Buyer’s guide to nursing bras

Do you need a nursing bra and how do you buy the right one? Our guide will help you find the right style and size...

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  • What is a nursing bra?

    Nursing bras are bras specially designed for breastfeeding mums, which allow you to reveal your nipples or whole breast, for your baby to feed.

    Lactation consultants recommend buying bras that aren’t underwired because they don’t dig in the breast tissue. However, if you have large breasts and need stronger support, underwired nursing bras are available.

  • What type of nursing bra would you prefer?

    There are five main types of nursing bras you’ll come across:

    • Drop-cup bra - the most common type, the bra cups have clips, poppers or hooks at the top so you can drop them down from the strap to feed your baby easily. Some models have flaps, so only part of the cup comes off the strap – ideal if you feel self-conscious breastfeeding in public
    • Front fastening between cups – some models don’t make for discreet nursing, because both breasts can feel exposed when the bra opens, which explains why this bra is not as popular.
    • Zips under each cup – not ideal if you're wearing a tight top, or what the whole breast exposed.
    • Stretch fabric bra – this kind crosses over at the front so you can pull a cup down over your breast, a bit like an old school sports bra.
    • Night bra – made for comfort, a night bra (or sleep bra) is lighter, with no hooks or hard seams. It might have a crossover front design so you can slip your breast out easily for a night feed.
  • When do you buy it?

    The best time to buy a nursing bra is from around 36 weeks of pregnancy. As your size will decrease after the birth, the bra should be fitted to its widest setting so you can use its tighter settings after birth. A set of three (or more) hooks in the band is ideal because it allows flexible adjustment in between sizes. Go for one with a high cotton content as your breasts will often feel hot.

    It’s important to wear the correct size of bra as good support prevents sagging, and a bra that’s too tight might interfere with your milk supply and even lead to blocked ducts. Many high street shops and the parenting charity NCT provide a free fitting service.

  • What is your bra size?

    Your bra or band size is the “34” in “34D”. Measurement for the band is usually taken in inches, directly under your breasts and around your back. If the measurement number is even, add 4 inches; if it’s an odd number, add 5 inches. So if the band measurement is 27 inches, your band size will be 32.

    You should be able to run your finger along the inside of the band. If you can’t, try the bra at a wider setting. If it’s already at its widest setting (i.e. there are no more hook and yes left for it to expand to), you need to go up a size.

    The band should run straight around your back. If it’s riding up, you need a bigger size.

    Try several styles of bras before you buy as each style feels and fits differently.

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  • What is your cup size?

    To find your cup size, measure around the fullest part of your bust in inches. Subtract the band size from this measurement and the difference, usually between 0-7 inches, will reveal your cup size. Just follow the chart below:

    • 0 difference = A cup
    • 1-inch difference = B cup
    • 2-inch difference = C
    • 3-inch difference = D
    • 4-inch difference = DD
    • 5-inch difference = E
    • 6-inch difference = F
    • 7-inch difference = G

    When you’re trying on a bra, allow room for your breasts to increase in size when you start breastfeeding. Try a bra on the loosest hook and with breast pads in the cups. Cups are too big when the fabric bags and gapes, but are too small when your breasts spill out (either under, over the top or out the sides).

  • Where will you wear it?

    Nursing bras come in different styles, designs, and fabrics.

    Everyday models are usually plainer, with easy clasps and in practical fabrics that are machine washable.

    Night or sleep bras are designed for comfort rather than style. They usually have a crossover front design, no hooks and no hard seams.

    Special occasion bras are not only embellished with lace, ribbon and frills, but can be designed for wearing under low-cut tops or dresses. The straps are usually thinner, the tops of the cups don’t come up as far and the front “V” between the cups is lower. These bras do look lovely but won’t be as sturdy and comfortable as the plainer models, might not offer the same level of support and will require a delicate hand wash.

  • Where do you start?

    To help you decide what bra to try, we’ve undertaken in-depth nursing bra reviews. We’ve also put breast pads, nipple creams and breast pumps to the test.

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