Ultimate guide to nursing bras

What to look for in a nursing bra

The key features of nursing bras

Nursing bra with drop down cups

Drop down cups

The most noticeable feature of nursing bras are cups with clips that drop down for easy access. Clips that you can open one handed will be easiest when holding your baby at the same time, try them out before you buy. The clips are usually at the top but some have them in the front between your breasts.

A-frame nursing bra, side-sling nursing bra
Top: A-frame, bottom: side-sling

A-frame or side-sling

This is the inner layer when you drop down the cup. Some women have a preference, others are happy with either.

A-frame:

  • This one will hold your breast in place more while you are nursing.
  • It covers the top of your breast more so some feel less exposed with this one when nursing in public.
  • Generally used on full cup bras.

Side-sling:

  • Some feel these offer more skin to skin contact during nursing.
  • Can be used with cups that have less coverage (e.g. demi-cup shape rather than a full cup bra).
Nursing bra with more band sizes

More band sizes

Nursing bras usually have extra sets of hooks and eyes in the back to allow them to fit a greater range of sizes. This is great as you can wear them during pregnancy and then through the different stages of nursing.

Soft cups

Soft cups (no underwire) allow for changes in shape and size. Some nursing bras do have wires, read our section on this if you are considering getting one of these.

Wide shoulder straps

Wide shoulder straps will be more comfortable for larger breasts.

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Different sorts of cups

This is a quick run-down of the different types of cups you might find and what you might like or not like about them. Everyone has different bodies and needs so think about which would work best for you.

Cups with stretchy fabric

Cups that have fabric with a lot of stretch in them will be able to fit better as your breasts fluctuate in size through the day as well as through more size changes from pregnancy through to nursing. If they can fit you through more stages you should be able to buy less bras overall. If the fabric is very stretchy it probably won’t be a particularly supportive bra and will probably have quite a bit of bounce. Without any foam there also isn’t anything to hide the shape of nipples or breast pads so these can show through if you’re only wearing a thin top over it.

Foam contour cups (t-shirt bra)

These are the sort that hold their shape even when you aren’t wearing them, often people know them as t-shirt bras. The good thing about them is they give a smooth line and hide the shape of nipples and/or breast pads well. But these sorts of cups don’t generally have any stretch in them, so they need to be the right fit for you. This is the downside as nursing is a time when your breast size is changing so much. If you prefer this sort of bra you will quite likely end up buying them more often as you change in size.

Seamed/multi-part cups

This is where the cup is made from multiple pieces of fabric to give the cup shape. They could be stretchy or not, it will depend what the fabric is made from. When you have very large breasts it can be difficult (or expensive) to get foam contoured cups so these are your main option. These are generally the most supportive bras so a good choice if that is your main concern. Unfortunately the seams can show through if your clothes are made of thin fabric.

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Getting a good fit

The same basic rules apply for fitting a nursing bra as a standard bra, with a few extra things to be aware of. You can check out our fitting guide for tips on telling if your bra fits correctly.

Because of the risk of blocked milk ducts you need to be more careful that the bra isn’t too tight and isn’t pressing into your breast tissue at all.

  • Your breasts should be fully inside the cups (not sticking out below or at the sides). The top of the bra shouldn’t cut into your breast at all (no bulges out the top).
  • The bra should feel supportive and firm but not tight or restrictive, if you notice any flattening it is too tight.
  • With all the warnings on making sure it isn’t too tight it’s also important that you don’t go too far the other way and end up with a bra that is too loose as it will give you no support. If you have very large breasts it’s actually possible to get a blocked duct from the weight of the breast itself, wearing a supportive bra can help prevent this.

Most nursing bras have more settings in the back so getting it to fit you somewhere in the middle will give you room to go bigger and smaller. As a general rule of thumb:

  • If you are pregnant make sure you get the band so it can go bigger in size.
  • If you are already breastfeeding make sure the band can go smaller.

Your breast size will normally fluctuate throughout the day, some women find they have fuller breasts in the morning. If that is the case for you try to go shopping when you are at your fullest to ensure the bra still fits. Getting a bra with some stretch in the fabric will help if you are having a lot of changes in size.

For many women comfort becomes much more important through pregnancy and breastfeeding than it has ever been before. Make comfort a priority when choosing a bra, you will have enough other things going on, you don’t want to be getting annoyed at a bra that doesn’t feel good.