort is very important, the main difference is that you will need to be able to un-clip the cups for breastfeeding.

A few tips for nursing bras:

  • About a month before you are due is a good time to get the bras you will need. Once your milk comes in your breasts will get larger so you need to have the bra still fit you. Stretchy fabric is the best way to achieve this without having baggy cups that would offer no support.
  • Make sure your bra isn’t tight and doesn’t press into your breast at all. If it does you could increase the risk of a blocked milk duct or mastitis.
  • Make sure the clips are easy to undo and that you can do it with just one hand, your other hand will be holding the baby.
  • Use breast pads to stop milk leaking onto your clothes.
  • If you aren’t using breast pads make sure there are no seams over the nipples as they can rub and become painful.

Check out our Ultimate guide to nursing bras for heaps more detail and tips on bras to use while breastfeeding and the changes your breasts will go through.